On a split with Romanian punks Cold Brats last year, New Jersey troupe Gel delivered six of the most thrilling minutes of hardcore in 2022. Raw, aggressive, fun as hell, but remarkably dynamic—in the time it takes some bands to make it through just one song, Gel offered a broad spectrum of what they’re capable of. Searing riffs, incendiary rhythms, even subtler moments of low-simmering tension and melodic surprises—all amid a swirl of indefatigable energy.
Only Constant, the group’s debut album, Gel offer a meal-sized portion of the appetite-whetting serving on last year’s split. Still economical in their songwriting, with only one of the 10 songs on their new album crossing the two-minute mark, Gel build on the buzz-building series of EPs and singles they’ve delivered in the past couple years with a more fleshed out and eclectic set of songs that never manages to drop below a frenetic gallop. But within their eruptions of power-chord shrapnel and fiery hardcore-punk urgency, the band reveals more than a few thrilling sonic detours along the way, from the noise-disco rhythms of “Snake Skin” and the eerie post-punk groove of “Attainable” to the disintegration into static that closes out “Composure.” Their heavy, intense foundation remains solid, but it’s often the fringe and flourish that makes Only Constant as exciting as it is.
Only Constant is an album made for the live experience, and every song here is meant to be experienced within the movement of bodies. “I feel very connected and vulnerable in a positive way when we play live,” vocalist Sami Kaiser said in an interview with NME. And Kaiser’s lyrics frequently reflect that feeling of community and connectedness. On leadoff track “Honed Blade,” they offer an empowering pep talk that might very well be directed both inward and outward (“Sharpen up your voice – It’s a matter of choice“) while on “Fortified,” they emphasize the importance of recognizing your own power: “Don’t fucking cower/Stand your ground.” Even on a broader critique of something as all-consuming as capitalism, as on “Attainable,” the grievance is still one that everyone can feel: “No absolutes – no guarantees/It’s not a game – you can never flee.”
Of the 16-plus minutes on Only Constant, nearly two of them are reserved for “Calling Card,” a track full of voice-mail messages of personal grievances, some of them not unique to any particular scene: “If you live in Philly and you stole my catalytic converter, go fuck yourself.” Though one recurring gripe comes up a few times, aimed at the hypermasculine gatekeeping that comes from the less open-minded corners of hardcore: “Motherfuckers like me are coming in with fucking colored nails, and I’ll fight you if I fucking want to, but I’m here for fun bro.” Gel don’t necessarily offer a safe space from scrapes or bruises—this is hardcore at its most physical, after all—but there’s room enough for everyone in their DIY utopia.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.