Hardcore is an interesting genre for a multitude of reasons, but one of them is its propensity to want to stay the same. I’m an advocate of traditionalism, but too much of that will undoubtedly lead to stagnation.
Remaining a distinctly hardcore group while sounding new and pushing the genre forward is becoming an increasingly difficult task it seems. Band after band release records and demos sounding like rehashed versions of previous bands from the '80s and '90s, and frankly, it can get old.
I’ve been aware of San Jose, California’s Gulch since their East Coast run with Drain and Hands of God that occurred in 2019. They were inescapable online. No matter what social media platform I went on, I was seeing videos of this shirtless ensemble deliver menacing performances that I could not ignore.
Based on the feverish crowd reactions I was seeing for them I was surprised I wasn’t initiated with their music.
I did what any modern hardcore fan would do in this scenario and looked them up to see what I was missing out on. I thought there was interesting things going on with what I heard, but it didn’t necessarily click for me then. As the months passed it seemed their fandom only ramped up.
They became memeable (legitimately one of the best things that can happen to your band, I’m serious), had a merch item become the topic of the entire scene the likes of which I had not seen since the Fury hoodie in 2015/16, and more and more I was seeing people sing their praises, lauding them as the current kings of the genre.
I kept thinking of them while witnessing this ascension. How could I not? Gulch was everywhere.
Throughout the fall of 2019 into winter of 2020 it was almost impossible to have a conversation about modern hardcore without mentioning Gulch at least once. What was it? What was secret ingredient that made them the talk of the town? I eventually came up with a theory, but wanted to wait until their LP came out to confirm it.
Gulch announced they would be releasing their debut LP Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress on Closed Casket Activities at some point during my observance and I knew with the release of this record I could soundly make my determination on what made this band the “it band” of the era.
With the release of this record just a few days before I write this, my theory is now all but confirmed. The reason Gulch is at the top of the heap is because they are the heap. What do I mean by that? What I mean by that is Gulch is an amalgamation of what any hardcore listener right now could want to hear and they do it with a perfect balance.
The drum work (my favorite part of Gulch) is punk in nature and appeals to the most seasoned of pogoers, the guitar playing is metal of all genres, leaning black metal and death metal, the vocals could be heard on a myriad of grindcore records, the lyrics are ambiguous and scathing in a way that any fan of angry, sad or aggressive music can find a line to ponder, and even down to their presentation they are every man’s band.
Their look is skinhead, it’s hardcore, it’s diverse, it’s reflective of what the audience looks like at hardcore shows in 2020. The reason I think so many people are team Gulch is because Gulch appeals to be on everyone’s team.
The California outfit exhibits all these traits while doing something very important to a traditionalist like myself: they remain a hardcore band. Through combining aspects of other genres in their music, they don’t become those other genres, they use these influences as enhancements, as evolutions for the foundational base of hardcore music.
That right there is doing something new, that isn’t becoming a metal, rock, or metalcore band and calling it hardcore, thats real progression. I love to see it.
If you’re reading this and have been on the fence about checking out Gulch, I encourage you to do so, I have a feeling you’ll find at least something you like. Take it from me, someone who was only but so convinced for a long time. Gulch is the present, potentially the future, and they are presenting some of the best parts of the past.
A proud new member of the Gulch Army