The punk-metal scene is not for those with sensitive ears. If you're not there to rant, rage and rock, then you might as well get the hell out. Yet the genre's hard edge has often meant that, unless you're a straight dude, you might not have a welcoming experience. Burlington label Stickshift Recordings, which brands itself as pro-queer, pro-trans, feminist, positive and DIY punk, is out to change that. In that sense, riot grrl trio Gorgon, armed with their debut full-length album, Secret — the follow-up to a 2013 EP, Greatest Hits — are ideal ambassadors for the Stickshift mission.
Bassist, lead vocalist and Stickshift founder Kelly Riel leads Gorgon's sonic assault. The former Doll Fight! bassist is flanked by a pair of likeminded players, credited only as EA and Amandaa — yes, with two As — on guitar and drums, respectively. Ripping into the punk scene with audacity and an agenda, these three aren't afraid to call bullshit. Loudly.
The album's most damning track is "Street Talk," a succinct and scathing number about street harassment to which plenty of women can relate — and that seems especially timely in the wake of the recent viral NYC catcalling video. Laced with venom, Riel spits out this warning shot: "If you can't help but tell me how much you want to ride me/ when I walk by on the street/ I probably will carve out both your eyes/ you can fuck off." EA echoes that sentiment with punishing guitar chops, drawing out her notes in oozingly livid fashion.
"I Hear Things Are Just as Bad Down in Lake Champlain" is a minute-and-a-half tirade on environmental problems in the supposedly greenest of states. Here, Riel is at her most frantic and abrasive, her words barely perceptible. Amandaa's fiery drumming contributes to the riotous, shaky-camera vibe.
"Steeling Secrets, Stealing Lives" is a middle finger to military hierarchy and the rise of the surveillance era. Kelly snaps, "Padlocks on the chain link fence/ secrets whispered into hands are left behind but not forgotten/ on a computer several states away they watch you throw your key away."
One chink in the album's armor is that, with all the snarling and eardrum-shattering vocal fry, it's often hard to decipher the group's politically charged lyrics. There are also some tracks that don't fit the fired-up bill. Take the opener "Hard Candy," the only song that directly addresses a male-female relationship. Granted, it positions Kelly as a vampirish femme fatale, but it feels at odds with the rest of the album's politics.
At a rapid 25 minutes, the 11-track album is grueling and thunderous, pounding its message until the exhausted end. Lots of punk thrashers try to sound angry for the hell of it. Not so for the ladies of Gorgon. They have something to say, challenging the listener to hear them as the fierce and fed-up rockers they are.