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Gula : Gula

An impressive debut from Dutch Psych/Space Doom outfit Gula blends retro and modern influences in a 'live jam' format.

Dutch band Gula were formed in 2016, take their name from the Mesopatamian goddess of healing, and this is their self-released debut album of female-fronted Stoner Doom...no, wait! Don't hit the eject just yet! Sure, I know, there's been something of a glut in that end of the spectrum over recent years, and you're probably not in much need of yet another Windhand or Blood Ceremony soundalike - so the good news here is that Gula aren't in either of those camps.

I always hesitate to describe anything as genuinely new and different - not only is there almost always some viable precedent, if you look deep enough, but I also can't claim to be intimately familiar with every band in the world, so there may well be others out there doing the same sort of thing. But I will say that Gula are certainly refreshingly atypical, and that I'm not immediately struck by dozens of glib, off-the-cuff, comparisons. They've got something of a core Ufomammut/L'Ira Del Baccano-style unhinged Italian Stoner vibe to them, and a touch of Swiss band Psychedelic Doom outfit Phased, mixed in with Post-Rock, Space Rock, a slab of tribalistic/ritualist Krautrock influence and an occasionally outright, unclassifiable, experimental feel. Maybe, if you wanted to reach a little, you could perhaps use a spacier, less-garagey Black Moth for reference.

Vocally, I think I'd look towards Bridget Wishart (ex-Hippy Slags, ex-Hawkwind, Spirits Burning) rather than any particular Doom frontwoman: bassist/vocalist/lyricist Ilja Fase doesn't share exactly the same pitch, but does demonstrate a similar versatility of stylistic range - from distant, hazy, dreamy musings to more urgent, uptempo imperatives - and, frequently, ends up deploying that against a similarly spacy instrumental backdrop and rhythm. Though it's fair to say that Gula do also throw some unexpected spanners in the works, as on 'Second Circle', which comes bizarrely close to Trad Doomsters Gévaudan's deliciously lunatic similarly-Dante-based exposition of 'The Ninth Circle' in places. Or, indeed, with the early-Pink Floyd/later-Anathema (take your own pick) vibe kicking off 'Are You There': where many bands would be content to ride that particular wave all the way to the end, Gula instead take it by the throat and mutate it into a sort of Shoegaze wall of textural sound along the way.

Also worth considering is that while this self-titled debut isn't entirely 'live no overdubs' - as the NWOBHM crowd were always proud to proclaim - it isn't far off, either. Which is no mean achievement in itself, considering the depth and breadth of the compositions. The bulk of it was recorded live on 24/03/18 - with subsequent overdubs of some synths, guitar and vocals - in entirely analogue format. It's a bit of a shame, then, that the release itself ended up on CD (as what would have been a firmly AAD classification in the long-discontinued SPARS code), when it probably deserved the triple-A analogue treatment to really bring out the maximum warmth and dynamic range. CD is an understandable and pragmatic compromise, however: as a self-release, tape doesn't really cut it for audio quality and vinyl's an expensive way to go. So, you do at least get a decent physical option, in a nicely-presented digipak, with an eight-page booklet containing all the lyrics and necessary information.

I do recommend playing it loud, regardless. The 'live jam' approach is tight, and the quartet manage to cram an impressive amount of sonic events into it - you rather need the volume to pick out all of the modulators and spacy effects going on behind the main themes, and to give the quite subtle but frequently busy drums their full head. It's one of those albums where the intimacy and absorption of headphones may be an effective way to try and deconstruct it - for a review, say - but the actual impact is best experienced by letting it wash over you in trippy waves of maximum wattage. And, much like the 'Space Bandits'/'Palace Springs' Hawkwind period, which the barrage of tribalised synths evokes, I strongly suspect it would come across at its absolute peak live at concert volume.

Well, bottom line - I'm impressed. As a debut, this really does showcase Gula's talent for sitting in that often-overused - but, here, totally appropriate - 'eclectic' bracket. Though it does have plenty of genuinely retro feel, and parts of it could have been recorded any time since the early '70s, it doesn't shy away from presenting that in what is overall a completely modern and definitely post-millennial framework. Looking forward, but unafraid of casting backward glances, if you like. And the resulting core of atmospheric Psych/Space Doom, with all sorts of other tasty influences thrown in the pot, whilst avoiding all of the clichés of typically modern female-fronted Stoner - there really is very little you could consider reproaching about 'Gula'. Inventive, iconoclastic, and just dripping with straight-out quality - this is a band I'm definitely going to be watching in future. I might even venture a small wager that the somewhat ambiguously non-specific Photoshop-artworked digipack I'm currently looking at is one that'll be commanding eye-watering prices on the secondhand market a few years down the line. Best grab yourself an original copy while you still can...

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Reviewer's rating: 8.5/10


Tracklist :
1. Merge
2. Are You There
3. Suicidal Pacificist
4. KS01/For What Is Real
5. Second Circle
6. Drive

Duration : Approx. 48 minutes

Visit the Gula bandpage.

Reviewed on 2019-04-06 by Mike Liassides
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