Hope and redemption. Philosophy and folklore. The music of Gunner & Smith has always been a collection of fiery elements, blending searing guitars, brawny rhythms and distinct folk-family vocals to produce tightly-knit rock anthems. But on Byzantium, the group’s second full-length album, the songs simmer and seethe with a newfound brooding energy that looks at the darker sides of love, loss and humanity.
Anchored by the stolid songwriting of frontman Geoff Smith, the ever-shifting nature of the band has once again undergone another evolution, with a talented cadre of musicians joining the frontman at the helm. Featuring an ever-expanding sound that combines indie rock, alt-country and sizzling psych-Americana, Byzantium is borne from a deeper, darker place than the group’s previous material.
Having released his debut full-length album He Once Was a Good Man in 2014, the band has since toured across North America numerous times, traversing across the highways that cut through desolate areas that the frontman drew his inspiration from. Tapping into the mysticism of yesteryear, Smith – who has a Master’s Degree in Religious History focused on the Radical Reformation – continues to embrace a number of sly classic rock influences that tendril their way into the group’s core. But on his latest collection of songs, the riffs are somehow tighter, the backing instrumentation more fluid.
Recorded at Sinewave Studios, located 100 km away from the group’s home in Saskatoon, it was here where Gunner & Smith built their recorded sound with gear gathered and borrowed from friends and family scattered across Canada. Surrounded by rural, open plains and dilapidated buildings, the cadre of road-seasoned musicians managed to yield a brawl of gothic country, gritty folk, and cinematic rock. Recorded in a scant two and a half days, Byzantium was overseen by Andrija Tokic of Nashville – the producer behind the Alabama Shakes biggest breakthrough album Boys & Girls. Recording the Gunner & Smith sessions live off the floor straight to analog tape, the resulting sounds are both soft and lush, watermarked with the romance, deeply textured soft melodies, pop hooks and explosive choral climaxes.
Conjured from realms where empire lie in tatters, the story of Byzantium is one of densely layered narratives that weave and wend ominous tales of imaginative and tactile worlds. The album’s namesake, taken from a besieged ancient empire centred in Constantinople—modern day Istanbul—hints at the endless cycles of war and waste that plague humanity. But while the themes are seemingly grim, the music keeps the mood buoyant. Opening the album with a wry, snakey guitar line, Smith’s oft-dark, meticulous visions are rounded out by balladry and brightly melodic guitar-heavy rock.
The mainstay signature element of Gunner & Smith identity has always been built by the overriding concepts behind each individual album. Conjuring a literary amalgamation of decay, faith and ambition – whether it’s the uncertainty of modern life, or the constant life shifts of middle age, Smith’s latest offering is one that exists in a barren world where light ultimately shines through.