London, England hardcore darlings Gallows released a full album stream of their new, upcoming self-titled record this week. This record will be their first full-length with their still relatively new (but not so shiny) frontman Wade MacNeal, formerly of Alexisonfire and decidedly not British. MacNeal replaced original Gallows frontman Frank Carter just over a year ago and has since brought his biting growl to the band’s Black Flag meets Turbonegro aesthetic with the 2011 EP Death is Birth and this new full length. However, as I sit here and listen to this latest effort from the band, I can’t help but feel like something crucial is missing from the music that was undeniable before.
I first fell in love with the band’s sound at the height of my “almost exclusively listening to angry music phase” (or summer 2007 for those not in possession of an updated Joshicon). It was a boiling summer day in Montreal and I was attending that lovable crossroads of commercialism, tight pants and power chords known at the Vans Warped Tour for the fourth summer in a row. Gallows had been the buzz band in the commercial hardcore scene for a few months at that point, having just signed a cushy distro deal with Epitaph and getting their debut full length Orchestra of Wolves a proper North American release. They took the stage in the late afternoon while Flogging Molly played in the distance and it became immediately clear to me that this would be an entirely different set than any I had taken in earlier in the day. These guys were angry. Not radio friendly, 4/4 time angry that so many other bands were, they were PISSED. They were pissed it was hot, they were pissed that they were sharing a bill with Cute is What We Aim For and they were seemingly pissed to be playing a show in Montreal in the first place.
Or rather, at least Frank Carter was.
As Carter leapt off the stage and performed most of the set from within the pit himself (something I would later find out was his trademark), it was clear that every syllable that emerged out of his sneering maw was intentionally aimed at some person or idea that he found deplorable and in his mind, the louder he screamed the more those people and ideas trembled. And who knows, maybe they did. The honesty and integrity that spewed from him were as sharp as the tattoos that covered his body and his bandmates not only fed off his energy, but were made better for it. As a fan, I was sold. Hook, line and sinker.
I saw Gallows again several months later in New York City opening for Bad Religion at the cavernous Nokia Theater in Times Square. However this time, the tone was shifted. By the time they launched into their second song it was clear that something was very wrong…or rather, more than a few things were right because this time Carter was unquestionable happy. He loved that he was opening for one of his idols, he loved that he was playing in a nice, climate controlled venue and he liked that he was in New York City.
And the set was noticeably lackluster.
It was at this point that I began to formulate a theory about Gallows’ success that I wouldn’t really be able to confirm until several years later. That said, the third and fourth time I saw the band were must more in tune with the first time. After all, being forced to play a show on what was supposed to be their off day because This Is Hell couldn’t cross the border (third) and sharing a bill with Jefferey Starr and Brokencyde at yet another Warped Tour (fourth) would be enough to make any frontman angry, let alone Frank Carter who appeared to always hover just on the edge of “about to crack” on a good day.
It was after these two performances that I could state that Gallows success as a live band was undeniably linked to the level of Carter’s hatred of those around him at the time of that performance. If he tripped and stubbed his toe as he went on stage, that would probably result in an AMAZING set. It wasn’t until earlier this year that I really began to understand how much more their was to the situation than I imagined.
Carter left Gallows in the summer of 2011 in what appeared to be an amicable split entrenched in that oh so common trope of “creative differences” with the four members of the rhythm section (including Carter’s little brother, Steph) continuing on with MacNeal while Carter founded a new band with ex-Hope Conspiracy guitarist Jim Carrol called Pure Love. The exact nature of the music being created by the two was a closely guarded and heavily teased secret for months until the band made their live debut at London’s Bush Hall on Valentines Day 2012. (Get it? Pure Love? Valentines Day? Yuk Yuk Yuk.) Their sound was, to say the least, a departure from the sound that had built the fan bases of both men, sticking much more into areas thread by the likes of Queen and The Darkness than by Black Flag and Cancer Bats. And as Carter bounced around the stage at that initial gig, he was smiling from ear to ear as he abandoned his signature raspy howl for a tone more simple, more clean.
A few months later, Pure Love released their first single “Bury My Bones” for free download. The track, a simple arena rock anthem that skated around making an impact but never really got there, featured a repeated refrain that confirmed a lot of my suspicions stated above. With the direct, undeniable honesty I had come to expect from him, Carter cleanly states over and over that he was “so sick of singing about hate” and that “it’s never gonna make a change.” So there we have it, it seems that Carter wasn’t riled up at any given moment, but that he was perpetually on edge BECAUSE he was in Gallows. It wasn’t that he hated something that day, or week or month, it was that he hated (or was beginning to hate) being in a band that did nothing but scream and expound on the difficulties of life and that the good days (like the one I saw in New York) were the exception, not the rule.
And hey, more power to him. It takes a lot of courage to put your notoriety, not to mention your financial stability, on the line to stay true to your passions. Frank Carter wanted to play softer music, and even if that softer music isn’t quite my taste (I like softer music, just not boring softer music that sounds like The Darkness), I still say more power to him.
Which leads us back to Gallows and their reconstituted musical identity. As I listen to this new record and it’s simple and direct song structures I hear as lot that is familiar to me. Carter, Barett, Gili-Ross and Barnard are still as tight of a backline as they always were, with their rapid fire drum beat and slicing chord progressions as solid as they ever were. No, the problem here isn’t the instrumentals, its the vocals. And calling them a problem is really not entirely fair either. MacNeal is trying, he really is. His lyrics, while a little less verbose and more simplistic than Carter’s still make their point as powerfully as Carter made his. Overall, this record isn’t a BAD one. As far as modern, straight ahead hardcore goes, this is a solid A-/B+ effort. It’s quick, catchy and well structured, but it really is Gallows in name only.
Putting it simply, Wade MacNeal WANTS to be in Gallows.
He legitimately loves being a member of the band. He’s stated on several occasions that he was a fan of them with Carter fronting the band and that his primary goal in taking Carter’s old job was to stay true to what came before. At the end of the day though, he can growl, perform sets in the middle of the pit and cover himself in mud all he wants, but as long as he enjoys waking up in the morning as a member of Gallows he will never be able to reach the raw, unrelenting fury that gave the band it’s name.