It’s been an intense six years for Gaza since the release of their critically acclaimed debut album, I Don’t Care Where I Go When I Die. Their brutal music has lit fires under fans all over the world. They’ve lost a guitarist, but gained a fresh rebirth in their creativity, and their refusal to censor their message has earned them a finger-wagging from some of the industry’s biggest names. Just like their sound, however, Gaza are relentless, fierce, and unafraid to plow through the challenges presented. A new chapter for this now-four-piece outfit begins as they ready their latest album, No Absolutes In Human Suffering, due to drop on July 31, shortly after they return from a six-week tour supporting Corrosion of Conformity, Torche and Black Cobra across North America.
Strangely, despite their international success, it’s been hard gaining recognition in their local scene, and singer Jon Parkin still sees Gaza as under the radar to most of Utah. “We’ve been ghosts to outlets like City Weekly and X96. I don’t know if it was our own fault for not being super social or what, but it felt like we were always on the outside looking in on the Salt Lake scene. But we’ve always loved playing here,” says Parkin. Although the band considers the scene in a bit of a downturn at the moment, they’ve been musicians long enough to have the patience for the ebb and flow of it. “The hard reality is, not a lot of people live here. And I think, at a certain point, to keep a stream moving, you need water. It kind of turns into pools and stagnates and people move on. There just aren’t enough bodies to keep it going,” says drummer Casey Hansen.
Another factor that may be keeping them under the radar: Gaza’s unabashed honesty in presenting their opinions. In a state and country that still don’t play nice with people who are loud about religious and social issues, Gaza are about as heretical as they come. Every album has been built around polarizing issues like civil equality, women’s rights and, of course, religious oppression. In some instances in the press, their message has been simplified to little more than religious bashing, but there’s a far deeper and more important issue to this band than bashing. “I think a lot of bands are scared of being real because of the controversy. That’s not saying anything poorly about people who want to sing about their girlfriends, but there are bigger fish to fry, especially in heavy music. And to me, there is nothing heavier on Earth than oppression,” says Hansen.
Religious folk aren’t the only group with a bone to pick with Gaza. As guitarist Mike Mason puts it, “Let’s just say we won’t be playing on MTV2, ever.” This is thanks to the lyrical content in the band’s first album, which upset Hatebreed frontman Jamey Jasta when Parkin growled the now-infamous line, “Dumber than a bag of Hatebreed fans.” The response was heavy: The VP of Metal Blade (which distributes releases from Black Market Activities, Gaza’s current label) contacted Gaza about it. Parkin was asked to write an explanatory email to the angry Jasta, and they even received threats from fans of having acid thrown at them if they ever returned to play in Connecticut. But the band takes it in stride, ready to fully defend their outspoken nature. “There was actually no one there when we played Connecticut, so it was the worst thing they could have done. I would have gladly taken their five dollars at the door to have acid thrown at us,” says Parkin. “There’s much less of that these days in our lyrics, and if there is, it’s veiled in metaphor. It’s not as directly specific. This new record felt so dark and so bleak that anything comical, even the dark humor, felt out of place.”
No Absolutes In Human Suffering marks a sonic turning point for Gaza. Past albums were hailed for their discordant, abrasive brand of doom and sludge, and for the unrepentant fury in both vocals and lyrics that left listeners feeling black all over. This new record maintains that dark rage, but trades in the unabashed chaos for more structure, more minor melodies, and an even deeper depression in its sonic landscape. “It feels a lot less punk rock than past records. It’s not so much a spiky mohawk—now it’s [more like] your hair is falling out because you’re worried,” says Parkin.
The writing process, they say, was far more organic and positive than past records have been. After one of their guitarists quit, the band was concerned for their future, but bassist Anthony Lucero—who’d long taken a backseat in the writing process—stepped up to fill that void and brought a creative spirit that recharged the whole band. “It was exhilarating,” says Hansen. Mason says, “This is our best work by far, in every aspect: writing, recording, lyrics, artwork … everything is amazing.” Parkin credits the steel-strong trust they have in each other for this new organic flow. “When they critique, they’re not just disagreeing with me, they’re saying something that’s for the greater good. The band is helping me do my job better.”
No Absolutes In Human Suffering will be released July 31 on Black Market Activities, and catch Gaza as part of the Doom and Gloom Fest at Burt’s Tiki Lounge with Loom, Settle Down, Jesust, Sure Sign of the Nail and Day Hymns on July 21.