Is it unreasonable to blame Gallows for the break-up of our beloved Alexisonfire? Of course it is, but it bears repeating just how heavy the loss of Alexisonfire still weighs in our hearts over a year later. One of the most consistent and vital post-hardcore bands to emerge in the wake of At The Drive-In bid us farewell in August 2011, and with this news following hot on the heels of Frank Carter’s abrupt exit from Gallows, the band that had single-handedly set a new standard for hardcore punk from 2005 onwards, Summer 2011 was in many respects, to put it bluntly, a shitty summer indeed, chaps.
But then, remember how awful things looked when Soundgarden hung up their boots in 1997? One of the sole remaining purveyors of music with any kind of attitude in the nu-metal stricken void that was the late 90’s left a hole that has never really been filled to this day – “The Led Zeppelin of the 90’s” was a common phrase the band rightfully came into contact with, and it’s easy to see why such a comparison can be made. And to make matters worse, a mere three years later one of the few bands who seemed capable of instigating a revolution and truly a band that provided a voice for the silent majority, Rage Against The Machine, met an untimely end at the hand of the elusive mistress of “artistic differences”. What followed was two years of utter musical despondency, as Limp Bizkit continued on their quest to become the biggest band in the world (and weren’t far off already) and Nickelback planted their poisonous seed into the heart of America forevermore with the release of ‘How You Remind Me’. Something had to give. And then, it seemed like our prayers might just be answered. From the ashes of Soundgarden and RATM was to come an alliance the likes of which had seldom been seen. Its name was Audioslave, and ladies and gentlemen, that self-titled debut that landed in our laps in 2002 was…
…well, it was alright. Talk about an anti-climax, though.
It’s for this reason that we greet the melding of Alexisonfire’s guitarist Wade MacNeil, taking over vocal duties, with one of the most important hardcore acts of this generation with a little trepidation. How good can it really be? We’ve seen this “replacement frontman” gag go wrong too many times before. Only this time, it’s different. Last year’s stellar Death Is Birth EP proved that while there was certainly room for improvement, this unlikely partnership had legs beyond our expectations, and was brimming with potential. In truth, however, the collaboration could easily have gone either way. For starters, how do you go about the business of replacing a frontman as charismatic and unique as Carter and furthermore, how do one of the most quintessentially British punk bands of the past ten years keep their English edge with the presence of a Canadian where once there was a cockney with an attitude?
Thankfully, it takes less than a minute for album opener ‘Victim Culture’ to quell any fears of the band losing their edge. Make no mistake, Gallows as a whole is the most genuinely angered and bile-infested they have ever sounded, and even though you’re instantly awash in a sea of musical violence, they still haven’t lost their ear for a good hook, as the gang vocal chorus of “Victim culture’s on the rise!” announces itself from the speakers. If there’s a major difference in sound this time around when compared to Orchestra Of Wolves or Grey Britain, it’s the angular and off-kilter guitar work, exemplified by the lack of a traditionally distorted guitar tone. By doing this, Gallows bring forward the punk element of their sound in a way that neither of their previous full-lengths can demonstrate, most notably on the oblique, misshapen punk of ‘Last June’ and the unfiltered, rampaging turbulence of ‘Austere’.
It’s also relieving to find that they’ve not lost their propensity for producing a decent single or two, with the utterly anthemic ‘Vapid Adolescent Blues’ and the previously released ‘Outsider Art’. The world-beating chorus of ‘Odessa’ is also a late album highlight, but if there are any issues to address on Gallows, it’s for the most part something of an identity crisis. The album may very well be 11 tracks of pure, undiluted hardcore punk with a palpable sense of fury behind it, tossed in with a few moments that can incite that kind of inexplicable blissful rapture you get from some of the most aggressive music in the world, not to mention how incredibly steady it is, never losing momentum from the second the album kicks in until the climax of ‘Cross Of Lorraine’ caves your skull in and leaves you lying in a pool of feedback and static. The problem is that it just doesn’t sound quite as distinctive as what came before it. Surprisingly enough, this isn’t solely the result of a change of singer. It seems that Frank’s departure has had a considerable effect on the entire band, as the major stylistic shift comes not so much in sound but in the realisation of the sound, with a focus now on the expression of passionate, mindless rage rather than clear and succinct songwriting, with choruses to boot.
Perhaps it’s better to look at the new and improved Gallows of 2012 not as a continuation of the same band, but rather Gallows Mk. II. When you take this new album at face value, its strengths reveal themselves ten-fold, and you get the impression that Gallows have made the shift partially out of necessity and partially because this is what they always wanted their band to sound like. And perhaps it’s even better to not look at the old version of the band through rose-tinted spectacles. One quick listen to Frank Carter’s post-Gallows, bit-like-The-Darkness-but-not-quite-as-good outfit Pure Love should confirm who the true creative masterminds behind Gallows always were.
Against the odds, Gallows have delivered not a perfect album, but the perfect album for them here and now. It will, in all of its imperfection, silence the naysayers, validate the faithful and re-establish them in the eyes of the hardcore scene simultaneously, and it above all else certifies that they’re still the best hardcore punk band this side of Refused. Welcome back, lads.
Gallows is available now via Venn Records
1. Victim Culture
2. Everybody Loves You (When You’re Dead)
3. Last June
4. Outsider Art
5. Vapid Adolescent Blues
9. Nations / Never Enough
10. Cult Of Mary
11. Cross Of Lorraine
Wade MacNeil – Vocals
Laurent “Lags” Barnard – Guitar
Steph Carter – Guitar
Stuart Gili-Ross – Bass
Lee Barratt – Drums