When was the last time you heard great punk album? I mean, like, a really, really great one? And we’re not counting Fucked Up because what they do is far beyond punk. No, I’m talking about galloping riffs and a snarling frontman spewing pissed-off diatribes about the state of the world. The kind of album that makes you wanna break shit. Ya know, punk.
Enter Gallows and their self-titled third offering. The Watford-based quintet have cut all the fat from Grey Britain and crafted a lean, mean pit bull of a record: 11 songs in 32 minutes. Perhaps “fat” is a bit harsh, though. It’s not that Frank Carter, frontman of Gallows Mk I, was a bad songwriter or that the band couldn’t compose great tunes. It’s just that, unlike their art-punk brethren Fucked Up, the acoustic dirges and string sections always seemed shoe-horned and never sounded organic.
Perhaps the shift of focus back towards immediacy of Gallows Mk II comes from former alexisonfire guitarist and vocalist Wade MacNeil. While Carter was leaving Gallows last year amidst differing views of Gallows’ songwriting direction, MacNeil also found himself without a band when AoF decided to break up. Gallows asked if MacNeil would be interested, and so here we are. In order to give Gallows Mk II a test run, the band released the Death Is Birth EP last December with MacNeil on vocals. It was nasty, brutish and short; in other words, it was (hardcore) punk.
To that end, the promise first hinted at on Death is fulfilled on Gallows. No longer saddled with Frank Carter’s desire to be an Artist within a hardcore punk band, Gallows are free to play smash ‘n’ grab with your eardrums. And they’re better for it. MacNeil is a fantastic replacement; there’s such a venomous delivery in his bark that you expect it to start bleeding from your speakers.
What’s more, the band’s songwriting has steered away from Britain to a more global perspective. Instead of Carter discussing how dreary it is to live in the Old Empire, it’s MacNeil discussing how dreary existence is. Yet, the key difference in songwriting on Gallows is how Carter’s in-your-face bloodletting has become MacNeil’s abstract, Nietzschean idioms. He rages against religious disingenuousness (“There’s no one left in Heaven, and Hell is just a hoax”). He waxes philosophical about life and death (“No need for searching the world’s holy books/I know death is coming, I see how he looks”). And he finds solace in existentialism (“You can stare at a car crash/But it’ll stare right back”). Thing is, these lyrics are, on the surface, rather silly even in context. But dammit if MacNeil doesn’t convince you he’s on to something by sheer force of will. The ferocity of his delivery alone dares you to question his philosophy.
Which is exactly why this record works so well. Gallows don’t reinvent punk here. They don’t even venture off of its well-worn path. But that’s exactly the point: that’s not what they set out to do with this record. Gallows simply wanted to create a collection of hardcore punk songs that would convince you that punk is alive and well (and can still take the paint off of your walls.) To that end, it’s a massive success. Their hardcore isn’t new, to be sure, but it’s still pretty damn exciting.