The arrival of a new Godsticks album is always welcome, and their latest release, This is What A Winner Looks Like, is certainly that! The headline is that this is, in my opinion at least, their finest work yet. There is no drastic stylistic shift, and the heavy prog metal furrow they’ve been ploughing for some time now is still much in evidence; they’ve simply done it that bit better this time.
There are a number of reasons why this is their best album to date. Firstly, James Loughrey’s production is exactly right, and has power and panache, and a brightness that was perhaps missing from the last couple of albums. There is also space, and that is crucially important in presenting the band in their best light. There is still a heavy density to the sound, but it isn’t suffocating. Also critical to this album is the songwriting, something Darran Charles has always excelled at, but this collection seems more memorable, a little more accessible maybe? Godsticks have never been easy listening, and they still aren’t thank goodness, but these songs sound natural and huge. Despite his assertion that the pandemic was a creative nadir for him, out of that difficult time he has bounced back brilliantly on the evidence of these songs. The sound has also been given a contemporary twist with the increased use of keyboards and electronic loops, something which guitarist Gavin Bushell has apparently shown an aptitude for. Whether the songs have been built around these devices, or whether they are embellishments isn’t clear, but whichever is the case, they work extremely well, and add a touch more colour and texture to the Godsticks palette. This exemplifies the more collaborative approach to writing and recording this time around, and it has paid dividends for sure.
The last reason this is the best Godsticks release so far is the musicality and performances. Darran has gradually been improving his vocal technique over the years, and proves here that he can hold his own with the best prog metal vocalists. His range is impressive, and he has clearly grown in confidence to the point that he knocks it out of the park over and over again on This is What A Winner Looks Like. They could have easily just put his mugshot on the cover! The guitar playing from both Charles and Bushell is exceptional, and they work so well playing off each other. Whether it’s complex picking, riffing, counterpoint or soaring solos, the standard is sky high. In fact, as you might expect, the guitars are all over this record, and the angular stuttering riff machine is well oiled. Meanwhile, Tom Price is immense on the drum kit, thundering along most of the time, but with subtle fills and flourishes when required, and his drum sound has never been better. Finally, Dan Nelson, who surely needs no introduction for most prog fans, as he’s so well known for his playing in Magenta and Cyan, provides probably his best ever performances for Godsticks on this album. He’s obviously saved his best until last, as he has decided to move on now, and his bass shoes will not be easily filled.
Analysing each song in turn would be a pointless exercise, as it’s such a strong album it demands being listened to in its entirety at one sitting, but there are some favourites to mention. The first single, Mayhem, for example, is one of the heaviest tracks and it’s a belter, with staccato riffing, blistering drums and some gorgeous subtle bass runs. It increases in intensity and winds up to a coruscating solo from Charles before its abrupt ending. It’s concise and wastes not a second in saying what it needs to. Second single If I Don’t Take It All is similarly short and sweet, but begins with one of these electronic loops before the guitars take over. It deals with overcoming adversity, and is quite optimistic for Darran, although musically it’s quite dense. The video looks like it was shot in a prison, and the atmosphere fits the song perfectly.
Eliminate and Repair is another stand out, beginning subtly with double-tracked vocals for the opening verses, before the band kick in for the first chorus, with a wonderfully growly riff typical of the band, and complex interweaving guitar lines before one of those soaring idiosyncratic solos. Silent Saw and Lying show the band’s lighter, more reflective side, and help pace the album nicely, the latter acting as a suitable prelude for the album’s finale, Wake Up. It builds with a throbbing menace initially before the twin guitar attack wreaks havoc, working up to a furious climax.
If you know Godsticks, you know roughly what to expect, and you won’t be disappointed – that’s a promise. It’s everything you might hope for and more. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, and it shows without doubt what a band with their talents can achieve if you keep working and refining your art. For those who don’t know them, this album is the perfect place to start. Godsticks are back. Be grateful; be very grateful.
01. If I Don’t Take It All (3:24)
02. Eliminate and Repair (4:51)
03. This Is My New Normal (3:48)
04. Devotion Made to Offend (4:12)
05. Silent Saw (3:25)
06. Throne (4:31)
07. Don’t Say A Word to Me (5:02)
08. Mayhem (3:44)
09. Lying (4:01)
10. Wake Up (5:06)
Total Time – 44:04
Darran Charles – Vocals, Guitars, Synthesisers, Keyboards
Dan Nelson – Bass
Gavin Bushell – Guitars, Programming
Tom Price – Drums
Record Label: Kscope
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 26th May 2023