Gargoyl – Gargoyl Review

Ever since the early seeds of the Gargoyl project came to public light, I have been anticipating a debut album. Lo and behold, the band, featuring Revocation‘s Dave Davidson (guitars) and Luke Roberts (vocals/guitars) from the underrated Ayahuasca, has arrived with their self-titled LP. Blending dark, brooding, unsettling atmospheres, Gargoyl play off-kilter progressive metal with avant garde tendencies and a strong ’90s grunge vibe, most notably drawing influence from Seattle rock legends Alice in Chains. On paper the combination has a hell of a lot going for it, however, nailing the execution and establishing a strong identity are challenges to overcome. With loads of talent at their disposal, but in the early phase of their career do Gargoyl have the songwriting tools to match their skills and ambition?

Gargoyl gets off to a rocky start on opener “Truth of a Tyrant,” a minimalist vocal driven piece that sets the eerie tone of the album. Unfortunately it goes nowhere fast and the vocal harmonies tend to grate the nerves rather than soothe the soul. The song marks the beginning of a 54 minute journey, an occasionally familiar sounding, yet bizarre odyssey that is often intriguing, occasionally gripping, yet frustratingly uneven. Lead-off singles “Electrical Sickness” and “Wraith” are solid showcases of Gargoyl‘s quirky, grunge addled take on modern progressive metal, displaying a weirdness that may alienate casual listeners and those seeking more immediacy in their hooks, and cohesion in song structures. The former has an oddball vibe and snappy, yet jarring rhythmic foundation, twisting and turning in an awkward, strange and intriguing manner. It’s a deceptive grower but hasn’t quite won me over emphatically, and is guilty of dragging on past its used by date.

“Wraith” travels a softer, more calculated route down the rabbit hole. Its jazzy noodling and gentle melodies recall later-era Opeth. However its tone and certain melodies stretch way back to Opeth‘s first fully fledged foray into progressive rock on 2003’s Damnation, in particular “Windowpane.” Roberts delivers a solid performance, his smooth, assured cleans hitting the spot on the track, where they are guilty of occasionally grating or slotting awkwardly into the strange musical concoction throughout the album. A relatively more straightforward number like “Cursed Generation” retains the complex nature of the band’s sound, but punches with more fluency and catchiness, built on strong guitar work and hooky vocal melodies, showcasing Gargoyl‘s obvious talents. The beguiling “Nightmare Conspiracy” features a hypnotic flow and fluid progressive structure, capped by a sublime Davidson solo. Unfortunately the album’s jarring, off-kilter core and grating moments overshadows the more redeeming qualities, although potential is evident. These frustrating elements are most prominent on misfires like “Waltz Dystopia,” and the gentle, though meandering closer, “Asphyxia.”

Musically Gargoyl is a refined and gifted unit, which is not unexpected considering Davidson’s virtuoso talents and the accomplished skill set of his band mates. Davidson spreads his wings creatively within the far removed musical context of his main band, delivering an impressive performance utilizing a diverse repertoire of skills and tools, drawing from prog, jazz, rock and metal. The complex rhythm section bubbles with energy and jazz-infected chops, anchored with a solid feel for groove. Elevating strong individual performances is an excellent production job, though the vocals are a little too upfront in the mix. Unfortunately the biggest drawback of the album relates to the inconsistent writing. Most songs deliver something cool and intriguing, however the 11 compositions struggle to form a consistently compelling whole. Certain songs are overcooked, and despite the wonderful musicianship, not enough of the material penetrates the brain or gains traction in the memorability stakes. Highlights include the aforementioned “Cursed Generation,” the rippling energy and unease of “Ambivalent I,” and the Alice In Chains meets jazz-prog trip of ‘Acid Crown,” a classy tune reworked from their previous two track EP.

Gargoyl‘s debut is a mixed bag, at once an intriguing, confounding, and at times maddening album, demonstrating a deep well of talent that will hopefully flourish with greater cohesion on future efforts. With time and patience Gargoyl‘s debut has grown on me, though its inconsistencies and bloated length take the gloss off my lofty expectations. The handful of well developed songs gives me hope for Gargoyl‘s positive future, to perhaps trim the fat and morph into a truly powerful and unique force.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Season of Mist
Released Worldwide: August 9th, 2020

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