Label: Venn Records/Bridge Nine Records
At risk of being hopelessly obvious, the first thing that strikes the listener about this album is how markedly different Gallows sound without Frank Carter. Any band that undergoes a change of lead singer is bound to have an accompanying change in dynamic, but Frank was such a distinctive and brutal presence that it’s almost peculiar to hear a Gallows song without him. Wade MacNeil, late of Alexisonfire, is a more than fitting replacement in terms of power and adrenaline, but the band sounds so different that at first it’s quite difficult to warm to. Something that made Gallows particularly and distinctively guttural has now gone amiss, and there’s no point denying that their edge is accordingly blunted. It also goes without saying that Gallows isn’t a patch on the blistering masterpiece that is Grey Britain. All that said however, it is true that Frank’s heavily-accented rasp mightn’t have been to everyone’s tastes. Indeed, for everyone who misses his cutting input, there will be others who will warm more – nay, possibly even prefer – the smoother sound of Gallows on this record. The skill and ferocity is still present in droves and the musicianship here is stellar, so while it does have an inevitably neutered sound when compared with the band’s prior output, it can still be appreciated as a terrific album in its own right.
Now that the irritating comparisons are out of the way, it seems safe to say that Gallows should still elicit rave reviews from the fanbase. It does so despite the aforementioned change in vocal tone because the most integral element of the band’s music is still firmly intact – purity. Gallows have always stood out (to me, personally, though I’m sure I’m not alone) as representative of everything good in traditional punk music. They had no need to embroider it with titbits of other genres – theirs was a pulsating, brutal punk heart and they made no compromises. The material on this record has preserved that integrity, though it must also be celebrated for taking more than a few leaps outside it. The final track, “Cross of Lorraine,” is positively Cancer Bats-esque in its metallic punch, while the use of cleaner vocals on “Outsider Art” gives it a piercing, gripping dynamic.
Gallows comes possessed of the kind of militaristic, commanding presence that made Grey Britain so brilliant and retains a number of its flourishes. It is, however, looser and less thematic, so that it never reaches the same heights. Nonetheless, tracks such as opening crusade “Victim Culture” and “Last June” are corrosive and emphatic, with scintillating guitar work adding an irresistible sense of defiance and glamour. The bass lines are delicious and it is gripping, malevolent, vital stuff. “Outsider Art” is a stunning anthem. The first track to really capture what they’re capable of, it’s venomous, confident, and intoxicating. The music sounds fantastic – mixing a warped string undertone for portentous effect with simmering backing vocals and a thumping, rhythmic beat. This one will tear the roof off live venues.
Other songs are truer to the band’s roots and influences – “Vapid Adolescent Blues” is very fast and very noisy. It ends on a climactic note, slowing its tempo dramatically for a stirring and complex guitar and drum build-up. “Cult of Mary” is dangerous and visceral. It mixes the hardcore brutality innate in Gallows’ music with a darker, surreal presence. The closing refrain mixes in a child’s vocals, sounding at once discordant and haunting and giving the song a more unsettling nature. “Cross of Lorraine” easily saves the best til last, however, an astounding detour through something more inherently metal in origin. The song is menacing and crushingly heavy, its crossover appeal making it all the more compelling.
While some of the individualism has departed along with Frank Carter, Gallows is still a bold and intensive album and one worthy of the band’s name. It doesn’t have the strategic brilliance of Grey Britain or the rawness of Orchestra of Wolves, but it is a strong and confident follow-up that represents all the greatness still to come. MacNeil holds his own and the band shall certainly never look back.
Review written by Grace Duffy