Garry Brents, the sole artist behind the project Gonemage, has proven to be an incredibly unique figure in the underground metal scene. With a massive catalog of work, spanning back nearly twenty years, more modern audiences will likely be most familiar with Brents’ work under the alias Memorrhage - a project combining classic nu-metal sonics with futuristic, cyberpunk atmospheres. 

While Brent’s strength under Memorrhage lies in his ability to create nu-metal music as good as the 90’s and 2000’s classics without emulating the past, instead aiming to extend the genre’s future, Gonemage’s Spell Piercings was hyped up for wildly different reasons. 

Described in its leadup as “blackened nu-metal,” the newest album under this separate alias seemed to be yet another sharp pivot in the almost hilariously diverse catalog of Gonemage releases. From the punk-centric black metal album Astral Corridors, to the synth-heavy takes on metal on Sudden Deluge and Handheld Demise, to the atmospheric pop-punk and synth-pop combinations on Celestial Invocation, Gonemage’s commitment to wild and strange sonic experiences makes for one of the most thrilling discographies in metal and metal-adjacent scenes today. 

All this being said, Spell Piercings seemed, prior to its release, to be focused heavily on paying homage to the retro styles of the late 90s, combining both the sound of the era in which nu-metal had become widely popular with that of the newfound digital exploration that dominated society during that same period. 

Take the album’s opener, one of three teaser tracks released in the leadup to this project, “Crawlspace." Opening with an instrumental clip that feels ripped straight out of shows like Danny Phantom, and with another drum and bass segment during the outro, it sets the album up to feel like the soundtrack to putting a floppy disc of a haunted video game into your computer and seeing the horrors of that before your very eyes. Chugging guitar riffs, very black-metal inspired vocals across the verses, and disorienting drum fills all make for a listening experience that’s equal parts brutalist and hilariously fun. 

Not to mention the very purposeful atmosphere created by the instrumentals serve as the perfect base for the lyrical style of this song in specific - a lyrical style comparable to acts like Death Grips, who’s later works use specific keywords and abstract phrases to provoke an nearly primal feeling in the listener. Lines like “Save my / Skin Spirit / Lift me up now” as well as “Trapped in the crawl / Crawl a temporal embrace,” create shockingly vivid imagery of some external force pushing a sense of punishment on a protagonist (something that gets expounded upon in the Bandcamp description for this record). 

Even still, this was arguably the most tame cut of the three songs released in the leadup to the full project. The song “Screambled,” as an example, is pretty handily the most black metal influenced of the three teasers, with every single aspect of the music’s intensity being upped tenfold. On top of absurdly catchy riffs and an atmospheric vocal style comparable to the softer moments of the early Korn and Slipknot catalog, the song also contrasts these moments with blast beats, guitar tones that sound absolutely demented, and screams so visceral they border on insanity. 

And yet, it still pales in comparison to the third teaser, “Tattered Cloak,” which has both some of the best singing of the entire record as well as some of the most atmospheric and immersive guitar patterns you can get out of a song this nu-metal adjacent. The lyrics, too, also do a great job of keeping up the 90s-influenced theme here.

All this is to say that these tracks all spelled (haha, get it? spelled?) a lot of promise for the overall project, but also left me with a few apprehensions going into it. 

My biggest worry going into this record, mainly, was whether or not this project even warranted being released under a different artist name than Memorrhage. Sonically, both the teasers to this record and the debut, self-titled Memorrhage record both share plenty of similarities with each other. With a lack of separation in style between the two projects being demonstrated in the singles, not only was I worried there would be a lot of lost potential for experimentation that would come with a release under a different alias, but I was also concerned the record could end up proving to feel like a collection of, effectively, slightly more black metal influenced Memorrhage B-sides.

Thankfully, separate from a few criticisms, Spell Piercings as a full project ended up being one of the most unique and interesting projects in the modern nu-metal scene to date. 

Even my least favorite track on the record, “Bouncing Scroll,” is a really interesting moment for the record as a whole. With a borderline hip-hop element to the delivery on some parts of the verses (something that, despite its inherit goofiness, adds to the campy atmosphere of the embrace of 90s nu-metal ideas), the track has some really oppressive moments towards its second half. Outside of these ideas being presented, though, the song does end up feeling pretty underwhelming in the context of the rest of the record. 

It’s songs like “Cave of Trials,” for example, that could be summarized as the exact opposite of underwhelming, however. This thing is a complete and total rollercoaster of a track, with a nail-biting progression that leaves the listener in absolute awe. 

Soft, almost jazz-like guitar plucks and drum patterns on the intro (similar to the modern British math rock scene lead by artists like Black Midi and Squid) suddenly make way for a chorus as explosive as it is immersive. The lyrics “Thirteen floors / No save points” repeat with absolutely guttural screams, creating one of the most legitimately insane moments of the entire project. 

Yet, it’s moments like these on Spell Piercings that only bolster the album’s hilariously fun attitude. The closing lines to this track, featured on a sudden beat switch - “Into the dragon’s nest / Hellmaster, explode / Spoiling and word of death / Death” - speak a lot to this aspect of the album’s nature. 

Gonemage’s ability to commit to the bit across the project may just be their biggest strength throughout the album. Lyrics like these run the risk of sounding like the cornier side of what, as an example, the power metal scene has to offer. References to dragons, monsters, and the likes can so easily feel so over-the-top that it becomes immersion breaking. Still, everything about this project - the vocals, the production, and the high-octane nature of it all - create a package for these lyrics that masterfully sells you on the concept, all without the downside of risking immersion. 

Moving on, the songs “C U” and “Sliced in the Chamber” are, lyrically speaking, polar opposites. The former, which overstays its welcome a bit at nearly seven minutes (two of which are dedicated to another drum and bass inspired interlude), has “lyrics” described on the album’s Bandcamp page as “indecipherable words and sounds from the clown doll.” 

Without lyrics, the song's instrumental focus may prove to be pretty esoteric, especially towards listeners looking for a less of a focus on pure extremity, even if the sound design and several moments of the song’s progression are absolutely phenomenal. 

“Sliced in the Chamber,” contrasting this, tells the story of a mage, who, quite literally, sets off traps triggering various knives and blades, killing the protagonist. The song’s sonic progression and palette help tremendously in supporting this concept, crafting just as much of a story as the lyrics themselves. 

Though, in terms of narrative, no track really stands up quite as well as the over 7-minute title track. The song, serving as the closer to the album, seems to relay the exact narrative given in the Bandcamp description of the album discussed earlier. The narrative, which describes the doll depicted on the album cover being some sort of spirit or entity within a toybox, tells of this entity inflicting a level of torment on those who come across it, almost like it’s seeking vengeance by using other, real-life people as toys. 

Despite moments of this project, especially towards the front half, feeling underwhelming, the longer you allow for the album to grow its concept, the more you’re rewarded for paying attention. In that sense, Spell Piercings masters the balancing act of being both an actively engaging listen with lots to offer avid listeners digging for narrative and concepts, all while also staying true to the dumb fun core of nu-metal as a genre. 

This, plus the black metal ties this record takes on make it, essentially, the metal equivalent of dipping french fries in a milkshake. Sure, it sounds weird on the face of it, but at the end of the day, it’s a combination of ideas more complimentary than you likely ever realized. 

Spell Piercings may not be as personally engaging to me as the more cyberpunk, futuristic, and dystopian concepts presented through a project like Memorrhage; but there’s still plenty of fun to be had here for both classic 90’s metalheads and modern fans looking revitalize a once-hated mental subgenre with the modern clarity and resources to elevate it into some of the best that metal as a genre has ever had to offer. 

You can purchase and stream Spell Piercings through Gonemage’s Bandcamp page:

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