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Sunday, June 14, 2009

CD Review: Gulch - Uphill Both Ways

Gulch - Uphill Both Ways
2009 Gulchworks Enterprises
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



Approaching Gulch's third album Uphill Both Ways strictly by its cover you have to at least think of Nuclear Assault, Cro Mags, Overkill and Death Angel, albeit the Kansas sludge rock unit is hardly a thrash or punk band. I mean, an ear of corn floating on bat wings overtop a mushroom cloud with superimposed rubble is enough to make you roar appreciatively if you've been around the scene long enough. Why Chaly, we're hardly knew thee!

Gulch is a band taking a beating in the press these days, so allow The Metal Minute to advocate them. Does self-produced automatically come with a stigma where deduction points are precursory? I've read everything from poor production to an inability to flesh out their tunes sadly pinned to this bricks-heavy group's backs.

I'm going to have to disagree. If you think Uphill Both Ways suffers from a production standpoint, you didn't grow up in the days of analog nor were you privy to Flipside compilations and hundreds of chunky homegrown demos and records. If anything, Gulch does a rather solid job on their own merits considering there's far worse you can do for yourself with Pro Tools or if you're really daring, hitting the classic four track.

Maybe it's the anti-Pantera and Pepper Keenan COC sanction who turn their backs to what Gulch expounds with frequently bombastic results. Maybe it's a few places where the response backing vocals on say, "A Phone Call Away" disappear into Gulch's oppressive fuzz. Maybe it's a simple case of everyone having too much product in one avenue of music which instigates mandatory scrutinizing.

Whatever. Uphill Both Ways doesn't need to work excessively to become five-to-six minute forays of distortion. Gulch knows their identity, which is to find a specific groove and abuse it for three-to-four minutes. If anything, Uphill Both Ways takes a loud and entertaining leap forward after a monster layoff following 2001's Enemy of Me.

Okay, if you really want to lay bricks upon this band's shoulders, sure there's an occasional roughness chops-wise cropping up on Uphill Both Ways, using "So Much for Good Intentions" as an example, which still rocks despite.

Gulch has hedged for themselves a familiar parcel which Clutch, COC, Black Sabbath, Spiritual Beggars, Molly Hatchet, Lynard Skynard, Black Label Society and Crowbar usually receive accolades for. "Lifehog" bounces like a mosh pit on the teetering edge of breaking into fisticuffs while "Tweak" comes chugging on full cylinders following a spacey six-string intro from Duane Book and Chris Nutt. "Tweak" also receives the benefit of some crazy soloing to slow down the punchy cut just enough to make you savor them.

The addition of Chad Norman on bass grounds Uphill Both Ways, which could've vaulted into a spree killer session of droning guitars while Duane Book does a respectable job on drums, perhaps fleeting here and there. Most of the time, however, he keeps Gulch on solid footing.

Overall, Gulch amps out like they have nads of iron with sometimes sentimental lyrics on "Watching Old Friends Die," (the album bears a hefty memorium list) "Edge," "One Foot in Yesterday" and of course, "So Much for Good Intentions."

Folks, Gulch have great intentions even as they're space tripping through the swirls of the minute-and-a-half instrumental leading into "A Phone Call Away" (perhaps the one song on this album which could use a slight overhaul) and later ripping the snot out of Ted Nugent's "Just What the Doctor Ordered," the latter being a song tailor-made for a band like Gulch to run away with.

Uphill Both Ways may not be the most critical album of sludge metal but goddammit, it's meatier than venison stew and assuredly rocks like hell personified with confederate boots strapped on and ready to kick the shit off of its leather before finding an orifice to levitate into. If you're concerned about a sludge/doom sounding as glossed and finessed as an As I Lay Dying album then you miss the point to this form of music entirely.

Rating: ****

1 comment:

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