Godsticks: The Envisage Conundrum

Godsticks have, with The Envisage Conundrum, reminded me of everything there is to like about progressive music. This bias that I’m confessing is more or less a kneejerk against all the time I spent listening to Tool, Dream Theater, and Rush when I was in high school. When I’d had enough, I fled to the comforts of punk’s modern runoff like a freezing street urchin, allergic to haughty virtuosity, massive song structures, or the goofy melodramatics of the world’s James LaBries. So, a decade later—I pop this in, brace myself, and bam: This wrecks my expectations, and it’s awesome.

The Welsh trio are supremely talented for sure, but they play in service to the compositions rather than the solos (which themselves are mostly tactful, brief, and well written). Structures are a mixed bag: Some tunes are progressive in the traditional turn-after-turn sense; others linger on one section or mood and build patiently. The band seems keen to make pop out of prog. The vocals from Darren Charles are unaffected and sound more like Shangri-era Scott Weiland than my mental caricature of a warbling prog singer. Vocal harmonies are brilliantly selected and prominent on almost every song. Careful stabs of piano, hookish vocal motifs, curious chord choices… not a moment is boring. I also love the way they use heavy guitar as a constant while things morph around it: Thick palm-muted riffs link up with rolling kick-drum for passages which lean towards progressive metal, or chug along beneath spaced-out keys and acoustic arpeggios for lush buildups. Enthusiasts of musicality ought to find much to like.

Lumbering and penultimate epic “Borderstomp” is divvied into three parts, all exceeding five minutes—this track best exemplifies the knack Godsticks have for distilling the unwieldiest aspects of prog and the dissonant stomp of metal into something accessible, and a sound of their own. Nothing about this is garish or heavy-handed. Though, fair warning: I’m pretty far-removed from this genre’s decades-old universe. For what it’s worth, these guys have given me a real good reason to pay attention.