Rock Interview: Gozu — Multifaceted Heavy Metal

It’s not a bad time to be performing back-to-the-boogie heavy metal music anywhere in the world.

By Scott McLennan

With its previous trio of albums and its blistering live shows, the band Gozu has served up different facets of heavy metal power: the power of the soulful groove; the power of psychedelic freakiness; and the power of balancing irreverence and introspection.

With the new album Equilibrium, Gozu shows off how good it has become by drawing on the power of restraint. The LP delivers eight songs clocking in at just over 49 minutes — not a note is wasted, which means plenty of gain for those who enjoy cranking up the volume and disturbing the peace.

Equilibrium will surely bring the band more exposure; it was released by Blacklight Media Records, a music imprint created by celebrity chef Chris Santos in partnership with Metal Blade Records, the premier independent record label for heavy music.

Gozu guitarist Doug Sherman told me that that the group intentionally wanted to keep this album lean and focused. If an idea was just pretty good and not great, it didn’t make it onto the record. Also helping to cut the chaff: this is the second go-round of album-making involving the lineup of singer Marc Gaffney, bassist Joe Grotto, drummer Mark Hubbard, and Sherman. The latter said that the project benefitted from new levels of creativity, confidence, and honesty.

Still, while the band applied restraint, Gozu didn’t handcuff itself. The proof is that one of the first songs written for Equilibrium was “Ballad of ODB,” a sprawling 11-minute track crammed full of slow-burn of echoes, drones, and meditations that rear up into a soaring guitar solo – a tune that stands in stark contrast to the album’s other songs.

“We’ve been together four years now as this unit, so we know each other well enough to take risks,” Sherman explained. “On the first album we all made together, I think everyone wondered if they should say something if they didn’t like something. Now nobody has a problem telling me, ‘that riff sucks.’”

Sherman and Gaffney formed the band in 2008 and worked through a few lineup changes while it built its reputation with the albums Locust Season and The Fury of a Patient Man. The blend of Gaffney’s honeyed howl and Sherman’s savage guitar riffs served as Gozu’s foundation and the use of trashy pop culture reference for song titles  became the band’s signature. Grotto and Hubbard settled in as the rhythm section in time for the making of Revival, the album that opened the door to more touring and festival appearances.

While promoting Revival in New York City, Gozu caught the attention of Santos, a metal head as well as a renowned chef. Santos launched Blacklight Media with Metal Blade Records founder and leader Brian Slagel.

“Slagel hit me up, we talked a few times and had a deal,” Sherman said. So before the dust had even settled around “Revival,” Gozu had to start thinking about making its record for Blacklight/Metal Blade.

Just as the band was starting the writing process, Gaffney’s father died.

“We had the platform for an album. During that time, Marc’s dad passed. Marc just cranked out songs. It was cathartic for him to write. He got the grief out on paper,” Sherman recalled. “The record wasn’t based on that, but influenced the album.”

How so? The song titles — “The People vs. Mr. T,” “Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat,” and “They Probably Know Karate” — do not convey a sense of grief. And, true to form for this group, the lyrics tip toward the abstract and impressionistic. But there’s no missing or mistaking the raw fury in Gozu’s music. Equilibrium whips by like a storm: lyrical images of loneliness and loss slice through savage guitar riffs and thundering rhythms.

Gozu — it’s not a bad time to be making back-to-the-boogie heavy music. Photo: courtesy of the artist.

Sherman said that while touring Europe the band learned the value of playing what it feels rather than trying to calculate what it thinks the audience wants.

“It’s just a different animal over there,” Sherman observed about the band’s tours in Europe. “Europe loves riff rock, stoner rock, whatever you want to call it. The fans are super passionate, and after the shows they come up to you and just want to meet you and talk to you. It’s authentic. It’s like being a rock star for a day.”

And it’s not a bad time to be performing back-to-the-boogie heavy metal music anywhere in the world. The likes of Power Trip are riding high and heavy metal in general is benefiting from plenty of new blood, courtesy of Nails, Code Orange, Ghost and others.

Rock ‘n’ roll trends come and go, but metal never loses its edge because there are always enough uncompromising and creative bands climbing up the ranks to keep the music fresh – count Gozu among them.

Gozu celebrates the release of Equilibrium with a show Saturday at O’Brien’s Pub, 3 Harvard Ave., Allston, MA. Sundrifter, Eyes of the Sun and Birnam Wood are also on the bill, which gets going around 8 p.m.

Gozu also has dates May 4 at the Stone Church in Newmarket, N.H. and May 24 at Opus in Salem, MA.

Scott McLennan covered music for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from 1993 to 2008. He then contributed music reviews and features to The Boston Globe, The Providence Journal, The Portland Press Herald and WGBH, as well as to the Arts Fuse. He also operated the NE Metal blog to provide in-depth coverage of the region’s heavy metal scene.

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