I've had my eye on New Jersey's GEL for a while now, since before their sorta-breakout EP Violent Closure dropped in 2021.
They've always been a good band, so the hype never confused me. I was, however, a little shocked with just how popular they seemed to be.
GEL play a style of stompy, straightforward, punk-informed hardcore that's in a boom period because it has both novelty and classic sensibility. Still, lots of bands have gone down that road in the past five years.
I didn't understand, before now, why GEL was at the top of the pile over bands like Electric Chair or Slant, besides sweat equity and being in the right place at the right time.
Only Constant illuminates why. I don't know if I needed more of a sample size, or if the band needed to put all the pieces together in a way that moved me. Probably a bit of both. They managed to prove it on this record, though.
The standard parts on these straightforward hardcore punk songs, more often than not, lend themselves to being played a certain way. When you get an opportunity for creative license, you'd be wise to take it.
GEL does that numerous times on this record. The moment here that sells the vision to me full hog is the drum part on what I guess you could call the chorus of “Attainable."
Drummer Zack Miller does a thing that I associate with certain power violence acts, where takes a moment of feedbacked weirdness and plays a really off-kilter beat underneath it. The crazy cymbal play reminds me somewhat of a complex hip-hop breakbeat.
The band subverts expectations for massive payoff right out of the gate on “Honed Blade." Usually a song built around a single riff or riff idea is trying to pummel you into submission with a mesmerizing drone.
GEL take one riff, throw in a couple simple variations, hit some well placed tempo changes, and boom, you have one of the most dynamic songs on the record. I can't help but feel like running through a wall when that d-beat starts in the middle of the track.
They subvert expectations again on “Snake Skin”—doing the classic tough-guy hardcore move of playing the mosh riff slower the last time around. I think they're playing it slower, anyways. That little palm-muted thud before they launch right back into it for the last time makes it feel slower, at least. It's the type of hard shit you would expect from a beatdown band, not one playing a type of hardcore that, five years ago, was relegated to being played in basements by people in acid washed jeans.
That leads to another thing about GEL that I think makes them popular—they have a keen eye for what's happening on the dance-floor. While some of their contemporaries might stick their nose up, GEL aren't afraid to break it down half-time coming out of the pogo part.
Songs like “Snake Skin” are legitimately hard, and that's without an ounce of the metallic chugging, bouncing or slamming that most people associate with hard moshing.
I get the sense that, while they may be outwardly aiming more for the Youth Attack catalog, there's a fair bit of NYHC being played in the GEL van, or at least a thorough appreciation for it. Case in point, the mosh riff on “Out of Mind” is pointing towards bouncy. Play it a different way and you could almost fit it in a late '80s crossover song.
There's no metal here. It's all punk, save for the interlude, which cultivates the type of smoked-out vibe you might expect on a “lo fi beats to chill and study” playlist. The backbones of this record are the pogo beat, that punk beat with the extra kick after the first snare, and the momentum you get by switching from one to the other. There are literally dozens of bands doing that formula right now. Gel are the masters of that domain for two reasons.
First, they have the riffs. You need riffs to play simple punk music effectively. Discharge's riffs were so good that they cemented themselves as the GOATs of hardcore punk while basically only playing one drum beat. GEL have the riffs. There's not a bad one on this album. They have so much more, too. Why not get crazy on the toms? Why not throw in a fucking break beat? Why does hardcore punk have an acceptable tempo range and why not play slower?
GEL is a very modern band in that sense. I have no doubt they love Negative Approach and Poison Idea as much as the next hardcore freak, but if they were strictly looking to emulate the past, they would. There wouldn't be this much dance-ability. The recording would sound a lot shittier and less clear but also less abrasive.
The secret to GEL's success lies somewhere in that mix. Hardcore purists and old heads love them because the band are students of the game with a firm foothold in the classics. The under 25 crowd loves them because they aren't trapped in amber or trying to be cooler and more obscure than everyone else. The formula is really a win win.
Right now, it seems like GEL can't do anything but win.