32:09 min • Venn Records • September 10, 2012
Punk has gone through many changes over the years. Bands like the Sex Pistols, which seemed anarchic and noisy in the 1970s, now seem completely tame and melodic as music has got heavier and more extreme. Punk has, in some cases, become pop – with bands like Green Day paving the way for Busted and McFly and, in a slightly less damning comparison, Sum 41. As punk became more and more commercial, American derivative Hardcore became more and more popular, capturing the noise in thousands of male adolescent heads. The Hardcore scene is now huge, with bands like Cancer Bats and Rise Against being some of the hardest bands in rock.
When Watford hardcore band Gallows kicked their way through the doors of the UK music scene in 2006 with their debut album Orchestra Of Wolves, the mainstream music press didn’t seem to know what to make of them. I liked them because they reminded me of Hull hardcore band The Freaks Union, who I’d seen live several times and adored. Gallows had a similarly aggressive energy, especially in their live performances, mostly coming from lead singer and tattoo artist Frank Carter who, like a tattooed ginger rottweiler, tore apart every song he touched with his teeth. The band’s second album, Grey Britain, was British Punk at its best. Raw, unflinching, melodic enough to be penetrable, but still loud and angry enough to capture the voice of a disenchanted generation, sweating and bleeding from every lyric and every note. Released by Warner Music in 2009, the brilliant ‘London Is The Reason’ only hit number 147 in the UK music charts, and the album only sold 20,000 copies in their homeland, and Warner quickly dropped them.
I was lucky enough to see Gallows several times when Grey Britain was released, and whilst there will never be another punk front-man like Frank Carter (he’s essentially the modern Johnny Rotten), as a unit they are the most important band I have ever seen live. Seeing Gallows play changed my life, and my perception of what hardcore was, what live music could and should be! I even took friends to see them, to experience Frank first hand, to see the incredible mosh pits, to soak up the energy that was thrown off the stage into the crowd. Gallows was not just a hardcore band – there was a spark there, a glimmer of their place in music history as the most important punk band in 30 years. Then, the spark went out, and citing artistic differences, Frank left the band and started his own rock band, Pure Love.
Deciding to carry on without him, Gallows enlisted Alexisonfire guitarist and Black Lungs vocalist Wade MacNeil to replace Frank and set about making a new album. An early EP, Death Is Birth, showcased Wade’s collaborations with the band, and gave us an insight into what a resulting album would be like, and the general reaction seemed mixed. While some thought this was their best material yet, others seemed to think it was, well, a bit pants, and all of this has made the self-titled new album from Gallows (self-titled as it is a snapshot of who they are NOW, not who they were) one of the most anticipated albums of the year. Question is, how does it compare to their earlier work?
Opener, ‘Victim Culture’ with its spoken word female vocal questions the listeners own paranoia, and possibly even the paranoia faced by the band embarking on this journey with someone new, followed by Wade screaming,
It is a strong start and, with the music being hard as ever (maybe even harder), second track ‘Everybody Loves You (When You’re Dead)’ follows suit, making me want to break into a mosh pit as soon as the drums kick in. (Difficult to do in my studio flat – but thank god I wasn’t on the tube, that could have been messy!)
Other highlights include the nod to commercial punk on the rocking ‘Outsider Art’ (which has to be a single, surely) and the blistering classic hardcore of ‘Vapid Adolescent Blues’, which musically recalls the brilliance of the first two albums. The violent assault of ‘Auster’e and the the shout-a-long charm of ‘Odessa’ are also standouts, the latter containing my favourite lyric on the album,
You can stare at a car crash,
But it will stare right back.
And closer ‘Cross Of Loraine’ contains a Queens Of The Stoneage on ecstasy riff that could start an earthquake with yet another screamable hook. All in all, this is a solid hardcore album that I’m sure sounds amazing live, and the boys should be proud of themselves.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of factors that taint my opinion of this album. The first being its place in my iTunes library – no sooner had ‘Cult Of Lorraine’ finished, and I was thrown into ‘The Riverbed’, the opening track of Grey Britain, and I was immediately reminded of what a brilliant band they were, something that hadn’t come to mind when listening to the new album. It’s not that it’s bad – it’s a great hardcore album – but is it a classic album? Will it define a generation? I don’t think it will.
Also, there doesn’t seem to be much of a message to this current output. Orchestra Of Wolves said a lot about male adolescents and the hormonal anger of youth, and Grey Britain was a deeply personal and political album, dealing with punk post Thatcher, punk under a Labour government that instead of looking after the workers was making their lives more difficult. Gallows seems almost vain in comparison. The music is well crafted and produced (a little too overproduced at times) but it feels a little bit like the punk version of buying a sports car after a divorce. For the most part the lyrics lack substance, which is not really the point of punk, in my opinion, and the whole thing feels a little like I’m being battered round the face by their masculinity and testosterone. Yes, we get that you can still play your guitars louder than everyone else, and that your new lead singer can scream till I’m deaf – but is that all you have to say?
There’s a lot of great music out at the moment, and with Cancer Bats releasing the game changing Dead Set On Living earlier in the year, the bar has been set higher than Gallows might have realised, and an album from the hardcore heavyweights that comes across as “another hardcore album” might not cut it.
If you want an album of noisy, well constructed mosh pit bangers, this album will definitely punch the spot, and that’s what I shall be using it for. If you want rock with personal and political heart however, the Pure Love album is out in October.