Album Review: Gallows - 'Death Is Birth'

11 December 2011 | 11:33 pm | Staff Writer
Originally Appeared In

A competent display of hardcore punk that will leave a lukewarm taste in many mouths.

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Change can be a tumultuous thing for a band. For English hardcore mainstays Gallows, the loss of frontman Frank Carter resulted in fans worldwide uniting in declarations that the band they all knew and loved was dead. After all, who could possibly live up to him? Carter gave the band’s songs a burgeoning personality that moved far beyond the gruff, mid-pitch delivery of your typical hardcore vocalist, rarely disguising his heavy-handed accent and injecting his lyrics with a macabre, devilish mindset. This ferocity was always reflected in the band’s live performances, which saw Carter snarling fiercely across stages worldwide, frequently venturing into the crowd itself to incite energetic and sometimes violent interaction with their fans. Needless to say, the pedestal was set very high, and on their rechristening EP ‘Death Is Birth’, it is a mark the band never quite manages to reach.

Stepping up to fill the massive boots that Carter left behind is none other than Wade MacNeil, an alumni of recently deceased Canadian post-hardcore giants Alexisonfire. On this EP, he assumes a vastly different role to the gruff, strong-sung supporting vocalist of Alexis, proudly emerging from the shell of his guitar to tell the world what’s really on his mind. Unfortunately, the majority of his thoughts are neither interesting nor intellectually provoking, a fact which is epitomised on opening track Mondo Chaos’. The track starts off on a promising note with grooving powerchords spewing forth from a gritty, distorted guitar, set against a backdrop of sparse hi-hat strikes and rim shots that hint at an impending, ferocious explosion of sound that never comes. The track is weighed down heavily by the bane, generic lyrical content of MacNeil, who spits out laughable lines like “Hey! Say ‘Fuck The World’, I say it’s already fucked” as if they’re something to be proud of.

The situation is only worsened by the fact that the entire band appears to be losing their musical personality at an alarmingly fast pace. Sure, the hard riff that introduces the EP is upbeat, mosh-friendly and entertaining enough, but it is never allowed to evolve into something more than what it is at face value. Fans yearning for lashings of colour in the form of abrasive, dissonant guitar phrases and dirty, washed-down licks will be left soundly disappointed by ‘Mondo Chaos’. As ‘Death Is Birth’ progresses, the band experiments with a more intense sound, culminating in the form of the blistering 30-second track ‘True Colours’. The song’s instrumentation is characterised by thrashy, crunching low-end powerchords, nestled against a rapid-fire drumbeat that descends into a pounding, larger than life breakdown that screams of a band trying far too hard to be heavy.

Despite achieving a sound that is a reasonably accomplished take on metallic crossover hardcore, this abrupt experimentation undermines the flow and musical coherence of the four-track EP, giving its 7 minutes a truncated, disjointed feel. Thankfully, the band returns to safer, well-trodden ground on the record’s latter half, firmly embracing 80s hardcore punk production values with its raw, stripped down aesthetic and gritty, rough-handed distortion. On these tracks, the Gallows of old starts to emerge, rearing its head with dissonant chords that punctuate the verses of Hate! Hate! Hate!’. These elements help add flavour to the band’s dynamic, filling in the holes left by MacNeil’s competent, but decidedly bland mid-range screaming delivery. The gripping, repeated line that closes the EP, “Death is birth, let go, let go”, sees the band returning to their nightmarish, entertaining best, backed by a barrage of gang vocals and playful, atonal punk chords. There are definitely signs on this EP that a true phoenix may rise from Frank Carter’s ashes to silence the band's detractors, but for now, many longstanding fans will be merely half-sold. 

Six months after the abrupt departure of frontman Frank Carter, Gallows have rechristened themselves and emerged with ‘Death Is Birth’. The brief, four-track EP is a competent display of hardcore punk, showcasing the washed- down, gritty production values and powerchord, hard riff grooves championed in their earlier releases. However, the EP’s occasional lapses into overt experimentation cripple its coherency, and the noticeable loss of personality within the music itself detracts from its memorability within a very crowded genre.

1. Mondo Chaos

2. True Colours

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3. Hate! Hate! Hate!

4. Death Is Birth