Just when I thought that 2023 is going to continue to let me down, at least as far as metal is concerned, just around the corner, a deeply fulfilling treasure trove of riffs was waiting for me to just bump into it. I’ve had my first contact with The Gorge not long ago, at the end of July. I was immediately sold on everything the band was putting up for grabs. I really don’t think I was this impressed with a strongly riff oriented metal album since Car Bomb’s Meta dropped seven years ago.
Naturally, just as with an album like Meta, I look at Mechanical Fiction, tilt my head to the side, idly scratch the side of my head and mumble to myself something along the lines of ‘Where the actual fuck do, I even begin to unpack this absolute beast?’. I do take solace in the fact that no one really knows how to answer these questions anyway, no matter how hard they try.
Mechanical Fiction marks the band’s fourth release and a return from a seven-year spell of silence. Considering that, it’s rather impressive that Mechanical Fiction is an incomprehensibly huge leap forward in every possible aspect, when compared to its predecessors. I have nothing to add to support this claim, tune in to the music and find yourself saying the exact same words. There’s no way I can condense that much so efficiently. Although, I can safely say that the production and arrangements on the record are crisp and sharp, like a blade of heavenly light performing vibrational surgery at a quantum level. I have no idea what the fuck that means, but it makes sense.
What caught my attention right away was how many parallels I could draw between moments in this record and Mastodon, Meshuggah, Animals As Leaders, but especially Misery Signals. I also saw that a few others drew connections between The Gorge and Intronaut, as well as the ones aforementioned, however I’m really not feeling that Intronaut connection to be honest.
Now, it’s not so much the fact that there’s a similarity between bits from Mechanical Fiction and some of my all-time favorite metal bands, but rather, how well these similarities are debossed into the design of these tunes. Not to mention that the band manages to retain a mature identity of its own despite this. I guess this is what happens when four jazz musicians who’ve been playing together for two decades decide to turn their love of heavy music into a metal record.
I would gladly spend hours talking about how every riff and lick in this record is the most tasteful and innovative thing since sliced bread, however, regrettably, I have been informed that most people don’t enjoy reading ‘tirades’ like that. As such, I’ll do my absolute best to keep it brief.
“Synapse Misfire” doesn’t even wait half a minute before going straight to the throat of those eerily Mastodon specific harmonies. I love the way those are put to use throughout the song. They provide a neat contrast between the suffocating vocal delivery and the massive riffs behind them. Similarly, the first part of “Remnants of Grief” as well as “Beneath the Crust” go right out the gate for a minor sounding harmony to contrast the aggressive riffage, akin to Misery Signals on Controller.
Speaking of “Beneath the Crust”, I’m not sure what exactly I’d liken to the highly anthemic bit in the latter half, where the entire band is belting the lyrics, but it doesn’t matter because it’s absolutely glorious and one of the finest moments off the record. I would see that more at home on a mythical battlefield, in the heavens, high above us mere mortals, rather than among us.
“Earthly Decay” is easily the highlight of the album. It’s not even a debate as I see it. In an overarching sense of structure and development, as well as mood, I’d compare it to something that would come right out of Hacride’s Lazarus. I think that’s also due to the intensely progressive nature of the song. Though, what really had me going ham is the ending. Just like the ending to Car Bomb’s “Gratitude”, it comes at me with the wild, positively unhinged, and overwhelming power of crazed gods smashing planets for breakfast, leaving nothing but cosmic debris in their wake. It’s hair raising and goosebump inducing in the best possible way. Presently, I’m not even ready to openly admit how many times I’ve played that bit on repeat.
Of all the parallels and comparisons, I think the most interesting one to look at is the Meshuggah one. It’s obvious after just one cycle of the album, but I find it rather difficult to word, so bear with me. It’s not necessarily that you have polyrhythmic and/or polymetric riffs and chugs bludgeoning you into a husk (although it is a bit of that too), but rather how The Gorge take that repetitive movement and use it as a hypnotic vehicle to drive these megalithic structures into existence. ‘Repetition legitimizes’ as Adam Neely would say. Now, saying that it’s something massive severely undercuts the impact. It’s more like a mountain of osmium bricks pouring out of the ground perpetually lifting itself towards an infinite sky, shifting its layers like a monstrous and apocalyptic tesseract.
That and the highly creative songwriting, which is capable of weaving amazing narrative threads, I feel, are what make Mechanical Fiction, not just a great album, but a veritable metal masterpiece, which is just waiting for people to properly address it as such. I’m calling it right now, this record will be at the very top of metal AOTY lists this year and decade end top lists as well. I feel like a fair amount of metal artists have neglected their connection with their artistic intent and craft lately, resulting in subpar creations and lackluster performances. The Gorge however, I think, are nearing their peak in that sense and created an album which, in turn, makes me think that, at least, some of the things I’ve been calling ‘metal’ might need a new word, because Mechanical Fiction is metal as fuck.