Album Review: Gutlocker – To Be Alive

Album Review: Gutlocker - To Be Alive
Reviewed by Sam Jones

I think everyone, in some way, has that one small band that they’ve been following for years on end, hoping to see them release new material and smile at seeing that said band reap their rewards. For myself, that band is Gutlocker having been aware of them for a few years by this point. I remember checking out their previous EP from a few years ago, to which I was very happy with and excited for what Gutlocker may do next. Formed right here in the UK, Gutlocker have been hard at work amidst the local scenes and doing their utmost to bring their form of grooving yet battering metal to the smaller venues this country purports. Now, with their first full length release on the horizon, this is no doubt the band’s ultimate test as to whether they have what it takes to break through to bigger limelights. I knew I couldn’t ignore this record and so, this is To Be Alive.

The first thing you’ll probably notice are the vocals. What’s more is how harsh the primary vocals are without dipping into anything overly extreme. I think what’s best said about these vocals is, this is not an easy delivery. Lining up the larynx just right, getting your throat primed and in practise for such a high-pitched yet snarling delivery is no easy request to put on anyone’s body. Yet, here the band’s frontman demonstrates his fantastic control not only over his overall performance but on the very identity of the band. Listening to this record makes it clear that Gutlocker really perceive the vocals as a fundamental aspect of their sound; they are right at the forefront of the band and this record. It’s rare to come across a metal record these days that showcases a clear emphasis on the vocals, and their being able to lead the rest of the band through their delivery. As we’ll get into later on, the band have harnessed their mix exceedingly well and the vocals are no different. Such a harsh and piercing vocal performance could have easily been pushed right to the edge and too far in our faces; the band have ensured the vocals are just on that precipice. We receive their full might and attitude but it’s never so commanding that they feel inescapable. It’s a rather fine line but Gutlocker have come through with an acute understanding of what people would best want to hear in regards to the vocals’ mix.

As we’ve touched upon, its very clear that Gutlocker have applied considerable emphasis on the vocals being at the forefront of their record’s sound however, that doesn’t mean they’ve totally neglected the instrumental side of things either. As you’ll notice, the guitar work manages to punch us with a resolute and clenched timbre yet it’s not so dense that you can’t breathe because of it. The band may deliver a hard hitting performance but it’s not like they don’t want you to get back on your feet; many of these tracks feel perfectly suited to mosh and circle pits as you can imagine the crowd feeding off the band’s insatiable energies. The band are able to move between different riff styles: faster, slower, grooving, methodical, slab-heavy etc with remarkable ease. From a mixing standpoint, for a debut album, it’s an extraordinary achievement. Everything doesn’t merely feel balanced, rather all the pieces feel like they need to be in the locations most required for their particular instrumental and vocal prowess to come through with the greatest impact.

Album Review: Gutlocker – To Be Alive

Something I’ve recognised that I haven’t in some time is how the band really allow us to stew within their soundscape. Their tracks aren’t exactly long by any means, most are around 4/5 minutes, and yet, the band somehow enable their songwriting to feel surprisingly immersive without the employment of traditional atmospheric elements. The band themselves are the immersion in this case; the fact that their songwriting is forever on the move and possesses this erratically fluid essence is evidence of this. Listening to this record is like diving head first into a schizophrenic episode; the immediate opening to a song could go in any one of a dozen directions and styles. Gutlocker, in this respect, are genuinely unpredictable so you’re never going to get an idea of where they’re going because the moment you believe you do, they’re careening you in the complete opposite direction.

When it comes to tempo and pacing control, I found the drums to be particularly effective in this regard. In an odd way, I believe it’s because the drums aren’t right in our senses. Since they’ve been given a slight step back in the mix, it means our ears will be capable of picking up on them at a more comfortable range. You can’t make sense of many things when it’s literally right in front of you and the same applies to album mixes; by positioning their drums where they are the band have a stronger grasp on providing adrenaline where, and when, it may be pumped. If the band want to raise the ante, their drums are able to exert such notions rather dramatically as drum strikes come off the skin with taut resonance. It’s a compacted sound which allows the drums to dish out serious levels of bass and impact when they’re required; taking into account that the drums share the band’s general approach to songwriting, and you’ve got drumming that’s forever in motion and is never going to be tied down to a single style or drum pattern.

In conclusion, Gutlocker’s debut album is a triumph. I’ve been following this band very closely over the last few years and it’s been a joy to see them only go from strength to strength. To Be Alive is a resounding success for such a new band, able to deliver your money’s worth immediately within the first few tracks alone. A single song can have as many as 6/7 riff alterations and just as many unique directions in the songwriting. As mentioned prior, you’re forever kept guessing where they’ll go next or what they’ll implement in their sound to keep you thoroughly engaged. But not many new bands would close out their first full length release with a 12 minute opus; most will ease things off nice and safely. Not Gutlocker however, this final track is a monument to how far these guys have come, closing things off as the end of one era and the start of another. Utilising exceptional songwriting, Gutlocker bash out a conclusion to their album that I won’t be forgetting for some time. A finale that left me wondering where they could possibly go next and, yet still, they kept delivering. One of the strongest album closers this year, and absolutely one of the strongest debut studio releases by a new band for a long time. Buy it. Play it. Support Gutlocker.

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