There’s a type of dude you may know: burly, boisterous, almost certainly bearded. This dude is usually the life of the party. He likes his riffs heavy and his tempo mid-. He may have soft spots for southern rock and nineties grunge. But imagine, one day, he shows up somewhere, at a party or the bar, and isn’t quite himself: he’s unfocused, detached, a little bummed out. It bums you out.
Such was my initial impression of Gozu’s new album, Revival, which begins with whatever is the opposite of a one-two punch. It’s not that these opening two tracks are bad — just underwhelming. “Nature Boy” is a fast rocker, tinged with melancholy, a little unstable. “Bubble Time” is slower and moodier and edges dangerously close to radio rock. You may find yourself wondering: what’s gotten into the once-formidable Gozu?
But then, before “Bubble Time” is over, something happens. Marc Gaffney’s vocals dissolve into a weird gurgle and the band kicks into the kind of galloping riff for which I am a total sucker. Guitars are shredded, words are shouted. It’s as though someone gave this band a can of spinach — and thank the good lord they did. Because from that point forward, the revival is on, and Gozu does what they do very well: big swinging stoner rock. Hallelujah.
Revival has its faster moments: songs that make you want to do things rapidly, such as drive a car, chug a beer, or run around in a circle. But mostly the album settles into a comfortable medium tempo groove, propelled forward by some remarkably cohesive playing. One of the great pleasures of this band is hearing their thick, sculpted guitar tone. Another is listening to Marc Gaffney’s vocals. The band’s own promo copy compares him to Chris Cornell, which is accurate but unnecessary — and anyway, Gaffney sounds better with some grit in his voice or when he bellows in the long, exuberant tradition of white blues-rockers. See “By Mennan” for proof. Few are the vocalists who can convincingly sing a line such as, “Yeah! … Yeeea-uhh! … Come on!” Come on? We’re with you, man.
Gozu ranges widely under the big tent of hard rock, heavy metal, stoner metal, whatever: you get the sense that their collective mental jukebox is well-stocked, and the sonic diversity of Revival is satisfying. (Even those first two songs sound immensely better after a few listens from start to finish.) But, ultimately, Gozu is a risk-averse band. Revival plays it safe, and the result is that anything a little weird feels a lotta weird. Take “Big Casino,” a fine song that relaxes into a hard-grooving ending (one that, for me, loosely recalls “No More Tears”). Gaffney provides some ethereal falsetto while the band rumbles forward, guitars noodling along the way. They do that for a while and — that’s it. They vamp and then they fade out. Where most bands would attach a crescendo or slide into a breakdown or hit the refrain or at least overlay a blistering solo, Gozu rides the riff into the ground and ends the song. Why? Why not? It’s a cool riff.
This by itself isn’t all that weird — but on an album as straightforward as Revival, it’s weirdly exciting, like a joke you don’t quite get but chuckle at anyway. Odd moments such as this are scattered throughout Revival, but they’re rare and subtle. It made me think that Gozu could use a heavier dose of weirdness — and isn’t that what revivals are all about? People may come to hear the good word, but what they really want is to speak in tongues, cast out demons, and steal from the collection plate. I wonder if, next time, Gozu will rile up the congregation or scowl from the pulpit. Either way, I’ll be there.