Gouge Away - Burnt Sugar (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Gouge Away

Burnt Sugar (2018)


Two years ago, everyone was quick to heap praise onto Gouge Away and their debut , Dies. It was twenty-two minutes of near perfect hardcore. Burnt Sugar finds a way to maintain that immediacy expanding their sound for a wider audience.

Burnt Sugar is noticeably slicker than , Dies. Moving to Deathwish and production from Touché Amoré’s Jeremy Bolm and current go-to guy Jack Shirley (Deafheaven, Jeff Rosenstock) is noticeable but doesn’t do anything to blunt the band’s edge. Instead it makes sure you hear each member of Gouge Away turn up to 11.

Opener “Only Friend” finds Christina Michelle singing about paranoia and it’s a theme that threads through the entire record. Burnt Sugar isn’t happy. It leaves you purposely uneasy. The audible anxiety comes from a real place and these songs are Michelle’s way to emancipate it. She operates at full attack most of the time but makes room for growth, allowing the feelings to take other forms. She chants “Hurt is a commodity!” with the rest of the band at the end of “Subtle Thrill” and, more noticeably, she sings. When Michelle’s raspy vocals come in for the chorus of “Ghost,” the emotional weight is hard to deny.

The first half of Burnt Sugar is familiar territory, blasting through as one would expect. Bassist Tyler Forsythe in particular is purposefully high in the mix while guitarist Mick Ford finds new ways to make his guitar more dissonant. But they takes chances too, ones not often associated with hardcore. “Ghost” sounds like a Bully song, with it’s chugging bassline and Michelle’s voice. “Stray/Burnt Sugar” is poppy, a four letter word in hardcore. It’s a risk for Gouge Away, sure, but it’s moves like this that define this band.

There’s a little something for everyone on Burnt Sugar. Michelle’s growl has never sounded better, both more intense and clearer than ever. Gouge Away are a powerhouse and, regardless how you feel about their forays into a smoother sound, it proves that they are bucking any easy labels. Burnt Sugar is an early step in what is sure to be an exciting career.