Gulch - Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress (Cover Artwork)


Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress (2020)

Closed Casket Activities

Those familiar with the hardcore scene will doubtless be aware of Gulch already, but for the rest, Gulch are something of a hype band at the moment. To put it lightly. They’ve built a wildly-devoted following off the back of some exceptionally strong singles/EP’s and a reputation for being one of the most exciting live bands around today, which is robustly backed up by some of the footage available online (most notably the 2019 ‘This Is Hardcore’ set if you’re going to dig in). The hype train has reached sufficient velocity for some of their hoodies to be resold for nearing the $1,000 mark, if that gives you a clearer picture.

So when it was announced recently that Friday 7th August (a mere few days in the future at the time) would bring about the release of the band’s debut album, the anticipation built to fever pitch. The obvious danger inherent in this level of hype is the expectation that comes with it. So when I first looked at the track listing and realised we’re talking 8 tracks, including 1 cover (Souxsie and the Banshees’ “Sin In My Heart” closes the album in stellar fashion) and a sub-16 minute runtime in total, I was surprised (the last EP Burning Desire to Draw Last Breath was only 2 and a bit minutes shorter) but not concerned. Gulch play a savage and unrelenting form of hardcore, so this kind of brevity is possibly something certain other bands could learn from. We start with the title track. 1 minute and 45 seconds of primal, untamed fury. The tempo shifts several times, there are squeals of feedback, 4/4 chugging sections, but each of the things the track does, it does briefly and then it’s off again, like some sort of wild, rabid puppy. Which seems like a suitable metaphor when you consider the vocal delivery too, but more of that in a minute.

Second track “Cries of Pleasure, Heavenly Pain” begins with a tremolo-picked riff; rising and falling along with an initial military drum pattern through the 40-second intro before we launch into another rapid, raging hardcore assault. But those tremolo-picked riffs keep coming and lend an extreme metal air to the song at times, however the blood pumping through the veins is very much hardcore punk. Vocalist Elliott Morrow has a style that fuses a number of influences, resulting in something akin to a high-register, death metal Rollins. To some people that might sound great, to others, sacrilege. Either way, it’s incredibly hard to ignore and has an incredible effect on the band as a whole. It ties them together in a way that suits their sound immaculately. It’s hard to summarise Gulch’s sound, because although the sonics of it are pure hardcore, the palette that they use to paint their furious, visceral pictures is deceptively broad. Black metal, death metal, even stoner and groove influences; and more besides. The end result is spasmodic, boiling over with ideas and the band deliver them with a gleeful, yet focused lunacy that only the best of this scene possess.

Jack Shirley’s (Deafheaven/Joyce Manor/Gouge Away/Jeff Rosenstock) production job is also something of a masterstroke. It maintains an almost identical character throughout, which helps the record have an utterly distinct identity. The bass grinds, the drums (especially the snare) pop and snap vividly, the guitar sounds at times like it could knock down walls and others like it could give you tetanus. It feels completely alive and the first time you press play, you know you’re listening to something a little bit special. Because cards on the table, I do think this record is special. It has the feel and quality of something that will not only be listened to for years but will also be referred to for years. Hardcore is in an incredibly fertile place at the moment and Gulch are one of the bands I find most exciting, amongst a crowd of innately exciting bands. They feel every inch the real thing. So maybe do believe the hype for once, because I’ve a feeling there is a lot more to come from this band and if they can improve even on this extraordinary debut, then god only knows what they’re capable of.