By Dustin Carroll
Gladiators Eat Fire have been creating their unique blend of psychedelic post-hardcore for around 8 years, and their newest release, Avant Garage, sees the quartet in top form. Confidently strutting the line between genres and showing more maturity in their songwriting than ever, the effort is the first release with new drummer Ian Iddings, as well as the final recording for bassist James Erwin.
Fast-paced album opener “Shapeshifter” has been a staple in the band’s live set for some time. It’s the closest thing to a traditional single on the new record. Clocking in at just over three minutes, the band rips through catchy hooks and memorable vocal melodies, kicking off the album in a relatively familiar fashion for long-time fans. “Smoke Tactics” keeps a similar vibe going, while “Vertical Event Horizon” sees the band dive deep into their spacey, post-rock groove. The song pulls the listener into their very own stoner den as guitars fragment into colorful swirls of sound, enveloping the consciousness, before being pummeled into submission.
The next track, “Duke Mongrel”, pays homage to classic Refused, with noisy guitar chords and punk basslines before melding back into the dreamlike psychedelia that gives Gladiators their signature sound.
Album closer “Bohemian Decadence” begins with subtlety. Lo-fi drums washed out with reverb and single note guitar patterns that begin to build upon themselves until a progressive speedup turns into the group’s hallmark of stoner rock riffs, hard-hitting drumwork, funk-laden bass, and charismatic vocals. The band’s long-time original members, guitarist Brian Kim and vocalist Mark Blazer, showcase their array of expressive abilities throughout the nearly 8 minute epic. Blazer’s delayed spoken-word soon turns into blood-curdling screams, while the guitars lead the song down a veritable black hole of frequency. The drums build chaotically as the track falls into dissonance – and then, peace. Guitar swells lead the listener into believing the song is over until one last snare hit gives it away. A massive blast of fuzzed-out bass, short, spastic blast beats and one last scream from the abyss ring out before the real ending.
Matt Bayles handled the production and engineering on the album. His experienced ear is evident throughout, giving the band a much more refined sound than previous recordings, while still maintaining the overall raw punk rock energy that gives the band so much of their charm. While only an EP, Avant Garage showcases all of Gladiators Eat Fire’s strongest points, and solidifies the group’s unique reign in the Northwest’s heavy music scene.