Artist: Gulch

Album: Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress

Label: Closed Casket Activities

Score: 10/10

Words: Harry Higginson

15 minutes is not a very long amount of time. Across a full-length record, it leaves very little room for errors, filler tracks or duds. Tone, style, and a distinct sense of identity are all hard enough to establish across entire discographies, let alone a release that spans less runtime than some Tool songs. 

On Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress, Gulch are well aware of the trappings of a short album, and remedy it with an incredibly unique brand of truly disgusting fury. Released with almost no prior warning, no pre-orders, no music videos, and not even a teaser single, this record has very little time for unnecessary extras. Much like the album artwork accompanying the release, Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress feels both surreal and deeply unnerving, a bizarre haze of violence and bombastic oddness.

tracks like ‘Self-Inflicted Mental Terror’ are driven by almost mechanically precise drumming that propels the crushing guitars forward, shifting tempos on a dime

Existing somewhere in the middle of a Venn diagram including hardcore, death metal, grindcore, and even flavours of black metal, Gulch’s sound draws on some of the most viscerally uncompromising subgenres of extreme music, creating a raw and potent blend of their own. This eclectic crop of influences is tempered by the band’s unique ability to balance chaos and precision, many of their songs seemingly constructed not around riffs, but rhythm. Though a distant comparison, Gulch often feel comparable to a post-punk band, as tracks like ‘Self-Inflicted Mental Terror’ are driven by almost mechanically precise drumming that propels the crushing guitars forward, shifting tempos on a dime. 

The production across the record is near faultless, steering clear of the trappings of muddiness or a cluttered mix that can plague records of this intensity; it is a crystal clear yet utterly throttling soundscape

This is aided by some truly excellent mixing from Jack Shirley (Deafheaven, Jeff Rosenstock, Gouge Away), that fully allows the drumming to punctuate the mixing, the interplay between snare and bass making the frequent use of D-beat drumming and blast beats all the more impactful. Similarly, the guitar and bass tones are grinding and vicious, hitting especially hard on tracks like ‘Lie, Deny, Sanctify’, other highlights being the squealing breakdown at the close of the title track and the blistering ‘Shallow Reflective Pools of Guilt’. The production across the record is near faultless, steering clear of the trappings of muddiness or a cluttered mix that can plague records of this intensity; it is a crystal clear yet utterly throttling soundscape.

Gulch have gone on record before about their willingness to indulge in the uglier side of music. Their name itself was explicitly chosen for its nastiness, and frontman Elliot Morrow’s vocal performance encapsulates this ethos. His approach to screaming is unique, almost retching in tone, providing an intense and disgusting performance across the entire record. The closing track, ‘Sin in My Heart’ is perhaps the vocal highlight, as the band explores constructing a song that exceeds the three-minute mark to great effect, taking on a more emotional and atmospheric tone, matched by Morrow’s similarly evocative performance. A moment of relative calm, the closer does not pull punches on intensity, but it fits and starts allowing Morrow’s vocals to contrast with some slightly cleaner guitar tones, exposing an unexpected moment of sensitivity. It is instances like these in which Gulch’s debut really shines, as they push themselves not only to hone and carve out their own distinct niche, but moreover explore some more melodic elements of their craft to great effect.In fact, it is this ability to define themselves so clearly, whilst simultaneously being so multifaceted, is what makes Gulch’s Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress such an excellent record.

In many ways, this record is rooted in punk music, both in its brevity and in the raw fundamentals of the instrumentation. However, by incorporating elements from other subgenres of extreme music, this record becomes so much more than just another hardcore album, feeling like a truly unique selection of genuinely uncompromising tracks. Though Gulch came into 2020 as an underground gem, renowned for their surreally cutesy Sanrio hoodie, Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress deserves to propel them to the very upper echelons of hardcore.

Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress is out now via Closed Casket Activities

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