Review – Godsticks – This Is What A Winner Looks Like

It’s been a long and eventful road for Godsticks since emerging onto the scene with their eponymously titled EP in 2009 showcasing the band’s then progressive-rock leanings. Since then, subsequent albums became progressively heavier and received further critical acclaim, culminating in the ‘genre redefining’ prog metal masterpiece that was ‘Emergence’, which ultimately led to them being signed to Kscope. Having extensively toured Europe since 2012, in the last few years the band have finally gained recognition as the explosive, high energy live act they’d always threatened to become.

Having released their fifth full-length studio album, ‘Inescapable’, in February 2020, a mere month before the world plummeted into lockdown, the band had no means to perform the new songs to an audience. Living in this world of stasis, it wasn’t until September 2021 when the band were able to perform the tracks for a live audience that they began to think about their next album. 

“It was impossible not to notice the creative tsunami that the pandemic engendered in the music industry – every band and their dog were writing and releasing new music. For me though, it was the least creative time in my entire life.” mentions guitarist and band main man Darran Charles.

Their love for writing and productivity had been reignited simply by being able to perform live. Despite the new-found resolve, the band remain humble yet incredibly driven. Experimenting with electronic sounds and delegating writing duties in the band allowed ‘This Is What A Winner Looks Like’ to be their most collaborative album to date.

Recorded at the legendary Rockfield Studios, the album was produced by James Loughrey and mastered by Maor Appelbaum. The album’s striking cover artwork was created by Richard Beeching who mentions “The band and I agreed we needed a visually engaging sleeve to match the album’s strong title, but nothing too literal.  Something just about abstract enough to allow the audience to make of it what they will.  Our primate fits the bill nicely.”

Godsticks come crashing into your inner space with an almighty, primeval bang, this new album is hard, dissonant and downright heavy, with a capital ‘H’! Progressive metal with a definite emphasis on the ‘metal’, opener If I Don’t Take It All has crunching riffs aplenty and Charles’ vocals have that hard-edged, world weary style to them. The rhythm section feels hewn from granite and yet there’s a melodic vibe deep down, especially on the chorus. There’s a real vibrancy to the music although that vibrancy has a definitive chaotic edge to it. What a thunderous start to the album! Eliminate And Repair takes a step back with it’s staccato guitar and incessant beat, like everybody is just waiting for things to kick off. The track ebbs and flows a bit but never quite explodes, becoming something of a brooding slow burner. This Is My New Normal opens in a similar vein with that restless and skittish guitar hitting you where it hurts but this track has a really funky chorus in a (heavy) Red Hot Chilli Peppers style. There’s a real groove to the track, if an exceedingly heavy one and I’m sure this will really rock in a live setting. Godsticks can turn the dial back when they want to, as the low key, intense and somber Devotion Made To Offend shows. A weighty and thoughtful track that really gets under your skin, the rhythm section really shining and providing the foundations of what is a really classy song. Silent Saw dials it back even further and reminds me a bit of Queensrÿche at their ‘Empire’ peak. The sorrowful vocals and melancholy tones of the guitar add real solemnity and gravitas to the track and make it one of the stand out pieces on the album.

Time for a punch to the solar plexus, Throne and Don’t Say A Word take the quieter, reflective mood and blow it apart with excellent recurring riffs and discordant beats that break into a superbly melodic chorus once again, these guys really have the knack of blending the two and it gives their music a real polish. The lead track from the album, Mayhem, is exactly that with a monstrous riff that could flatten buildings, it’s not just metal, it’s HEAVY metal! It’s so bloody heavy that you can’t help but just love it and it’s got to be a mosh pit favourite at the forthcoming gigs. Revelling in the chaos of the track, Darran Charles, had the following to say:

“I stumbled upon this really ugly dissonant chord that sounded great with distortion, and thought about ways of making it sound even nastier and more chaotic (hence the title). But I was also interested in causing Tom (drummer) physical harm so I devised a bass drum pattern so complex that it will likely cause him a repetitive strain injury in the very near future. This song promises to be immense live and the music video hopefully translates the energy we’re going to bring to the stage when we take this song out on the road.”

Lying is a delightful, lighter, track that allows you to pick yourself up after the preceding rock behemoth and sees Charles’ vocal take on a much more atmospheric tone and the music is given space to breathe, which is welcome. I love some seriously heavy music as much as the next man but, now I’m getting older, I do need a sit down now and again. The elegant guitar solo is a highlight of what is an airy and refined piece of music. The album closes out with Wake Up where Charles’ dynamic vocal and the stylish music remind me of some of Chris Cornell’s solo work. While lacking the punch of some of the other tracks, this song really has intelligence and depth and shows a more inventive side to the band.

If you like your progressive metal with a big emphasis on the metal then this new album from Godsticks is one you should definitely check out. There are heavy, mountain moving riffs galore and a rhythm section that is as prodigious as they come but there’s also some high quality melodies and Darran Charles’ excellent vocals complete what is a rather impressive package.

Released 26th May, 2023.

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