Continental Riff: Dutch trio Gore bridged ?80s metal and modern instrumental rock.

Sign up for our free newsletter

It might seem hard to believe in this variegated era, with its ample supply of Pelicans, Sunns, and Earths, but once upon a time instrumental metal acts were few and far between. So limited were the options in the late ’80s and early ’90s that some recordings became legendary even among fans who never had a chance to hear them. For years, a Listserv I once followed frothed over a remix of Confessor’s 1991 album, Condemned, that removed Scott Jeffreys’ Rush-on-helium vocals. I never did learn whether this vocal-free mix actually existed, but the fact that anyone was looking just goes to show that demand was higher than supply. All of which is to say it’s a shame that Gore is only now getting its due. The Dutch instrumental trio’s first two albums, both hard to find and both reissued on the new double-disc set Hart Gore/Mean Man’s Dream, date back to 1986 and 1987, respectively. Several years before listeners had the chance to get sick of death metal’s gutter-scraping vocals and tendonitis-inducing guitar solos, Gore set its sights on the true fundamentals of heavy metal: riffs that emulate the pulse of industrial machinery and beats that, while emphasizing the rhythm, offset the riffs enough to make them swing. At the time, this back-to-basics approach earned positive reviews from the likes of NME’s Simon Reynolds and Forced Exposure’s Jimmy Johnson—two critics who were more likely to rave about punk than metal. And yet, sometimes, the Gore approach is a bit too rudimentary. The songs on Hart Gore, the band’s tentative debut, often seem unfinished, as if awaiting vocal tracks that have yet to be recorded. The material is better served by the reissue’s Hart Gore–era live tracks, which, though bootleg in quality, are a tighter portrait of the band’s bass-heavy wallop. The outtakes offer a hint of why the band was revered before it hit its stride. But, as an argument for posterity, the band’s second album, Mean Man’s Dream, is more likely to woo current listeners. In the gap between its debut and its follow-up, Gore figured out how to capture performances that are as energetic as they are precise. Say what you will about its one-note riffs and three-chord motifs, Mean Man’s Dream is too deeply rooted in groove to ever go out of style. And then there’s the sound. On Gore’s second album, the guitar, played by Pieter De Sury, oozes as much as it shreds; the bass, played by Marij Hel, throbs as much as it pounds; and the drums, which are played by Danny Arnold and noticeable above all else, pop and sizzle like firecrackers on a sidewalk. Reissues of this nature often come weighted with expectation. Not only does the music have to be worth reissuing, it has to teach us something about how we arrived at the present moment. But, if any instrumental act was lucky enough to hear Mean Man’s Dream, none have replicated its odd combination of oomph and quirkiness. Perhaps now it can be an influence and not just the stuff of lore.