Review Summary: Gatling's sophomore effort flaunts enhanced production quality, progressive metal influence and quality songwriting.
Henry Rollins, the frontman of punk group Black Flag once said, "I believe that one defines oneself by reinvention. To not be like your parents. To not be like your friends. To cut yourself out of stone." The process of rebirth is evident in the careers of many musicians and artists, in order to remain relevant. For many younger bands, though, this process of reinvention is necessary to find a niche, to cut a space between the influences of the past and the sonic dreams of the future. On Beforemath, Gatling's second album, the band experiences this same sort of sonic rebirth.
Discarding the influences of experimental and grindcore prevalent in their previous album, Hen in a Pumpkin, the young men of Gatling set out to make a pure progressive metal album, one reminiscent of one of their strongest influences, Opeth. With a new member, Elliot Slater, and studio production quality, Gatling's new sound is far removed from their previous works. The stage is set for something new, and the story behind this concept album also fits that theme well.
Set in the future, the general plotline consists of your traditional action-movie story, except with a few twists along the way. "Ten Forward," the first track on the album, starts off with a chase, followed by the capture, signaled by the heavier guitar line, of the protagonist. On his journey to a place between life and death, he is shaken, lamenting "I try to forget space and time" and mentioning the "brush with death" that led to his capture. The song progresses through the stages of the man's grief, with a surf rock influenced section symbolizing his gradual acceptance of reality, and the powerful, slow-building ending marking the formulation of his plan.
On the next few tracks, the area of Ten Forward is described as having a "lack of color and feeling" and being nothing more than "rows of headstones." As this progresses, the protagonist completes his plan for escape. A spectacular acoustic guitar section, followed by the proclamation of "Sunrise, morning light" shows new hope for our hero. Naturally, like any good action movie script, there is a turn of events. He pleads with the woman whom he was captured with to follow the plan, but she turns him in to the guards instead. His frustration is unleashed in a blistering guitar solo at the end of "Vertigo," one that makes you wonder why it isn't a common practice to relieve stress by playing guitar angrily- then again, if everyone could play guitar this well, I suppose it already would be established.
"Glass Room" is a track which the band should definitely put out as a single, if they intend to go that route. It is my second favorite song off of the album, telling the story of the protagonist waking up in a prison cell for his attempted escape, still in the "eyes of the dead." Masterful acoustic guitar playing, a beautiful solo, and, emotional lyrics put this piece near the top of my list. Despite the seemingly dreary situation, "On A Rail" starts with a very hopeful and upbeat riff. The positive atmosphere doesn't last long, however, as his second breakout attempt from Ten Forward leaves him confessing to the guards, admitting, "I've said everything that I've had to say."
We have just two songs left, and you're probably wondering- will he or won't he escape? Be patient, will you? "Absolute" is the story of what exactly happened to the rest of the people who helped him to try to escape the second time... they managed to make it out of Ten Forward! The protagonist, however, is bloodied in his escape attempt, locked in whatever solitary confinement consists of in the place between life and death. "Absolute," for one major reason, if not for the well-handled shifts in dynamics and tempo, is my favorite song from the album. Right after the heavy riffing and guitar solo, the instruments (except for a single acoustic guitar) fade away, leaving just the vocals. This, beyond any of the incredible instrumental prowess Gatling displays on Beforemath, and any of the other very strong tracks, is what you will remember most about this song and this album. These lyrics speak of desperation, the loss of friends, and carry the plot, three things lyrics hardly ever do in modern music: "And all the faces turn away, leaving me here... These thoughts swirling in my head, in my head... Sitting in a locked room, awaiting my demise, with nowhere to go but... away from here." What a moment for a band, when you consider that this is one of the first songs they've ever made with vocals.
The final escape and chapter of the journey is told on "What Lies Below"- cementing Gatling's influences in progressive metal, more than anything. A very technically proficient song, it tells the story of the successful escape attempt and the man's attempt to cope with his regained life. Much like Gatling, the hero has undergone quite a journey in a short amount of time, and come out the better for it. Just like all action movies, the album and this review shall end on a cliffhanger, leaving us all wondering: What will become of Gatling next?