Fort Lauderdale's Gouge Away first came onto my radar in 2017 while opening at the First Unitarian Church for Philly hardcore staples Paint It Black. I immediately took notice of the band's immense stage presence and frontwomen Christina Michelle's angry vocals cutting through the breakneck chaos. The band was currently supporting their first full length record,,Dies, which caught the ear of the hardcore scene and more notably Jeremy Bolm, frontman for both Touché Amoré and Hesitation Wounds. The friendship resulted in an opening slot on Touché’s fall tour and a 7” release on Bolm’s Secret Voice imprint. The aforementioned 7” saw the band expand upon their sound, incorporating cleaner, melodic vocals and showing off influences like The Jesus Lizard or Fugazi. Bolm would hunker down in the band’s practice space to refine their newest batch of songs, the resulting effort being Burnt Sugar.

The opening track and first released single ”Only Friend” is a mid tempo romp that displays Christina’s matured vocal delivery, alternating from clear yet strained yells and the throat shredding scream that’s prevalent on the first record. The stuttering tom heavy drum beat is a welcome change from the go to d-beat/blast beat styles normally found in hardcore. Christina's battle with paranoia being the lyrical focal point:

Paranoia is here again
She's my only friend

”Fed Up” is a return to the breakneck hardcore delivery, complete with dirty driving bass line and two step inducing drum beats. Most of the tracks on Burnt Sugar are under 2 minutes in length and never overstay their welcome. An exception to the quick track lengths is the second released single, ”Ghost”. Another mid tempo rocker with a strong bass line, Christina’s haunting melodic vocals in the verse help make the chorus SLAM as the full band kicks in on the headband inducing chord progression.

It makes me wonder if I've passed away or been invisible this whole time

Producer Jack Shirley’s sonic footprint can be heard quite clearly on this record, as well as much of the more clamored about released in heavy music the past five or so years. The drums sound like they’re pushing the tape machine hard, but no samples or computer trickery to be found. The bass cuts through clearly but never distracts and reminds me of , while the guitars alternate from walls of chords to dissonant leads and brushes of color over the chaos.

”Stray/Burnt Sugar” features completely clean vocals, and is a fantastic sound that I hope the band explores more in the future. The rhythm section remains the focal point instrumentally while the guitars drone on dissonant riffs. The upbeat feel matches the hopeful lyrics:

Never feel richer than to find
That the most consistent part of this life
Is that the sun will always rise

”Wilt (I Won’t) is the last blast of fury that finds Gouge Away firing away on all cylinders while album closer ”Raw Blood” trudges alone for nearly five minutes while somewhat unclear spoken word by Christina hides in the back of the mix. Refrains of “RAW BLOOD” carry out the rest of the track while the intensity picks up, only to fade out. The 11 tracks presents clock in at about 26 minutes so you’ll be listening to this record constantly.

Burnt Sugar will be released on September 28th via Deathwish Inc. The first press of vinyl is long gone but you can pre-order the 2nd press at Deathwish now. The band will also be touring with Culture Abuse and Drug Church so be sure to check the band out live, I’ll see you there.