As we all know, in progressive music there is a fine line between instrumental proficiency and bare ass wanking. The art of remaining tasteful while performing crazy acrobatics on your instruments is hard to master, but on their third full-length album Mechanical Fiction, St. Louis-based progressive metal outfit THE GORGE master the challenge with ease. Born from their shared love for heavy music and 20 years of experience in playing together, THE GORGE consists of four jazz musicians who use the project as a creative outlet besides their day jobs as session musicians and music educators. Triangulating the chaotic yet groovy energy and the guitar masterclass of Botch with the riffage of Mastodon and the nimble instrumental intricacy of Animals as Leaders or Intronaut, Mechanical Fiction is an immensely ear-pleasing collection of tasty riffs and complex compositions that are nonetheless free-flowing like a river smoothly carving its winding path through a rugged landscape.
Straddling a wide range of musical influences, Mechanical Fiction is an affair between four lovers of complex and heavy music. From the dazzling math rock complexities of album opener «Synapse Misfire» to the tapping acrobatics of «A Decision Was Made», the whole of Mechanical Fiction exudes the pure joy these musicians must have felt while composing these tracks. Just following along the fast-chugging mid-section of «Beneath The Crust» which leads to the beautiful surprise of a glorious choir hailing the sunrise, or just rocking out to the glorious riffing that kicks in after some blistering blast beats on «Presence» are just a few of the ample examples of memorability and pure face-melting bliss on Mechanical Fiction.
“Mechanical Fiction refers to the mundane ways in which we proceed through our lives”, explains guitarist/vocalist Phil Ring. “Living out routines because that is what we are supposed to do, we constantly go through the motions, telling ourselves that everything is okay.” Scratching the surface, THE GORGE protrude pure fun combining tasteful guitar wizardry with giant grooves and a keen sense of songwriting, but delving deeper into the record and especially into the lyrics will lead to the discovery of unexpected emotional depth. “Dealing with the loss of loved ones to mental illness weighed heavily in the lyric writing process for me”, continues Ring. Shifting across the lyrics in his massive baritone growl, THE GORGE frontman brings to life pure desolation and grief on songs like «A Decision Was Made» or «Earthly Decay» making them not only pack a punch musically, but also emotionally.
Nevertheless, among the scattered ashes these musicians always manage to fnd a spark of hope that ignites a fame of joy. The title track hearkens back to that time when fusion solo guitarists like Tosin Abasi and Plini became big names, but in contrast with these skilled axemen, THE GORGE are less concerned with virtuoso soloing and more with repetition and structure. The statically pounding mechanisms of Meshuggah-style riffing and singing are artfully interspersed with surprising moments of pristine melody, which reflect the two-faced nature of this record. The low-key “jazzy” mid section of «Earthly Decay» is a subtle moment in which the band’s musical pedigree shines through, but it’s actually in the artful buildup through the different sections towards a gnarly finale that really shows the compositional skill of these guys.
With their third full-length album, THE GORGE take you on a giant voyage of discovery from which an incredible amount of joy can be experienced. Besides being wizards at their instruments, the quartet from St. Louis also prove to be incredible composers who know when to shine and when to take a step back, which is a rare feat in progressive music these days. The final track «Wraith» offers a sublime moment in which the band’s compositional skill and emotional lyrics come together to offer one last opportunity for respite and consideration. Among the giant synthesizers, slow syncopated riffing and dying screams we are all laid to rest with our faces towards the sunset. Having come to the end of a life’s journey, THE GORGE ofer us the thing that we have all longed for: release from the bonds of our Mechanical Fiction.