Gallows – [Album]

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

What is the connection between Warner Brothers Records and Epitaph? Since Epitaph bands began jumping to major labels (including Bad Religion, Rancid, The Distillers and more – the exception being The Offspring, who went to Columbia in 1996), they consistently find a homes at Warner or some sub-label of the company and (recently) vice versa as Reprise mainstays Green Day reissued their first two albums on Reprise in North America, but Epitaph everywhere else in the world. Why is that? Could it be that Epitaph – as independent as their public face is – has some Warner "development" money buried in their financial records or, as is the case with Sub Pop, have first right of refusal on Epitaph releases? This is not a rhetorical question but a genuine one – I'm curious.

One thing that is apparent is the influence that Warner exerts on its roster. Conspicuously, every punk band that has signed on has radically altered their sound – presumably to conform a little better to the new climes. Bad Religion, for example, softened up significantly for its tenure with Warner and Against Me! (not an Epitaph alum, but still of a punk pedigree) has yet to recover from the slickness of the sale and signing.

Regardless, there isn't a half-baked theory above that Gallows' first release for Reprise doesn't debunk. Going in the polar opposite direction, Grey Britain is actually heavier than anything the band has done previously, to the point that it's almost impossible to recognize Gallows as they kick over every expectation Orchestra Of Wolves might have set. Gone are the lean, mean and limber punk anthems link “Kill The Rhythm,” “Rolling With The Punches” and “I Promise This Won't Hurt” and in their place loom muscular but monstrous and plodding metallic slabs that play like Black Flag would have if they'd continued to progress as In My Head hinted they would. That's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just totally unexpected and a complete surprise for any fan that kind of liked the notion of pop-free hardcore like that found on Orchestra Of Wolves coming back. The slate has been wiped clean here though, and from the opening throb of “The Riverbank,” guitarists Stephen Carter and Laurent "Lags" Barnard block and torture singer Frank Carter, keeping him from playing any game but theirs and by their rules. Boxed in, Frank Carter rails against every wall in sight but finds no escape, so by “Black Eyes” he's playing ball and the results are excellent; every time he screams, there's such potency in it that anyone listening will want to scream back – it's just that cathartic.

…And yet, it's a little off-putting for fans of Orchestra Of Wolves too. While the elements that got Wolves over with listeners (Carter's Henry Rollins v2.0 vocals, a hard-charging rhythm section) are still present in “Queensberry Rules,” “The Great Forgiver” and “Death Voices,” they're tempered by monolithic metal riffs, double-kicking drums and far more caustic dynamics (like those found in “Black Eyes,” “Leaches” and “The Riverbed”) that will knock listeners flat certainly, but not at all for the same reason Gallows' previous album did – this one is just flat-out brutal and unforgiving. The going gets even stranger when the band picks up acoustic guitars for the first half of “The Vulture (parts 1 and 2)” – while those moments are well done, no one could possibly foreseen them.

That surprise is what makes Grey Britain complicated. Without any prior warning, the band has popped the clutch and completely switched gears on fans, which makes any comparisons to previous records null and void. With that in mind, calling Grey Britain a worthy or unworthy follow-up to Orchestra Of Wolves doesn't make any sense; this album is a totally new beginning for Gallows.


Gallows online

Gallows myspace


Grey Britain
is out now and available for purchase on Amazon.


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