Despite the fact that I had designs on tearing this album apart and was relishing the opportunity to lay critical waste to the band who on their Myspace page proudly describe themselves as “Kansas Farm-core at its finest,” I find myself unwilling to stick the knife in, much less twist it. It isn’t that they don’t sport a logo too silly to even be funny, because they do; think Overkill’s skull-n-bat wings, but with a half-shucked ear of corn instead of a skull. Yeah. It’s not that they aren’t less than innovative, because they are; think mid-nineties doomy alternative metal soaked in Southern groove sauce, every bit the recipe cooked up on Corrosion of Conformity’s Deliverance. And it isn’t that they ain’t looser’n a Kansas-corn-fed cow’s cooch, ‘cause they are; think bar band, plain and simple. And therein lies the dilemma. I don’t get the impression that Gulch want to be anything more than a bunch of good ol’ boys throwin’ down the Southern rock-laced groove metal at the bar for their buddies, who are no doubt perfectly content bangin’ their heads to the well-worn beat between quaffs of Keystone Light. Given that kind of anti-aspiration, I hardly feel justified in casting aspersions from the Obsidian Tower (I know…) as we reviewers are sometimes wont to do. Now, I very well could be screwin’ the pooch on this one. They’ve been at this a while, after all, with two previous self-released albums from the late nineties, as well as one through Century Media under the name, Hostility. Who knows? Maybe they are opportunistic pricks bent on sliding sideways into the old school metal revival by exhuming the bloated corpse of a style that isn’t quite yet and may never be ripe for resurrection. If so, well then, ya got me boys. Congrats.
Otherwise, what we have is simply an example of a bunch of work-a-day type Joes, with a dubious sense of humor, sharing their love of their influences with the world by releasing their own album. Though borrowing in bucketfuls from Wino, Pepper Keenan, Zakk Wylde (pinch harmonics, anyone?) and Dimebag, relentlessly riding riffs borne of their respective bands, Gulch’s guitarwork manages to come off as honest as it is familiar. And, while the vocals could be sold as an admixture of Pepper and Dez Fafara with a dash of Phil Anselmo, Dean Book’s delivery is convincing in its brusqueness. The production is just what you’d expect from a DIY job, rough and raw, as if the album was poured directly from the back of the bar, but this actually serves to bolster its authenticity in many respects. And, while technical flash isn’t even on the menu, the solos are served by the heaping, greasy plateful and loaded with down-home grit and grip.
Even if Uphill Both Ways is nowhere near a must have and certainly isn’t going to make a run for the ’09 Top Ten, it does sum up the journey for all those bands that trudge away in the trenches doing what they can to keep alive the music they love. And, even if most of you won’t bother to track it down (and I can’t say I blame you), you could do much worse than to catch them live if you have the chance (and I know I would), as it is pretty apparent that they love what they do and probably put on a hell of a fun show. Regardless, Gulch will keep on truckin’, and I wish them well.