By Tate Bengtson
Plugging away for years, Gulch’s third album comes after a reasonably long hiatus since the release of Enemy of Me in 2001, although the band has changed very little. Gulch remains rooted in hard-edged, southern-tinged rock, bearing some similarity to Brand New Sin with added heaviness of the Alabama Thunderpussy variety.
Gulch is a salt-of-the-earth metal band. It does not adopt airs. It is not pretentious. It does not experiment. It just plays heavy rock. The guys in Gulch may not win awards for outstanding feats of musicianship, but they do play the kind of music that they would like to hear when they walk into a bar. It’s loud, heavy, and catchy with plenty of aggressive swagger and not a drop of sugary melody or limp-wristed balladeering. Vocalist Dean uses a gravel-throated singing voice in order to blend aggression and unvarnished melody in a pleasing fashion, while his work on the guitar alongside Chris produces a steady stream of workmanlike riffs interspersed with a few colourful leads. Duane’s drumming generally sticks to a loose, uncomplicated approach that holds true to the southern rock tradition, with his occasional attempts to spice up the percussion revealing his shortcomings more than anything.
“Tweak” is among the strongest iterations of the Gulch formula on this album, with a soaring chorus delivering the accusatory lyrics with just the right amount of venom, while the solo is among the best on record. As one of the few moments when Gulch spreads its wings, “A Phone Call Away” works surprisingly well with its slow, stomping riff and cleaner vocals suggesting that Gulch is a bit more multidimensional than first assumed. “Lifehog” stands as the other track worthy of note on Uphill Both Ways, with its fervent drum work adding an extra boost to the blistering riff while Dean delivers one of his most soulful performances.
Alas, a few too many songs follow the same formula without presenting any distinguishing features; quite simply, Gulch needs to take a few more chances in the exploration of its sound if it is going to craft an album that captivates from start to finish. Uphill Both Ways suffers further when you consider that the production is thin, with the guitars needing a meatier tone in order to highlight the lead work and confer greater punch to the riffs. While the recording is acceptable for a self-financed album, Gulch’s approach is such that it needs more variegation in the tones in order to hold the attention.
While all the pieces are in place – the hooks, the riffs, the intensity – Gulch just cannot seem to seal the deal. Even on its best songs, something seems to be a little bit off. Gulch can cause toes to tap and heads to nod, but the attention wanders despite the physiological response. While Gulch’s entire sound is based on being straight-forward and unadorned, the intrinsic quality of the music is not sufficiently strong to demand repeated listens.