Gouge Away 2024
Photo: Caleb Gowett / Deathwish

Hardcore’s Gouge Away Grow on ‘Deep Sage’

Gouge Away’s Deep Sage delivers heavy hooks that recall 1990s alternative greats without losing that hardcore fury that put them on the map.

Deep Sage
Gouge Away
15 March 2024

After building momentum with constant touring behind 2018’s Burnt Sugar, 2020 was poised to be Gouge Away’s year. They planned to spend the year recording and touring. Instead, the band struggled to keep momentum during lockdown, trying to write new material with members locked down in different parts of the US to diminishing returns. When they couldn’t charge forward, they decided to take a break, unsure what would come next. It took two years to get back to working on Deep Sage, Gouge Away’s latest and best album, but it was worth the wait. This is an early contender for the best hardcore record of 2024.

Deep Sage delivers heavy hooks that recall 1990s alternative greats without losing that hardcore fury that put them on the map. Gouge Away’s debut, Dies, was a politically charged, straight-ahead hardcore record, and the follow-up, Burnt Sugar, was more focused on mental health. Deep Sage continues in that direction thematically but is more introspective, resulting from self-care and self-reflection. In a recent interview on The New Scene podcast, lead singer Christina Michelle spoke candidly about the shift in her thinking that resulted from time in therapy. Musically, this is their most varied and adventurous record, embracing shoegaze and quieter vocals in some of the most affecting moments.

Deep Sage sounds more immediate from the first track than other Gouge Away records. It was recorded live to tape with Jack Shirley, including Michelle’s vocals. In the opener, “Stuck in a Dream”, Gouge Away sound positively ferocious. From there, “Maybe Blue” and the title track have big, relentless hooks. “Idealized” builds and builds to an explosive climax. “No Release”, “The Sharpening”, and “Spaced Out” are pummeling and relentless, adhering to the band’s sound and even more muscular due to Shirley’s production. Gouge Away take some chances, too, with tracks like “A Welcome Change”, slowing down the tempo, giving Michelle a chance to sing rather than scream, and riding out a hypnotic riff.

While mental health has recently been a focus of many musical lyrics, Gouge Away continually find ways to make this sound fresh. In “Overwatering”, Michelle describes giving too much love: “I wanted to give my love / Clumsily poured too much / Now I can’t take it back / I tried to plant it, but it just rot.” It’s a powerful metaphor for overextension, enhanced by her screaming repeatedly, “I took the sweetness from the inside”. “Maybe Blue” ticks off a list of mundane tasks that feel unsurmountable in the grip of depression.

On the massive, loud-quiet-loud standout “Newtau”, Michelle blends spoken, sung, and screamed vocals while the group match her at every step. The last verse’s catharsis winds down to a repetition of the phrase “If you try me, I will”, which is menacing, and it sets the stage for “Dallas”, by far the biggest swing on Deep Sage and one of the strongest tracks. Michelle sings over a thick bass line and shoegaze guitars, and the song builds to a painful catharsis. Lyrically, the song describes a low point, but it is a triumphant way to close the record. Gouge Away have experimented with more melody and catchy riffs on songs like “Stray/Burnt Sugar” before, but this is a new high point that effortlessly weaves other influences into their hardcore attack.

In a different era, “Dallas” and several other Deep Sage tracks would find a home on alternative radio. Instead, we just have to appreciate bands like Gouge Away, who are so good at integrating a range of heavy sounds into something so compelling and spread the word.  

RATING 9 / 10