Another day, another supergroup featuring members of Mastodon, Queens of the Stone Age and At The Drive In. Not to be deterred by past ventures (looking at you Kill Or Be Killed) it’s important to remember that you can never judge a book by its front cover, nor its imperfect back catalogue. Gone Is Gone are the latest collaborative effort to emerge from the contemporary metal scene, and one of the most likely to produce something that sounds genuinely unique. The casting on paper shows the promise of the project. With QOTSA/ A Perfect Circle/ Eagles Of Death Metal guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, ATDI drummer Tony Haajar, freelance composer and multi-instrumentalist Mike Zarin and Mastodon bassist Troy Sanders, the group are kicking off 2017 with a very loud bang on debut album Echolocation. The LP promises a script of musical innovation and dark creativity. But does it deliver on originality, or does it fall by the wayside, dismantled by a collection of grinding musical egos?
The opening combination of Sentient and Gift suggests the former. From the beginning, a diverse range of musical flavours can be heard. The introduction is steeped in atmospheric ambience and mystique, not unlike the work of APC. From there the song descends into a doom-laden march that perfectly complements Sanders’ sludgy vocals, whilst Gift serves as yang to the yin, brightly bopping along with an unsettling, yet addictive urgency.
Although each member of Gone Is Gone can claim series metal pedigrees, it would be a stretch to label this a metal record. Resurge shuffles along with hint of that southern desert flavour that makes QOTSA such a musical force, while Van Leeuwen’s fingerprint can be felt on the grim and dreary Dublin.
As the album progresses, there are a few ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ moments, where you can practically see each member of the supergroup overthinking the construction. Ornament starts with a vocal fanfare that shows plenty of promise but never seems to quite get off the mark, save for the ending psychedelic jam that cautiously begins to develop before wrapping up too fast. Likewise, Colourfade floats through the murky waters of prog and sludge but dynamically doesn’t offer much variation.
That said, the background, home turf and influence of each member is to be considered; there’s no way that these many heavy music legends could come together and simply work seamlessly, without too many tugs in opposing directions, especially when comparing this album to, say, the entire back catalogue and established sound of a group like QOTSA or Mastodon. The musical chemistry here didn’t have those years to establish itself fluidly, with minimal time in the studio in order to meet the demands of scheduling for each member. With that in mind, Echolocation goes a long way to display the potential that this meeting of the minds can produce. Pawns bring the balls-heavy sludge that can be heard so clearly in the early Mastodon recordings, while the more experimental Slow Awakening and Fast Awakening sees the band really dipping their toes into the geekier side of concept composition; the former slowly and painfully establishes a rock solid foundation for the latter, which quickly becomes a flurrying rampage of screaming guitars and pounding percussion.
The main issue with the album is that it tends to feel a little stale, lacking enough diversity and drive to keep is dynamic and engaging. Thankfully, the album’s second half offers some variation, notably through the rustic, scruffy acoustics of Resolve. Think of this track as a soundtrack to the kind of scene featuring an old-timey bearded blacksmith getting sentimental with his son, and you have the essence of Resolve.
The title track closes out the record, offering the most variety since Gift. With an Eastern-influenced synth riff, the song calmly establishes a steady pace before breaking down into a dark, grungy chorus that shows off the kind of memorable hook that would have kept this kind of energy up throughout the entire record.
Overall, Echolocation rates as an above average first outing for a supergroup. There are dull moments scattered throughout, but as a body of work the sounds and structures are both unique and interesting, especially when you consider the background of each band member. With the limited amount of time available to members the variety of sounds achieved is certainly impressive. 2016 was the year contemporary metal artists took centre stage and brought some much-needed innovation to the genre. Echolocation isn’t blowing any minds, but it certainly offers something new, and marks the start of what is hopefully another year of challenging, boundary-pushing heavy music.