The brief behind Gone Is Gone is a feint, but a fun one. The elevator pitch for the band has been “featuring members of Queens of the Stone Age and Mastodon…plus the drummer of At the Drive-In, and a multi-instrumentalist” while the truth is, that description runs backwards to inception of Gone Is Gone. The two guys behind that ellipse, drummer Tony Hajjar and Mike Zarin, started the band, recruited Queens-man Troy Van Leeuwen, and then came Mastodon bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders to complete the set; the catalyst for the hard rock group was big riffs, not big names.
Hajjar and Zarin discovered Gone Is Gone’s sound while composing music for film trailers (you didn’t think that stuff wrote itself, did you?), and you can hear aspects to cinema scoring in the band’s sound. Even though this is a prog-ish hard rock EP, there’s nothing indulgent or out-of-place on the longer songs like closer “This Chapter” and “Starlight,” whose extended intros and codas feel earned. Everything has a point. The more head-on rockers are similarly economic, cycling through distorted riffs often enough to keep thing fresh while pivoting from loud to soft to loud again. I’m thinking of “Stolen From Me” in particular with that description: it opens with an alternating grinding and screeching riff, gets quiet, features some absolutely furious drumming and a bass-lead instrumental breakdown, and then still makes it back around the bend for a final chorus. And this is all inside three minutes! EP opener “Violescent” goes for the throat, too, with its crashing snare/guitar attack start, laser buzzsaw guitar solo, and Big Rock Finish ending. You can see how Zarin’s made a living in the scoring game: he knows how to make something that sounds exciting.
Gone Is Gone isn’t just brawny hard rock, though. While the aggro stuff has quieter moments, the composition chops really come out on mostly-keyboard interludes “Character” and “Recede and Enter.” “Character” begins peacefully enough with textured synths and clean guitar under dissociated spoken word before ratcheting the tension back up with bottom-heavy, fuzzed out guitar that interrupts the mood like a gloriously bad acid trip. “Recede and Enter” is less structured and less effective, but at least works as an exhale from “Praying From the Danger,” the EP’s most relentless stomper.
For me, Gone Is Gone is its outright best when it balances the heavy and the gorgeous the way it does on “Starlight.” While “the heavy and the gorgeous” has been attached to metal/hard rock a bunch in recent years–hello Deftones, hello Deafhaven–“Starlight” differs from, like an Incubus single because of the interplay between Sanders’ rough vocals on the chorus and the wailing, reverb-heavy melodies. It might just be the record’s best top to bottom composition, too: everything about “Starlight” from the spacey synths to Hajjar’s mood-setting drumming to Sanders alternating soft and harsh vocals to that emotive solo to the shoegaze-y ending brings its own reward in time. And, true to Gone Is Gone’s origins, it would look great with film. “Starlight” is the song I saw most dinged on YouTube for “not being like Mastodon” but with something this good, who fucking cares?
Gone Is Gone is supposed to be a prelude to a full longplayer later this year, so it’s natural to wonder what sounds will make it to the album and what won’t. When Gone is Gone plays with texture and hard rock like on “Starlight,” “Stolen From Me,” or “This Chapter” it works really well. Even a blip like “Character” wins for its inventiveness. Or, so long as they make immediate rock songs in the vein of “Violescent” they’ll still get listeners. The only time they sound like they’re coasting is on the grunting “Praying From the Danger,” a mid-tempo number in constant search of an idea.
Not to sound like everyone else for a second, but after listening to Gone Is Gone, you can see where Queens of the Stone Age and Mastodon come in as comparisons, and not just because of shared members. Queens and Mastodon represent a 21st century version of hard rock/metal: one that scratches the itch for aggressive rock music without falling down the metal subgenre rabbit hole on one side or devolving to knuckle-dragger radio rock like Five Finger Death Punch on the other. The thinking man’s headbangers, if you will. Gone Is Gone trades in that same version of hard rock, and this EP isn’t just a fit for the summer, it’s a blockbuster.