Brooklyn, New York was once a hotbed of musical activity for metal, rock and punk. Though not as prolific or as important in contemporary music, it still produces a stream of interesting bands in the world of heavy guitar music. The likes of Imperial Triumphant, Pyrrhon and Tombs emerged from there over the last fifteen years, and “the Borough of Kings” might have another name to add to this list – GUHTS. Fronted by charismatic vocalist, Amber Gardner, the quartet released their debut EP in 2021 and attracted the attention of London-based New Heavy Sounds to back their debut album. But what is their music, and where does it fit into today’s landscape?
For the sake of convenience, people call GUHTS a shoegaze-inspired post-metal band or even doomgaze. Both have some credibility if you want to understand the angle of their art, although neither are satisfactory. A panic chord resonates likes a detuned organ in opener, ‘White Noise’, and then wades into a dual guitar sequence of single-note vibratos and dissonant arpeggios. The tempo is doom metal, yet Amber Gardner attacks the soprano notes with a snarl and whirls into the clouds of an angelic voice before you can settle. You’ll hear a definite alt-rock/shoegaze bliss in the use of distortion and melody, but the guitars are hairy enough to be post-metal in their muscle. This should be quite compelling as a live spectacle. Imagine Will Haven with a tuneful singer who projects angst in her melodic vocal lines. The drum tempo and beats stay within the same disciplined rhythm for the entirety of this track. In one moment, you might envisage a purple canvass of messy splashes, while the next can resemble a car crash about to unfold. Add ferocious screaming over the top of this music and you’d have a unique post-metal/shoegaze experiment.
Doom metal chords and downtempo trip-hop beats unfurl a passageway to a latent melody in ‘Til Death’. Be patient. It’s hidden underneath the bristle of sludgy guitars. The daydreaming vocals are at odds with the fuzz of the amps – that’s the great paradox of this album. Listen to the minimalist but tense pianos underneath. Why does this not feel like a doom metal experience? The description of “doomgaze” might be accurate for once. Follow-up, ‘The Mirror’, is the best song on the record, and it’s the closest you come to experiencing the anguished heart of Amber Gardner. This is how you portray regret and pain through the medium of music. Dew drops of piano moisten the aching line of “Your life is not your own,” like a rainy-day epiphany. You believe you can float through the pain like a person relieved of the burden of caring. Cast off the responsibilities that weight you down and demask the image you portray to the outside world. The atmospheric transience of this music can be empowering. This is The Cure as a doom metal band.
Amber Gardner is the domineering personality in this music, but that should not downplay the impact of the musicians behind her. ‘Handless Maiden’ is a serious gothic expedition but with the city-life anxiety of a post-metal band. Only one criticism saunters at the back of your mind in this song: Gardner injects no natural strain into her voice – that’s sensible from a musician’s point of view, but it restricts the primacy of the emotions she wants to portray. A post-metal screamer would shred their throat as part of the suffering that comes with such a ferocious unburdening of emotions. But there’s nothing to criticise in ‘Eyes Open’. An overlooked feature of this band is their ability to reach an uplift in their music through the power of fortitude. The noisy guitars orbit the drumbeats like clouds waiting to unleash rain. Simple piano formations underneath the rubble hint at a Berlin vibe to match the New York noise approach.
Perhaps Rolo Tomassi are a useful reference point for this music in the way GUHTS approach dream pop through the spectrum of post-metal. Amber Gardner’s crystal-clear melodies in ‘Generate’ achieve their effect like a lover blowing powdered bonbons into the face of their soulmate in a moment of blissful admiration. But there’s always a cocoon of sorrow waiting to trap you in its debilitating clutches. Here, guitarist, Scott Prater, stays within the ethereal tremolo-picking of the higher register notes beyond the twelfth fret as the other channel layers up the grungy power chords.
GUHTS realise that the world we envisage as children through fairytales often damages us in later life when we understand that it will never be like this. Closing track, ‘The Wounded Healer’, starts with a glockenspiel effect in the intro to create a lullaby setting for the doomgaze hybrid sound to find its feet. There’s always an element of trepidation disguised as tension. An anxious strain of guitar threatens a reverse pitch bend as it ravages the same note for over a minute. Piano sprinkles creep through the painful screams of Gardner as she expunges her mental turmoil by repeating the line, “Silence my heart”. This isn’t doom metal, nor is it post-metal or sludge – it’s an atmospheric kaleidoscope of all three with an internalising shoegaze melancholia.
GUHTS have a strong sense of their own uniqueness on their debut album, and we should be optimistic that they can establish its boundaries on their sophomore effort. This is an intriguing start.
Release Date: 26/01/2024
Record Label: New Heavy Sounds
Standout tracks: Til Death, The Mirror, Generate
Suggested Further Listening: Will Haven – Muerte (2018), Lethian Dreams – A Shadow of Memories (2020), Tribunal – The Weight of Remembrance (2023)