FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 29: Gallows – Grey Britain

Posted: March 5, 2013 by kingcrimsonprog in First Impressions Articles

FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 29: Gallows - Grey Britain

FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 29: Gallows – Grey Britain

This is the twenty-ninth entry of my blog series ‘First Impressions.’ In each entry of the series I write about discovering an influential or genre-classic album for the first time and then write about that experience in a semi-planned, semi-stream of consciousness manner that is less helpful than a traditional album-review, but which does contain more personal flavour.

I prefer my reviews to be serious and informative. ‘First Impressions’ allow for a more director’s commentary approach. I can be silly and talk bollox, or make points that only a handful of people will understand. Usually I will deliver insights into my history with similar music as well as into how my mind works and how both of these things change over time. You will have to either possess a fairly detailed understanding of Rock and Metal history and Subgenre conventions or have a second tab open at Wikipedia to fully follow every single point that I make, but don’t let that put you off…I’m not honestly expecting you to know every single riff or tone I’ll point out off by heart.

If you want me to do a First Impressions article about a specific album, just suggest it in the comments.

This entry will feature the sophomore studio album ‘Grey Britain’ from the British Hardcore Punk band Gallows.

I think anyone still relatively connected with the Rock and Metal music scene, who has read a music magazine in the past half a decade or who regularly uses the internet can agree that Gallows were a band with an abnormally large hype around them and that this album is and will be considered a classic record. If you disagree feel free to write down exactly why in the comments section. I’ll carry on in the mean time under the assumption that it is.

Before I go into the album though, as is customary in these articles, I’ll discuss my history with Hardcore and Punk.

I remember when I first got into music, I got into Green Day, in the next few years I also was interested in, and almost got into a bunch of pop punk bands including Blink 182, Sum 41, Rancid, The Distillers, The Donnas, The Offspring & The Dropkick Murphies (Ok, not strictly pop punk there).

I’ve been in a intrigue/love/hate relationship with The Sex Pistols since I first heard them, and am in a stalemate with Never Mind The Bollox as to whether or not we’ll ever be together. I don’t know if its my friend or my enemy. I liked watching the live videos from the reunion where Lydon was in a suit made out of newspapers, but I hate when bands like Megadeth and Anthrax cover their songs.

I almost got into them, intrigued by documentaries and stuff. I’ve always, even in primary school, been intrigued by Punk fashion and mohwaks, way before music even came into it. I was very susceptible to ending up a Punk. Even as an adult, when I saw Blackpool fill up with Punks for the Rebellion festival three years in a row, each time I’d look longingly at them like a child passing by a toyshop. I repeat I was very susceptible to ending up a Punk.

When I was about 11 my friend Magnum proposed that I was a Punk fan and he was a Metal fan. For a while it seemed to be heading that way. Then I got into Metal instead. Woops.

Still, when P-Rock TV was a TV channel here in the UK, I watched loads and loads of the Punk and Pop Punk videos there. Loads and Loads and Loads. I nearly got into a shedload of bands. But it never happened for some reason. Possibly because it seemed to challenge a sort of childish Metal-credibility half-notion that I hadn’t fully shaken off.

In the Hardcore side of things, I got into precisely Biohazard and no-one else for ages, until that extended to Hatebreed. I almost got into Sick Of It All and I heard a bit of Earth Crisis, but all that I actually enjoyed was very Metal orientated.

And then there’s Amen. But how do Amen fit into things? I dunno, I can’t be bothered trying to think about it.

I got into Thrash bands and Metalcore bands with a lot of Hardcore influences, but not the Hardcore itself. I stopped caring for ages, until in the last year or two I saw the excellent documentary (watch it!) American Hardcore. I’ve since tried four or five songs from just about every Hardcore Band worth mentioning. I’ve only so far bought and listened-to-the-fuck-out-of DOA’s ‘Fucked Up Ronnie’ though. Its not really my thing on the whole.

Often, Hardcore is just too messy, too badly produced, too unmusical, too grating to suit me, too chaotic. Its like the Thrash or The Metalcore that I like, but just that little bit outside my comfort zone. Like Black Metal is. Its not that I think that its crap or anything, it just doesn’t make my brain happy the way some other music does. Some of it actively upsets my brain. I’ve went on a few times about the part I hate in 90s metal being derived from Hardcore.

What you may or may not also know or not know about me (or not me?), is that I am a giant fan of The Metal Hammer Podcast (or not?). Though I don’t ever read the magazine anymore, the Podcast is immensely enjoyable, and I’ve listened to every single episode, numerous times. Sometimes upwards of seven times. It got me to try out bands like Bring Me The Horizon and Parkway Drive, who I ended up becoming a fan of.

One of the former presenters Terry Beezer in particular, as well as anyone else who every worked on it, seems to really like Gallows, and new UK Hardcore in general. To that end I’ve heard countless hours of recommendations and positive things about Gallows, Grey Britain and lots of UK Hardcore.

I’ve given quite a lot of it a listen, Feed The Rhino and Ghost Of A Thousand for example. It wasn’t necessarily for me, and I didn’t look into it any further. But recently I’ve been listening to old podcasts again, and suddenly become overwhelmingly interested in Grey Britain. The amount of excitement and positive things that I’ve heard about it just built up to an absolutely overwhelming level and I just finally had to give up my embargo on it and give it a chance.

Embargo? What Embargo.

Well. I avoided Gallows for a long time. Well, from they first broke up until right now. I did listen to ‘In The Belly Of A Shark’ all the way through on youtube once and a few audio samples of the new album just to see what their new Canadian singer sounded like, but other than that, any time I’ve heard or seen Gallows I’ve been overcome by an urge to instantly stop that situation, changing music video channels or turning off whatever was playing the music.

I felt a very strong, instinctual, almost primitive ‘yuk’ reaction. The kind of thing a chav might experience towards, say, Slipknot. Something about their singer Frank Carter’s hateful facial expressions, his accent, his Lydon-reincarnated press and the violent and potentially messy music just made me not want to listen. The music seemed like a bully, and I didn’t want to be bullied by music thank you very much. My brain just did not want me to even try to hear it or give it a fair chance.

Since however, my whole thing for the last few years has been about giving things a fair chance, and recognising the validity of each individual piece of art, I thought I’d give just that a go with this particularly challenging example.

If you are wondering what finally wore me down, after two years of constant podcast recommendations not working, it was hearing them cover Iron Maiden’s ‘Wrathchild’ recently in the most bombastic way you could imagine. After that entry point, it re-listening to the podcasts with a hole in my armour allowed the liquid-Beezer-constant-Gallows-love to seep in and eventually drown me.

[Play]

It starts off Suspicously quiet. The song is called ‘The Riverbed’ and there’s samples of water. It opens with some ominous low strings. Like the start of a Vicorian era crime film where a body is being dumped into the water. It sounds evil as fuck. Like Deicide want to sound.

A big Doom riff kicks in, like the start of Lamb Of God’s new album. The vocals are very aggressive, like a bouncer who’s out being a football hooligan while he’s not at work… its kind of an intro, it turns into the next song via feedback and some bouncy drums.

The new song is called ‘London Is The Reason.’ Some trivia: The podcast questioned how a Canadian singer would fare singing ‘London Is The Reason.’ Its Chorus includes the Phrase ‘We Are The Rats’ and they’ve played a secret gig under the fake name of ‘The Rats.’ Relevant? not really… I just had it in my head, and I hoped writing it would move it along so I could concentrate.

Musically it has this riff that sounds like a sick robot. It’s the kind of thing Nirvana or The Melvins might use and logically some 80s hardcore I don’t know about too. There’s an album by a band called Jetplane Landing, called ‘Once Like A Spark’ that I absolutely love. It has a few noisy moments that come from a Punk sort of setting. It has riffs that sound like this, only nice-ified. This is quite off-putting on first pass, but I reframe it through a JPL prism and the yuk-factor is dulled. A bit.

I don’t like sloppy, harsh or noisy sounding music. I think Naplam Death’s Scum is a damn challenge to sit through more than five songs at a time. I’d be hopeless with Noise-core.

I like the bit where he sings the song’s title with a little lead guitar behind it, like Monster Magnet might do. Or someone else. It reminds me of something else but I can’t quite catch it. Bollox! Don’t you hate it hen that happens? I’ll be cleaning the dishes when I finally remember, and then I won’t be able to edit the article easily because wet hands makes my computer’s trackpad go unpredictable, and it’d be hard to navigate my way to the browser, correct site, tool bar and correct option to edit it. not with that damn cursor all a-slippin-and-a-slidin’

Anyway. When I think it’s ended at around two minutes however, it plays me for a fool and continues. It continues into a piece of music I’d swear I heard on Forbidden or Testament’s last album, possibly even on Metallica’s ‘All Nightmare Long.’ One of those bits where big arggressive chords slam down over relative quiet… DUN, DUN, DUNDUN………..DUHN!.

The next song ‘Leeches’ reminds me a bit of Entombed. It features the brilliant lyric ‘You have no redeeming features.’ It also has a brilliant riff that also sounds like a robot, but a more agitated and less broken one, it reminds me of Brent Hinds from Mastodon. It lasts for such a short time but its amazing. That turns a bit melodic afterwards which is also cool. Then it sucks into a brilliant bounce. There’s a stop start chord strike bit over a minimal, but very driving drum beat, its amazingly powerful. I bet its incredible live. That bit especially sounds like Jetplane Landing.

There’s a snare roll build up and then some actual music right out of Rage Against The Machine’s repetoire. I didn’t expect that. Then a more melodic version of an older riff, with some keyboard chord strikes underneath (like in QOTSA’s ‘Go With The Flow’). It ends very like how a lot of Testament songs end.

The guitar work was surprisingly intricate throughout.
The song was surprisingly catchy.
I recommend you listen to this song, so you can see what I mean. Especially about the robot bit and the bounce.

The next song barges its way in rudely, with a flompy (yes, flompy!) snare and bass only beat and some vocals. It reminds me a lot of Amen. Amen would do that. Amen have done that. I did it in a Bloodpuncher song, in tribute to Amen once, so Amen would definitely do it.

It’s a bit noisy guitarwise, a bit hard on the ears. Then he screams ‘I Know Where You Live’ and it takes an Arctic Monkeys turn and becomes very enjoyable. It sounds like an advertisement for a British show about Police car chases on an unpopular channel.

Halfway though the song, it breaks down a bit and reminds me of that Sick Of It All song with the subway dragon. The double speed drums remind me of recent Lars Ulrich. Like maybe ‘Shoot Me Again.’ The double kicks feel punishing though, they’re impressive.

Next up is ‘I Dread The Night.’ For some reason it sounds like a mixture between Arctic Monkey’s ‘The Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secure’ and Bring Me The Horizon’s ‘Death Breath.’ Possibly just because of lyrical content. The bit where he says ‘Trapped In The Body Of A Man Defeated’ is very catchy.

At 1.43 it sounds a bit like the intro to Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s ‘Can’t Stop’ for a millisecond before turning awesome. The vocals are really expressive in a way I wouldn’t expect from the band with my limited knowledge of them.

When it kicks into the next, fast punky riff, it reminds me of the bits in both Overkill and Napalm Death that you can tell are derived from Hardcore. Like even on the good Napalm Death albums. It really, really reminds me of bits I’ve heard both those bands play. Then it turns into a half-drum-speed hanging version that is like a thinner version of a Hatebreed bit. When the ‘man defeated’ bit comes back, its like a very evil version of the Arctic Monkeys. It ends with that bit sang with no music. Its cool. Reminds me of Gentle Giant. They do that sort of thing.

The next song is called ‘Death Voices.’ I’m not even skeptical about the band anymore after hearing half of this song. Its got some of the catchiest, most memorable vocals I’ve heard in ages. The bit where they sing ‘four riders, four horses, bring me famine and bring me death’ and especially ‘beat by beat as the blows rain down’ is just absolutely captivating.

Its got this riff in it, that if you sang it with your mouth, would sound exactly like Judas Priest’s ‘Breaking The Law’ – duhduhduhdehdeyhduhdedeyhduh – but on the track it doesn’t sound like it… if you get me. In the same way that if you sing a certain riff in Metallica’s ‘St Anger’ it sounds like you are actually singing Pantera’s ‘A New Level’ riff. Get me? No !?

When the floor tom comes in for the pre-chorus it really reminds me of Coheed And Cambria. They’d do that. All the music cuts out in the middle, like the end of that other song. It goes all Gentle Giant again. More so, because of the backing vocals. Then the music comes back and it ends properly. Then Instead of the end being the end, there’s some pianoy-violiny vintage sounding crackly music… like a Coheed And Cambria intro.

Then its ended. Apart from…. Nah, just kidding. It did end.

Then, rather than end, the next song begins. I know, crazy, right? – Its an acoustic song. As you do, on a Hardcore Punk album. His clean singing is really good. It reminds me of ‘France’ by The Libertines only with a dark tone. But not dark in an obvious way. Dark like a disappointing ending where you realize you’ve fucked up irrevocably and can’t fix it, like Gone Baby Gone dark as opposed to Tim Burton bullshit dark.
Its called The Vulture Act 1 and it turns into The Vulture Act 2 with some dramatic Doomy, funereal clanging.

Then Act 2 comes in with music lifted STRAIGHT OUT of a Gamma Ray song. I can hear, the bit exactly, at the end of the snare roll Kai shouts ‘Alright.’ Frank doesn’t though. Sly dog. I won’t tell them if you don’t… ok I DID technically tell them… but, …shit.

The lyrics and vocal patterns are the bits from Act 1 only over Act 2’s dark Gamma Ray music. What are a Hardcore Band doing playing Power Metal anyway? Being Awesome, that’s what.
There are so many cool little touches that only last about two bars. Its hard to go into all of them.
It ends with Train sound effects…because… you know, Trains, innit ?

The next song is The Riverbed. It reminds me a bit of the first song, The Riverbank. Doubtlessly intentional. The way the drums work are very both Jetplane Landing and Coheed in parts, and very Hatebreed in other parts. It’d be fun to play.

There’s a bass lead build up before the vocals come in. Its structurally very cool. It reminds me of Coheed and System Of A Down. They’re proggy as hell for a Hardcore band.

At 2.45 there’s a brilliant pure Thrash riff, over ‘Let It Rain On Me.’ Then some fun double kick patterns. Then that Hatebreed bit comes back only with phenomenally ‘real’ sounding fast double kicks.

‘The Great Forgiver’ nosily comes in next. It’s the noisiest, most violent thing on the record so far. It even interrupts itself a few times. Rude. Its bizarrely catchy for something that’s so obnoxious. It has this low stop start bit with a high watery flicking tail, that should sound nasty but doesn’t. It sounds like its changing its mind about quitting a job.

‘Graves’ burst in next, also fast and noisy. Maybe there’s a quota. Its good despite not clearly doing or containing anything I historically have liked. Apart from passion I guess. I don’t know what it means exactly, but it sounds like it means it!

Then it goes slow. It sounds like Biffy Clyro’s singer a bit. Wikipedia says it in fact IS Biffy Clyro’s singer. That seems an odd choice. The end of the song works the way an Amen song I can’t remember ends.

Next up is ‘Queensbury Rules’ which sounds Russian. It reminds me of both Iron Maiden’s ‘Mother Russia’ and Mastodon’s ‘The Czar.’ Then it goes into a bit that works along the same logic as Metallica’s ‘Hit The Lights’ complete with high pitched tom roll.

When it goes into a d-beat, its absolutely gigantic. Its gigantic because the drums are quieter and weaker than they just were, because that’s what actually happens in real rife. The production on the drums are so damn real I could just eat them. The guitar over the top of the d-beat, and the strangely melodic London bouncer vocals come together really well in a better than the sum of their parts union to create one of the most exciting little bits of music I’ve heard in a long time. The way the vocals carry on, over and into the neck riff, which doesn’t immediately start up since the last bit ended on a cymbal catch gives you the feeling of whiplash… the song was hurtling you forwards, and then the section changes and you’re dragged back to a stationary position against that momentum. Its brilliant. Brilliant structuring.

Everything that follows in the next bit is so strangely catchy, even though everything is all over the place, each bit is new and its own and you can’t stick it together. Then that fantastic quiet d-beat thing comes back and I love it so much.

Around three minutes, it brings the rhythm of the Russian bit back in as a lead over a few different backgrounds, its really well done. It sounds so mournful, like surveying a massive military defeat.

The next song comes on, called misery. It opens with Keys and Strings, and a quiet snare roll. It sounds like both Faith No More and Coheed. It SHOULD be out of place as hell on this album, but it somehow fits brilliantly. It goes on over a full minute and a half too. Then the song gets angry.

I’ve never heard a singer that actually sounds miserable before. But this is the best example I’ve heard. He sounds more upset than Jonathan Davis at least. Ok, actually, I thought of loads of examples…Claudio in ‘Carol Ann’ and Ollie in ‘Suicide Season.’ Ok, forget that. He wants to kill himself just for relief, or so he says. The drums make it sound so serious. The toms especially. There are tom based holding patterns between sections, and a bit of stuff that reminds me of Pearl Jam in no way I can explain.

Then a fantastic, Metalcore breakdown. It works like Parkway Drive, but then this dark lead comes over it and it seems more like Infection era Chimaira. It ends with squealing pigs… because, … pigs, innit.

The last song comes in all fast and heavy. ‘Crucifucks’ its called. A title I feel is stolen from Exodus, but probably isn’t. This reminds me of Hardcore from America in the 80s, the type Slayer listened to. Then this jangly bass bit comes in, from out of nowhere, cancelling the song that had been going on for the first minute altogether, and its a bit that wouldn’t be out of place coming out of Mike Dirnt.

After barely a few seconds of that it erupts into this amazing Mastodon bit that sounds like nothing else on the album. Its so triumphant. That was worth the price of the album right there. They go into a slower but equally powerful bit.

Then it has a snare build up with the Dirnt-bass over the top. It sounds so extremely serious. It sounds like a threatening political nightmare. Then instead of exploding back into the Mastodon bit, it just gives over to scary horror music.

Its kind of like the bit in This Is England, where they think they’re having a laugh and then it all turns nasty and psychopathic. It’s a dark and upsetting way to end an album I’ll tell you that much. Then luckily, a beautiful, prog era Anathema like, keyboard and strings (only happy for once!) bit kicks in, it sounds like the bit at the end of a thing, where there’s hope for the future. Like how Battlestar Gallactica SHOULD’VE ended with just those two on their grassy hill. Non of that other business.

Yup. Great Britain is fucking dead. It stays dead for a bit. Then a little Wall-E like sprout of green grows, and you can tell that everything will be OK in a few thousand years.

Its both happy and a bit sad at 6.57 though… I don’t know what that’s about. Maybe the greenery will grow back, but the earth is going to fly into the sun anyway shortly afterward.

Fuck me. What a bizzare song.

One minute of Hardcore. Gear change. Glory. Glory fade. Build u..no wait, FEAR! Fear, evolving into hope…into bittersweet recognition of an unfair but inevitable future.

What the heck is all that about?

Luckily, I’ve engineered circumstances so that their absolutely ferocious cover of Maiden’s ‘Wrathchild’ comes on next. Because, if I had to dwell on that ending I might just go actually mad.

This ‘Wrathchild’ is so good it makes you think about saying really knobby sentences like ‘this is what it must have sounded like to people at the time’ in a “Dr. Who made my parents hide behind the sofa” kind of way, before you stop being a clichéd twat and instead DON’T say that.

Still. It’s a very good cover.

Ok. So what did I think of Grey Britain?

Beforehand I thought it would have been a jumped up NME-in-the-noughties era Sex Pistols clone’s dodgy anarchic and tuneless album for “cool people” with a token strings outro sellotaped onto the end by the producer as an afterthought.

Just goes to show you that you should give things a fair chance. I listened to the thing that I thought would be awful and well, it totally won me over… because, …Grey Britain, innit?

It’s a very powerful, and interesting album. Its sneakily catchy. Its surprisingly progressive and very musically accomplished for a band that could get away with just being violent instead of talented. The whole harsh-London vocal thing took A LOT of getting over for my personal tastes, but there are so many cool vocal bits that it kind of cancels out the bits I don’t like.

I can understand all the internet love for this record. Gallows fans would probably think I was a twat for comparing them to Arctic Monkeys though. Innit, because, innit, innit?

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