GOLD are back, and with loving force!
(Ván Records, 24 February 2017) – 39’ 33’’
I first stumbled across this jewel of a band when they released their debut ‘Interbellum’ in 2012 – back then, I was quick to judge them as yet another female fronted retro band the world didn’t need, and neither had the ‘including ex-members of THE DEVIL’S BLOOD’ boost made them any more interesting to me (although, admittedly, the release has grown on me since, as I know now what to look for in that band). Wrapped and cast aside somewhere in the dustier areas of my brain, it took until a year ago (almost to the day) for me to rediscover them, when a friend’s band (FUZZBRIDE – go check them out, their brilliant EP should be out on Bandcamp any day now!) was supporting them at a local show at Hafenklang in Hamburg. So, planning to head there anyway I decided to give their then-latest album ‘No Image’ a spin – and was completely and utterly blown away.
But this review is about the here and now and not the past, and ‘Optimist’ is just as good (if not better) than ‘No Image’. The key trademarks established on the predecessor are still there – a driving bass and minimalist yet effective drum lines build the foundation on which the manifold layers of distorted, tweaked, tender, whirring, and heavy guitar layers thrive and bloom and entangle with Milena’s ever so distant-yet-intimate vocals. What sounds like a simple recipe is ultimately more complex than what one is used to. Yes, buzzwords and genre descriptions such as post/dark/indie indeed come to mind, but there is much more to it. If there is one band which could bring fans of Burzum and QoTSA together, it would be GOLD – all that while sounding like neither.
‘Optimist’ starts bleak and slow, and the first track ‘You Too Must Die’ stands in strong contrast to the album title. Opening with the words “binge-watching the world collapse” in Milena’s vulnerable voice, it reveals another quality of GOLD – being not only musically but contextually relevant in a world divided between hate-mongering and escapism. ‘Summer Thunder’ slightly picks up the pace while contrasting Milena’s now more confident voice with a subtle desert vibe to the guitars. Are we getting slightly optimistic here? Hell no. This song is still deeply drenched in melancholia, although maybe a little more determined. ‘White Noise’ is a turning point, and sadness inevitably turns into madness, all conveyed through Milena’s lyrics and vocals, while the band slowly grooves towards the abyss. The fall is deep, and so ‘Teenage Lust’ demonstrates how it sounds when you’ve hit rock bottom. The absence of drums in this down tempo depressive episode makes the beginning of ‘No Shadow’ all the more powerful. The nadir is overcome, the tempo is fast, the lead guitar cuts, and suddenly Milena sounds stronger than ever – until ‘I Do My Own Stunts” suddenly turns resignation into confidence! If I had to pick one, this would probably my favourite and, with its 80s-vibe in the chorus, will certainly be played right after some BEASTMILK-song at my next DJ session. What follows is a two-minute battle cry to do just one thing – to not be an asshole in a world full of assholes, to ‘Be Good’ and to “stick to your guns and hold on tight”. Suddenly, we look back and see that we’re out of the dark valley – albeit an easy accomplishment as Milena, against a backdrop of almost-heavy-metal, nearly cheerfully sings ‘Come With Me”. Before we know, this record has taken an optimistic turn one would have never assumed after the first couple of songs. Even the closer ‘Tear’, with its downtempo melancholia and Milena’s voice reaching into new depths, cannot quench the ambivalent mood between sadness and hope, and takes this journey to a beautiful end.
Make no mistake – if you are into metal and nothing else, you will probably not like this. If you are a little open-minded, though, and care about music, you should definitely give ‘Optimist’ a chance. Despite being clearly centred around Milena’s voice, the guitars and rhythmic section have a lot to offer and the compositions and performance are totally on point. It is a sad yet warm album, totally fitting the dark era it was released in, although I hardly doubt that it will age well. On top of that, GOLD accomplish the rare feat of avoiding the many clichés around that genre. They are neither your typical leather-clad rock band nor pretentious owl-and-deer-hipsters. They just write beautiful music with a message, and you should listen to it.