Since hitting the scene in 2006 with ground breaking debut 'Orchestra Of Wolves', Gallows have been arguably the UK's finest punk/hardcore band over the last decade. 2012's self-titled release remained a solid metallic hardcore record that wasn't slowed down by dynamic frontman Frank Carter being replaced by Alexisonfire vocalist/guitarist Wade MacNeil; they didn't lose any of their grit, ferocity or skill for writing a memorable song. So where does that leave latest release 'Desolation Sounds'?
'Mystic Death' kicks off the record with menacing riffs that feel like Slayer in their slower moments, but quickly merges with speedy punky riffs to establish that this is definitely still Gallows. It's a strong track to start the album with, but Gallows' signature crunch is abandoned with the title track, faint post-punk vocals replacing the usual shouting. This attempt at something different feels like there's a huge piece missing. It's dim, with little intensity or grip.
Luckily, the album does picks up with 'Leviathan Rot', the female spoken word vocals accompanied by relentless palm-muted chugging and jumpy, angular stomps while still leaving room for a swagger filled bass bridge. This is Gallows being unpredictable and pulling out all stops to make a heavy banger. 'Chains' has a ghostly start with angelic but moody vocals from Helena of Dios Mio, before Gallows at their loudest comes crashing in. It's a straight forward song, but there's such a level of intensity that it feels like so much more than what it is. Wade's vocals are harrowing as he pleads there not to be another 'violent summer' and spits 'sham rock 'n' roll' with disgust. Sadly, though, 'Desolation Sounds' rarely hits this level of quality again.
The mellow 'Bonfire Season', while being an interesting change of direction, is not particularly thrilling. The delay-tinged, plodding riff lacks any real emotion, feeling more like a forced, unnecessary addition. Gallows should maybe stick to what comes natural to them, as shown by 'Leather Crown'; the most straight up hardcore punk song on the album and one of the best. It has fun, meaty and fast riffs with venomous vocals. On the other hand, it's weak compared to almost anything from any previous Gallows album, as it has nowhere near as much bite and very little that makes it stick out from your regular punk band. For the most part it seems that the band have lost their ability to try new things and make it flow with everything else.
'Death Valley Blue' is bad. Really bad. It's a textbook rock 'n' roll song, albeit with some Gallows muscle, but it has such a generic light strokes/dead notes formula that it sounds tired and dated. Matters aren't helped by predictable string bends as well as vocals that a bad shade of cocky. It's like it's trying to have a sense of arrogance, but there's nothing that earns it.
'Cease To Exist' improves things and is the best of the non-heavy songs on this album; or rather, It's the only one that succeeds at what is trying to be achieved. It's sombre with submissive guitar and passive vocals. It's more sincere and organic, and not like it's being different for the sake of being different.
The album ends heavy with 'Swan Song', or at least tries to. This isn't the worst song to end on, but it isn't the best either. The main punch comes with a short and snappy bursts of rollicking fretwork that certainly tries to tie up the album with the sonic strength of some of the songs combined with the new-found tenderness of the others, but like much of this album, the mild aspect just weakens things.
'Desolation Sounds' is a let-down. Sure, maybe no one was expecting another game changer, but this is a confusing listen. Where some elements on this album work, they don't elsewhere. Other than some aspects feeling forced, it's hard to pin point what's gone wrong for Gallows with 'Desolation Sounds', but hopefully they can sort it out for next time. if there is a next time.
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