Review by Ollie Stygall.
I live in a small, unremarkable Devon town called Chudleigh. It’s relatively quaint, relatively quiet and relatively pleasant.
The most remarkable moment in Chudleigh’s very long history was in 1807 when two thirds of the town burned down in a fire. The only casualty was a pig. Nowadays the residents take to Facebook in righteous indignation over bad parking, minor vandalism and sometimes, on a lighter note, to find a decent plumber!
Chudeligh is not, however, a punk rock haven. I have long suspected that I am the only lover of our beloved form of musical anarchy in our sleepy town. That is until a couple of weeks ago when I got a message from the husband of a friend of my wife to tell me about his band. I was intrigued but, I have to admit, not entirely hopeful. This is Chudleigh after all. I did not expect much. I certainly didn’t expect to be blown away.
Gunka take their name from a Japanese term for a form of military song that became banned for being an “incitement to hostility and morale”. Gunkas were always under three minutes long. This is entirely appropriate, as Gunka fire out short blasts of noisy, aggro-fuelled punk rock.
Gunka are essentially a two piece band consisting of Paul on drums, vocals and some guitar and Marc on guitars, bass and backing vocals. The duo share a long history having played together in punk bands going back 30 years, the most notable of which being Beaver Patrol who released a record on the Hometown Atrocities label in 1989. Proving that old punks never die, they just get older, Gunka came into being in recent years as a studio project for the pair, though plans are now afoot to put together a live band to bring these songs to the stage.
Nothing Left To Say barks out 11 tracks in 20 minutes, each song being pared down to its bare necessities to get its point across.
With so many years of punk devotion behind them, it’s unsurprising that the Gunka sound is peppered with references to the whole history of punk rock, but the closest and most enduring reference and debt would be to Dischord Records’ back catalogue. Fugazi are an obvious starting point. as the band frequently lock into solid grooves punctuated by tetchy, dampened guitar motifs and a loud/quiet dynamic that pulls the listener in then punches with an explosion of aggression, particularly on a track such as Life On Trial. Elsewhere on tracks like After All Gunka display a sense of melody that, I will hesitate to say borders on pop-punk as it retains a sense of antagonism, but wouldn’t appear too out of place on a Dag Nasty album or, maybe as a more recent comparison, Red Hare. Throughout Paul’s vocals display a vitality and commitment that does have shades of Ian McKaye in its delivery: aggressive yet concise, articulate and pointed.
For a home studio recording, the sound quality here is exceptional. It is rich and thick adding tremendous weight and dynamics. The bass sound has a compelling grind to it and the guitars have more beef than Chudleigh’s traditional summer fete and barbeque!
This release proves, if proof were required, that older guys are entirely capable of producing meaningful, angry punk rock that puts a lot of the younger bands to shame. In fact I would argue that, in the current climate, age no longer brings comfort and complacency. Quite the opposite, age brings rage. It’s the middle aged people now who have spent 20 plus years fighting having to work, raise kids and hope for a decent future and are seeing these hopes becoming eroded on a daily basis. Gunka provide the soundtrack to that frustration.
For two weeks now, barely a day has gone by where I haven’t listened to this release at least once; records rarely come along that grip me like that. Gunka have reaffirmed my faith in punk rock, middle aged guys and… Chudleigh.
Review by Ollie Stygall.