If you’re going to take a 16-year break from releasing music, your new material might as well acknowledge it. Gospel came out of nowhere in 2005 with their ambitious prog-screamo debut, The Moon Is a Dead World, and then vanished back into the ether. The guys who returned last November with the single “S.R.O.” are not the same spry, melodramatic twentysomethings they were the last time we heard them, and they make no effort to conceal that. Vocalist Adam Dooling opens the song with the reluctant revelation you might have when you see a new wrinkle, feel a new ache, or wonder when your grays started outnumbering your other hairs: “He’s just an old soul living in a young man’s body/Now is it a middle-aged man’s body/Or a slightly older man’s body?/He’s just an old man living in an old man’s body.”
It’s not just Dooling’s lyrics that hint at the years gone by; his voice, once an open-wounded wail, is now a ragged scar, full of a grit that usually precludes a band from being deemed “screamo.” Gospel arrived when the genre was in full swing, their debut building on the template of pioneers like Orchid and Saetia while taking the emotive sound to stranger places than commercially successful contemporaries like Thursday and the Used. Their connection to progressive rock was more in spirit than in practice—sure, they made a few epic-length songs and were fond of heady compositions, but there was no mistaking The Moon Is a Dead World for Close to the Edge, even during the parts Dooling wasn’t shredding his vocal cords. But The Loser, on the other hand? *Slaps car roof* There’s a whole lot of ’70s laser show prog in this baby.
Jon Pastir, credited with keyboards and guitars on Gospel’s debut, joined the band when all but one of the songs were written. The song in question, “A Golden Dawn,” just so happens to have the album’s wildest keyboard solo. In old live videos, Pastir hops on keys every now and then but mostly plays rhythm guitar—on The Loser, I’m not sure he ever even touches a guitar. His playing takes centerstage on the album, throwing it back to prog’s heyday with hi-sheen tones on “Hyper” that recall Rush’s synthy mid-’80s, a mellotron outro on “S.R.O.” reminiscent of early King Crimson, and on nearly every song, an overdriven organ that, apart from its association with ’70s AOR, also gives Gospel their first-ever connection to the genre of music with which they share their name. Although Dooling shreds like he still has a rhythm guitarist backing him up, Pastir is The Loser’s leading light—Rick Wakeman clad in flannel instead of a cape.