Album Review: Final Gasp – Mourning Moon

3/5

Even among the lone wolves of hardcore, Boston never stays with the pack. Instead of rallying behind the youth crew during the late ’80s, Beantown split into numerous competing sub-factions: skramz, mathcore, lurching post-metal.  Even the straight-edge kids drew a rather harsh line against their fellow East Coast elites. 

But that little brother complex has led lots of bands to break new ground. All six members of Final Gasp still play in beatdown and crust punk outfits, but when frontman Jake Murphy brought everyone together in 2019, they set off down the left-hand path. While they’re certainly not afraid to show some skin, their bloody stage show is a proudly naked tribute to Samhain. Heck, given his short stature and chiseled cheekbones, Murphy doesn’t just look like a slightly hairier version of Glenn Danzig. He’s also blessed with that same bluesy, bruising baritone.   

While these misfits do a faithful cover of “Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill,” Final Gasp can’t be written off as pure hero worship, either. Their prior EPs dug up the steadfast pillars of hardcore (caveman riffs, barking vocals, no songs longer than it takes to explode a Hot Pocket in the microwave) and dragged those gatekeepers screaming behind gassed-up deathrock. Such sacrilege won them plenty of converts. But their first album proves that they were just firing up the incinerator. 

Mourning Moon breaks even further from tradition. Sure, “Blood and Sulfur” fist-pumps over a merciless D-beat. But where hardcore finds power in pushing through the pain, Final Gasp summon their dark forces from the pit of despair. “I’ve reached a higher ending,” Murphy yowls on “Climax Infinity”, which opens the album with a bass toll that’s doomier than the doorbell to a haunted mansion. “A new way to wallow into undying strength.” This band hasn’t stopped namechecking genre purists like SSD, but they’re also huge horror buffs who can’t resist padding these songs with ominous synthtros. Once you realize there’s no hook or gang chants coming to your rescue, “Seize” grows all the more unsettling. The murderously looping interlude sucks at your sanity, like a waking nightmare.  

Behind those ghastly special effects lurks a real sense of dread. Murphy still sounds like he’s got that mojo rising. Occasionally, he even reaches the elegiac heights of peak AFI. But Mourning Moon was carved from countless dark nights of the soul. “Through the night, I toss and turn”, he screams, as if being choked by regret. “My ears are bleeding from my dreams.” The title track was written with a special someone in mind, but after losing touch with so many more people, Final Gasp recast it as a grand, gothic love story. It reads like one too, spilling with flowery language and sacrificial bloodshed under a wax and wane of synth that could outpale Robert Smith. Still, while the black-and-white video is enlivened by a campy spirit, that sense of loss hangs over the album like the crescent blade of a guillotine. “Rows of heaven, do not exist” Murphy spits as a parting shot. You can almost see his fist raised against the sky as Mourning Moon sets beneath an acoustic drizzle. 

If I’m painting this album out to be a bummer, then that’s a crying shame. Because Mourning Moon will shred your face. The cold opening of “Frozen Glare” is met by a brick wall of riffs that hit plenty hard enough to spur a high leg kick. This album also happens to be Final Gasp’s first for Relapse, so it’s fitting that they sink their teeth deeper into blackened trash.  Adding a third guitarist fortifies the righteous chug of “Unnatural Law”, although  sometimes, producer Arthur Rizk (Sumerlands, Code Orange, Trapped Under Ice and Power Trip, the delectably nasty Tomb Mold) pours so many layers into the mix that the riffs get lost in the murk. Do I wish “The Vanishing” pushed the pedal to the metal, instead of breaking down into sludge? You bet, but that’s because “Temptation” has me begging on my knees for more squealing leads. 

Hardcore bands don’t stay together for too long. That’s just the nature of the beast. Something about Final Gasp feels different, though. After all, they mine just as much inspiration from metal as they do Echo & The Bunnymen. They’re still uncovering exactly how those jagged edge pieces fit together. There’s a tighter album in here somewhere, one that burns with all the beauty of a blood moon. But Mourning Moon glows with promise for a terrifying new thrill. 

Mourning Moon is out now on Relapse Records

Order here.

Stream here.

Follow Final Gasp here.

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