Gouge Away – Deep Sage

Violent, gorgeous, and unafraid...

Gouge Away write songs that will leave you with a hole in your chest. The South Florida fivesome spent the late 2010s defanging hardcore’s etiquette – touring with Ceremony and Touché Amoré, eternizing Paint It Black’s ‘CVA’, and dousing the term ‘female-fronted band’ in impulsive pools of blood, thrash, and 90s noise progressions. 2016’s ‘Dies’ was a tremor-inducing debut that called out rape culture and mental health stigmas while 2018’s ‘Burnt Sugar’ replaced those DIY values with an uglier shade of blue, messing up anxieties with shards of ‘Goat’, ‘Steady Diet Of Nothing’, and ‘Leaves Turn Inside You’. Their latest, ‘Deep Sage’, is a face-melting continuation of both but it corners the outfit’s melodic initiatives to take their fuck-you-up imperfections to a new decibel.

For Gouge Away, it was a matter of time. Their fixation with reshaping modern hardcore’s sound led to a demo session in a storage unit in Orlando. Then 2020 happened. The band were forced into a hiatus, with setbacks and tour cancellations pushing them to reset in different parts of the country. The distance between was deafening, but it intercalated a new found sense of urgency and the space to miss what Gouge Away stood for: artistic integrity and raw, seesawing chaos. A Militarie Gun show at Portland’s Mano Oculta enticed a completely analog affair at Oakland’s Atomic Garden East with producer Jack Shirley (Deafheaven, Loma Prieta), thumbing through the chemistry of ‘Ghost’ and the social warmth that molded institutions like Seventh Circle and Soybomb HQ. All in an effort to sound like five close friends jamming ideas in a room together.

“I don’t talk about this too much, but I have a friend who took their own life,” Christina Michelle revealed in an interview with Treble. “I was revisiting the song ‘Dallas’ because that is what it’s about, and I just cried a bunch and I talked to the guys about it. I had this realization that I don’t want these songs to just die on our hard drives and our phones. I want to do them justice.”

‘Deep Sage’ is more stylistically varied than ‘Burnt Sugar’ but it never decays. ‘Stuck In A Dream’ funnels Gilla Band and Moss Icon into contemplative intensity, splicing noisome hardcore patter with feral riffing and polymorphous drum fills as Michelle repeats the chorus, over and over, and nods off – whispering sweet nothings to a live portraiture of ‘She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not’. It’s a different cadence than ‘Fed Up’, but Gouge Away’s new off-the-floor, quiet-loud dynamics sting like an incessant paper cut. ‘Maybe Blue’ and ‘Overwatering’ desensitize plant care with heavier basslines and the spatial ambience of ‘Strange Peace’ and ‘Walls Have Ears’. ‘Idealized’ and ‘A Welcome Change’ distort the Pixies’ ‘Trompe le Monde’ with Run For Cover 7-inch EPs. ‘Spaced Out’ rewinds the curled screams and melodies of Fucked Up’s ‘David Comes To Life’ while ‘The Sharpening’ finds Michelle digging up ‘Wars And Rumors Of War’ and The Chariot’s weakness for transmuting chaos into arts and crafts: “What’s better than a brand-new pencil?” she distills before screaming into the void. “One that comes flat, which you could sharpen to a point / And if you stabbed me in the chest over again / You’d expect me to clean up the mess.” 

Appropriately, ‘Deep Sage’ is an exercise in sonic pleasures. It is violent, gorgeous, and unafraid, and like ‘Burnt Sugar’, it elicits irrepressible wounds that peel over time (‘Newtau’, ‘No Release’). ‘Dallas’ is a closer about a friend who was lost too soon and in that lonesome moment of noise, Michelle and Gouge Away decompress – detailing bathroom highs and empty-minded interludes with detuned frequencies that harmonize on the way out. It’s an isolated frame of heartache that accepts “dying is the cruelest thing I could ever do to somebody who would miss me”, and for a six-minute burner, it never dims. If Title Fight’s ‘Hyperview’ and Glassjaw’s ‘Material Control’ were departures that elbowed hardcore’s claustrophobic principles, then ‘Deep Sage’ is Gouge Away finding their place in a scene that still hums like home. It’s far from perfect and too disruptive for pop ambitions, but it puts them where they belong – in a pocket somewhere next to your heart.

8/10

Words: Joshua Khan

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