As we do in January, we catch up on all the good shit we missed the year prior. For me, this means scrolling back through my Bandcamp wishlist and picking out albums I never got around to pretty much at random. Honestly, I pick whatever has cool artwork. It’s not a perfect process, but hey, it’s… something. Thus, I present this mid-2018 7” release from Santa Cruz punks Gulch, Burning Desire to Draw Last Breath (hot damn, that album title alone…). The imagery is not only striking, but it lends the sense that this isn’t some cobbled-together amateur bullshit. There’s a careful, artistic air to it, something that just can’t be visualized with aid of a Xeroxed black-and-white collage of skulls (nothing against that stuff but, don’t we all kinda know what that already sounds like?). It’s disturbing, uncomfortable, and raw, and as luck (read: actually choosing quality art to represent your music) has it, the tunes follow suit.
Intro track “Contemplate/Enact” begins this line of thinking with snaking electronics and feedback (don’t worry, it’s a mere 46-second palate cleanser). That being said, it’s immediately apparent this isn’t tired, derivative d-beat. This electro-noise flair ushers in true lead track “Flesh Pursuit,” an energizing rallying-call opener that’s a surefire signal flare to get up in the pit, pivoting from a kit-ripping, eviscerating blast into an infectious d-beat stomp before digging into progressively deeper and deeper death-y dirges. Similarly, the title track feels more like a cowpunk standard that’s been perverted by caveman death metal primitivism and honest-to-goodness blue collar punk than it does charging d-beat. Change of direction and misdirection is Gulch’s calling card, their momentum seamlessly bounces them through phases of hardcore that bring to mind Magrudergrind, Homewrecker, and Wasted Blood, rhythmically temperamental and fierce. “R.S.A.” fires up the hardcore-inflected death metal woodchipper, chugging down the meaty riffs and belching out blasts to make room for seconds. They’re terribly efficient, steamrolling from riff to riff, breakdown to breakdown.
In essence, this is some seriously fucking ravenous punk rock with an affinity for the unpredictable and heavy. The vocals are simply rabid, lending to the group’s ferocious nature with caustic barks and vitriolic gargles. Truth be told, this guy is breathing lyrical fire at every turn, persistently scathing, unabashed and honest; delivering it all as such. The dude’s a straight-up weapon, capturing the genuine savagery and danger that can only come to fruition when you truly feel it, when you really mean what you’re saying – a rarity in any genre. Compounded by the unruly instrumentation, Gulch manages to coerce handfuls of ear-piquing moments over a fleeting 13-minute runtime. The drumming is top-notch and versatile, making the interplay between hardcore punk, metal, powerviolence, and death all the more imposing. The rigid guitar work is appropriately tight, like jaws snapping shut on each riff and passage. Their super-aggressive tone and sharp production pair nicely with the over-the-top vocals.
Compositionally, breakdowns seem to lurk beyond every crease and fold, and though they land about as blunt as a punch to the throat, they’re delivered with a creativity that ups the ante each time. The record’s brevity of course keeps things from getting stale, but there are also hints of a wider, more experimental scope that brings to mind fellow short form masters Full of Hell. It leads me to believe this group could have a very interesting future if these ideas are expanded onto a full-length, but I don’t really care to think about that right now because this EP kicks so much ass. Whatever you do, don’t sleep on Gulch. Unless of course you’re holding out for the rudest of awakenings.