Memphis' Gringos, the same band that operated under the Adios Gringo moniker from 1994 until 2006, have spent the past 18 years solidifying its membership in a rather special group of bands that represents a tiny percentage of the active rock/metal/hard-rock/punk/hardcore expanse: those acts that can be recognized by a truly singular sonic identity. Gringos' frenetic instrumental skill, visceral heaviness, and unbelievable power (especially live) are just a few of the attributes that combine to ensure that no other band really sounds like them.
Co-founder/guitarist/vocalist Paul McIntosh, longtime bassist Todd Park, and a strong contender for Memphis' best drummer (and co-founder) Robert Gardner concoct a sound that evokes John Zorn's marriage of free-jazz and grindcore, doom/stoner metal, death metal, hardcore punk, metal pioneers like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, and Southern hard rock.
"There seem to be more subgenres in metal and hardcore punk than any other styles of music," McIntosh says. "The criteria are very specific, and I don't think we've ever felt comfortable in any one of them. It's all rock-and-roll to me, good or bad."
At the Hi-Tone Café on Saturday night, Gringos will be celebrating the release of Pearly Gates, the band's fifth full-length album, which was recorded by Kyle Johnson at Rocket Science Audio and self-released by the band (on their High Evolutionary Recordings imprint) with the help of local label Wrecked 'Em Wreckords. It is the latest achievement in the ascending arc of quality, exploratory inspiration, plus bulldozing rock and metal force that dates back to the Gringos' formation and debut 14-song demo tape in 1994.
Founded by three former members of the colorfully named Taintskins, Adios Gringo's first vinyl releases were a pair of 7" EPs. Around this time, current Ex-Cult guitarist J.B. Horrell held down the bass position. Park replaced Horrell in 1997. Original second guitarist Rob Rich was on board until 1999, then returned to make the Gringos a four-piece from 2005 until leaving again 2009, when the band reverted to its current trio format with more than enough of the requisite "power."
Adios Gringo's 19-song debut CD was recorded at Easley-McCain and released in 1998, followed in 2000 by Gringo the Harbinger and the 20-song Our Stellar Devotion in 2001.
A four-song CD of Black Flag covers and the Paranoid 7" EP showed up mid-decade, then a split 7" with locals Damn Your Eyes and the band's fourth studio album, Forging Hammers, were both released in 2007, followed by the Gringos Versus Chiefs live CD split with long-running associates the Joint Chiefs (also an outlet for Robert Gardner's considerable talents behind a drum kit).
With Pearly Gates, the band made the decision to forgo the CD format in favor of heavy-gram vinyl that comes with a download card. It is, hands-down, the best full-length in the Gringos discography. The telepathic musical communication exchanged between three guys is one of many reasons that Pearly Gates is one of those all-too-rare albums that not only sounds heavy, it feels heavy, like the heaviness is the fourth member that makes the music take on a life of its own the very second McIntosh, Gardner, and Park hit the first notes of the first track (the side-winding "Ghost").
Also, Pearly Gates has a more subtle application of those sonic qualities than one might consider metal and a more overt connection with the noise-rock that was the stock-in-trade of labels like Amphetamine Reptile, Trance Syndicate, and Touch and Go in the early-to-mid-'90s. Despite this subjective observation, when asked what outside music was in heavy rotation over the last year and specifically during the time in which the new album was fleshed out and written, McIntosh says, "It's hard to speak for all the guys, because we listen to a lot of different stuff. But it's fair to say probably a good mix of Scandinavian black metal, 1970s-era rock, and 1980s American hardcore and new wave, along with '60s jazz."
Incorporating jazz into an otherwise heavy rock or metal template is playing with fire, but Gringos pull it off (and then some) with the simultaneous swing and pummel of "Ode to a Blind Masseur." And, to get a better idea of how this band came charging out of the gate as a fully realized entity, there is the Melvin-ish title track.
"'Pearly Gates' is one of our oldest songs, but it had worked its way back into the set list," McIntosh explains. "Except for the Adios Gringo demo tape, somehow it had never been recorded. We probably played this song at our first show as Adios Gringo with Bikini Kill at the Antenna in '94."
Then there is the stunning instrumental "Pack Mentality" that, quite appropriately, closes the album.
"We've always played our fair share of instrumental tunes, but on 'Pack Mentality' we really let the inspirations for the song dictate the direction it was going to go," McIntosh says.
"We were trying to expresses the ferocity and cadence of a hunt for prey, or a good snack."
Gringos Pearly Gates
Album-Release Show with Powers That Be
Saturday, December 15th, 9 p.m.