Gator Shakes is a band you’ve probably seen on a flier or two if you’re a follower of the Pittsburgh metal scene. After a memorable performance at Deutschtown Music Festival and a conveniently-timed epidemic of alligators running wild in the city streets, Gator Shakes has been shrouded in a fog of intrigue and mystery. To cap off an active summer, they unveiled a 7-track album on August 24th with a release party at Cattivo.
There are a lot of things I like about the album. It’s a relatively straightforward collection of songs, and considering the way the songs all connect to one another and build a narrative, I’d say there’s a focus on lyrical themes. I’m all about musicians demonstrating their prowess on their given instruments, but sometimes the message of the music shines more brightly when the overall composition is straight to the point. Although I consider this to be reminiscent of early-2000s metalcore, I can definitely feel a punk rock vibe seeping through. The songs are angry and contentious, and only one of the tracks exceeds the three-minute mark. What needs to be said is said, and anything else would be filler that distracts from the message.
Let’s get into the songs.
The first track, Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day, launches you into a montage of relentless aggression with little to no rest in between. Jake Morgan goes straight into violent, yet calculated mid-range shrieks, evoking feelings that are equal parts passion and anger. Not only does this song prepare us for the musical experience of the rest of the album, it also dives right into the lyrical themes therein. Many of the songs speak on religion, but each of them seems to have a different spin on the subject. In this one, the term “god” refers to the state. In fear of rebellion, the government uses a number of methods to control its people. They pretend to have the interests of society at heart, but it’s really a distraction from the fact that citizens are used to feed the greed of their rulers. It’s a pessimistic viewpoint, but one that holds many truths.
Don’t Look Up stands out right away, as the pace of the track chugs along more slowly, but the aggression of the vocals remains strong. This song kind of makes a parallel between religion and government: they both use fear to control people. Religion threatens damnation, and with lines like “Quiet down boy, hands over your head, every word you say wrapped around your neck,” I feel that they’re saying the government threatens the same thing. The officer referenced in this song isn’t there to protect, he’s there to find the smallest mistake you’ve made. He’s looking to twist your words into something that allows him to destroy you, either by way of a bullet or incarceration. It also talks about god turning away as young men are killed in endless wars, all for the pride of the stars and stripes. What I took from this is that there is no god; we are ruled only by greed.
The first two songs had a sort of traditional structure. God Heroin seems to be a bit more experimental in that regard. Cody Schillo leads off with a combination of rolls on the snare, short fills, and crash hits that launch right back into an onslaught of fast-paced riffs by Joshua Bradley. The ending features another drum fill into a breakdown that works to emphasize the hostility of the songs message. The vocals again are a manifestation of judicious anger, this time focusing on something that seems to be more personal than big picture. Like the previous track, god turns his back when he is needed most. Rather than on a battlefield where kids are being killed, this one takes place in the context of watching a loved one suffer through, and ultimately succumb to addiction. This song begs the following question: Why would we bow down to someone who only seems to take from us?
Next up is Confessor’s Tongue, which continues the rigorous pace that has made up much of the album thus far. Chris Barbour’s bass line is a prominent component on this track, adding a haunting undertone that the rest of the composition is built upon. Life can be overbearing, and that is made clear as the character in this story searches for ways to expedite death. He finds that drugs and alcohol won’t give him the results he desires, but only work to make the life he lives more miserable. Problems can’t be numbed away or escaped; they follow and wait until you’re in a safe space, then pounce upon you, causing old wounds to bleed anew.
Traitor to the Cause is the first single from the album, and for good reason. The guitars are fast and heavy, but also have a groove that makes them catchy and memorable. Furthermore, the lyrical content of the song is sort of a microcosm of the content found on the rest of the album. It speaks on the government sabotaging the existence of average citizens in order to feed the machine of their greed. It’s about those in power finding new and exciting ways to repress those who may become enlightened, whether it be through the promotion of substances, or false messages of hope. This song was a good way to introduce this album and the band as a whole.
Leading a Horse to Holy Water keeps up the pace with a punchy bass line that perfectly frames the rest of the composition. The riffs in this one are the type that tend to linger in your head for a while, causing you to nod in public for reasons anonymous to those around you. The lyrics here are a bit more abstract, but to me they concern the idea that people are made in the image of god. We hold his mistakes and the rage with which he destroys us. When humanity is exterminated by their own hand, so to is the god in which they believed. Once again, there is a semblance of god being forced upon those who choose to think outside of what is historically accepted.
The album ends on a high note with Shots Heard From the Forest. The title alone makes it sound like it’s going to be pretty intense. The album begins and ends with the same energy, as this song launches straight into growling screams; a barrage of riffs, ranging from catchy and heavy, to something more melodic, ride over a chunky bassline and a beat that is simple, yet effective in its duty. I believe the lyrics in this one depict a battle taking place in the mind (forest) of the character. It’s a battle between god and the devil, but judging from much of the lyrical content throughout the album, it may be difficult to discern which is which. The lines of many choices have crossed paths, and after a game of Russian roulette, only one will remain. The imagery is violent and dark, but ultimately, it seems like a person trying to find himself.
Gator Shakes self-titled debut album is violent and relentless. It speaks on things that people don’t typically enjoy talking about, and that usually means it offers some outlook that should be considered by any level-headed person roaming the earth. As far as content goes, I’d put them in a similar light to Thy Art is Murder. Musically, their sound is fast and aggressive, heavy and ferocious. It reminds me of Every Time I Die or As I Lay Dying. It’s not necessarily something you sing along to, but something to experience during an ardent round of brooding contemplation. If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, you can find it on BandCamp or Spotify (and probably elsewhere). Finally, if you want to listen to Gator Shakes get drunk and talk about stuff, feel free to check them out on the Drunk Rock Show. I hope you enjoy the album as much as I did, and I demand that you have a good day.