Gel Are for the Freaks on the Pummelling 'Only Constant'
Published Mar 29, 2023Gel have emerged as one of the most exciting bands in hardcore in a short amount of time. While other acts in the genre might take years and several albums to gain a significant following, the New Jersey five-piece are coming off European and North American tours that featured many sold out shows, including their most recent visit to Toronto back in February. Since 2019, their handful of EPs, coupled with their dynamic live performances, have caught the attention of heavy music fans everywhere — with the arrival of debut LP Only Constant, Gel officially plant their flag, establishing themselves as a pummelling force in the scene.
In a blistering 16 minutes, Only Constant showcases a band with a keen sense of their sound and an understanding of what makes them so appealing to listeners. The album is all killer and no filler, with the best ideas repeated only once or twice, never overstaying their welcome. Embracing more punk in their sound than most contemporary hardcore, Gel know when to floor it and when to put it in cruise, as drummer Zach Miller shifts from punishing beats to bouncier grooves and crushing, mosh-inducing attacks. Anchoring the album is frontperson Sami Kaiser, whose blaring vocal performance accentuates the ferocious power chords and leads of guitarists Anthony Webster and Madison Nave.
"Fortified," the album's second song, proves to be the perfect example. In only ninety seconds, the band delivers a knee-bending opening hook, accompanied by Kaiser's urgent screams, before descending into a chaotic but controlled section that barrels along until the final third. From there, a bulky riff from bassist Matthew Bobko, and an exclamation point of a breakdown brings the track to a fitting conclusion.
Other standout tracks include the pulverizing "Out of My Mind," which features one of the best two-step moments on the entire record, as well as "Attainable" and "Snake Skin," which both feature hi-hat heavy dance choruses. While the latter songs feature subtle inflections on the whole, they also demonstrate a confident band looking for ways to add to their sound without losing the identity they've crafted over their young career. Only Constant's finale "Composure," the towering apex of the album, clocks in at over three minutes, and features one of the heaviest progressions repeated over and over until it fades away behind a wall of feedback and white noise, leaving listeners anticipating what's next to come.
Lyrically, Kaiser spends the album exploring themes of self-improvement, and self-awareness, as they ponder their journey and search for individual growth. Right out of the gate on "Honed Blade" Kaiser proclaims, "Slow down / Abandon the notions / Open senses / Go along with the motion / Sharpen up your voice / It's a matter of choice," acknowledging the importance of disruption and change to better one's sense of control and agency. And while that's easier said than done, Kaiser notes the uncertainty that comes with that journey on "Attainable": "No absolutes / No guarantees / It's not a game/ You can never flee / Minute by minute / And day by day / The clock rescinds and the hands forever sway."
But for all those uncertainties and frustrations, Kaiser finds solace in their community, like many others. "Calling Card" serves as the album's intermission, and features crowd-sourced submissions of fans voicing their frustrations with toxic masculinity, their inability to express themselves, and their shitty job, among other things. Gel resonate so well with their audience because their music is self-proclaimed "hardcore for freaks," something they wear as a badge of honour. Even in a subgenre that claims to be for everyone, hardcore can be as problematic and shady as the next scene — Gel offer an even safer space for those who need an outlet to express themselves. And for all the pushing and pulling on the album lyrically, Kaiser's positive spin on struggle as a sign of growth will surely resonate with fans as they listen and joyously scream along to the new album.
Only Constant comes at the right time, and signals an important chapter for Gel as they hit their stride. There's plenty of room to grow for the group, but their talent and awareness shines through on their debut LP, an impressive record with songs that will only enhance their already ferocious live set — it's a welcome addition to the ever-growing canon of hardcore for freaks. (Convulse )