There are three Ts at the heart of Gone Is Gone: Tony Hajjar, Troy Van Leeuwen, and Troy Sanders. For the uninitiated, that roughly translates to At The Drive-In, Queens Of The Stone Age and Mastodon occupying the same aural space. That’s the kind of lineup that makes a certain type of music fan’s eyes bulge out like a Looney Toons Character. It’s the stuff that dark, metal-inflected dreams are made of. Add to this trio multi-instrumentalist Mike Zarin and you’ve got the recipe for dark magic. Unfortunately, while their debut LP, Echolocation, has this threads and whispered hints of the spectacular, it’s predominantly a safe and surprisingly unchallenging affair.
Musically, it occupies the same space that the now disbanded Isis resided in during their Wavering Radiant period. There is this exploratory urge running throughout as the band wants to uncover a new, undiscovered facets of the metal genre. There is a great deal of Isis, Deftones and more specifically the Chino/Isis supergroup Palms from a few years back at the heart of this. In spite of the four central players, there is a surprising amount of delicacy and ambiance on display. These careen wildly between either quite beautiful and striking or languorous and trying. With that said, it’s also sludgy and dirty as sewerage treatment plan. The riffs are often thick slabs of distortion closely followed by halftime breaks a plenty. The further you delve in, you begin to expect howls about riding the dragon toward the crimson eye. Large shades of the members’ original groups shine through at every point. Mastodon, in particular, get the largest time in the sun, as a consequence of Sanders’ vocals.
The issue is that the songs aren’t strong enough. Occasionally there is a truly special moment, like their cover of Portishead’s ‘Road’ which is profoundly uncomfortable and comes completely out of the left field. A metal cover of Portishead sounds absolutely appalling on paper, but the band make it their own and the refrain of “how can it feel so wrong” takes on this extra layer of poignancy when filtered through their specific brand of gloom. It’s an excellent cover, managing to achieve something similar to what the original did but within their own framework, but it is an outlier. For the most part, what you’re getting excited about is a collection of individual sections – like the out-of-step instrumentation which opens ‘Ornament’ – but little else. While you can appreciate what they’re trying to do, it’s hard to get truly excited when what you’re hearing is essentially a professionally produced jam session from a frankly ridiculous roster of artists.
With that territory comes the sensation that we’re listening to four friends, bouncing off each other but never fully working together. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the work of Tony Hajjar. A masterful drummer in his own right, Hajjar’s work here borders on brilliant on few instances, but, unfortunately, the mix is not his friend. The drums never merge fully with the whole band as though he and the others weren’t in the same studio. At best they seem to run parallel to what the others are doing and at their worst, they just out awkwardly like the pasty heavy-set nerd at the high school pool party. What makes this so frustrating is that they do occasionally coalesce and they showcase how good they can be. The gentle, acoustic ‘Resolve’ is a welcome left turn late in the record, ‘Gift’ is a fantastic single and the one-two punch of ‘Slow’ and ‘Fast Awakenings’ is the kind double whammy that inspires imitators. When you’re able to taste exactly how good these four can be, it makes the rest of the album feel lethargic and uninteresting.
This album was always intended to be an experiment, a way for its members to expand their palettes and play with their friends. In this context, the record does work. It tries its absolute best to explore the full spectrum of what metal can be with its delicate flourishes, crushing riffs and ardent devotion to texture and atmosphere. It is one of the few records that actually deserves the much-maligned genre tag of post-metal album. You wish it could have had some strong songs to back up its loftier ambitions. Will Murphy