Losing a vocalist can be the death of a band. For some reason, most bands can shed any number of bassists, drummers or even guitarists like a Labrador sheds hair on a sofa without anyone really blinking an eye. But the moment the bloke/bloke-ess who does the singing noises leaves the fold, the band are immediately condemned to an infinite mass of backhanded comments that read something like: “this is a good song but it’d be better if [old vocalist] was singing *sad and/or crying emoticon*”. All of this is especially true for Gallows, who lost something of a UK hardcore icon when Frank Carter announced his departure. And to add insult to injury, it was an American who replaced him. Oh, the humanity.
But the thing is, the never really stopped being a good band. The first EP with Wade was a bit shaky, but the self-titled record that followed it was actually pretty fantastic. It just wasn’t what we’d expect from a typical Gallows release. Desolation Sounds however, actually sounds like the continuation of what Gallows were doing on Grey Britain. All of this without sacrificing the gargantuan metallic riff power that made the self-titled so lovable.
The ‘least-Gallows’ sounding songs here are, in my opinion, some of the best in their entire back catalogue. ‘Chains’ is moody and subtle, but still kicks in all the right places. The female vocals sound particularly eerie, and the use of atmosphere makes the otherwise pretty simple breakdown all the more powerful. This track leads straight into ‘Bonfire Season’, which pretty much forgoes the metallic element of the band’s sound completely. Despite lacking any of the raw punch the band are known for, it’s shadowy melody and generally creepy vibe makes it sound completely at home. But perhaps the most unexpected success here comes when the band enter the dreaded ballad territory, with ‘Cease to Exist’. It’s just as reverb soaked and morose as the heavy stuff, but takes a more gentle approach. The result is really quite beautiful, and Wade’s gruff crooning makes for one of the best choruses on the album. The lead guitar work is also quite impressive, managing to be simultaneously syrupy and sad.
As great as all this experimentation is, it’d be no good if the band couldn’t also give you a good kick in the proverbial bollocks to balance it all out. And they still have the heaviness where it’s needed, for the most part. In classic Gallows style, the album starts off with the total right-hook to the jaw that is ‘Mystic Death’. It’s so heavy it sounds almost like what Behemoth would write if they were given nothing but Converge and Every Time I Die to listen to for a year. But the album really gets interesting when it branches out into melodic areas. ‘Leather Crown’ also makes for an easy highlight, matching it’s pummelling hardcore sections with a spacey, acoustic backdrop. But some of the more plain moments can end up being a little forgettable, the biggest culprit in this respect being ‘Leviathan Rot’. It’s not a bad track, it’s just lacking in the detail that makes the other songs here so breath-taking.
All that said, a couple of filler tracks should not be enough to warn you away from this album. Few hardcore bands manage to be this complex and layered in the span of their entire careers, let alone on one album. If you weren’t convinced Wade vocals could ever fill the hole Frank left in the band, listen to this immediately. If this one doesn’t convince you that Gallows are still one of the bands band in the UK right now, nothing will.
Highlights: ‘Bonfire Season’, ‘Death Valley Blue’, ‘Cease to Exist’, ‘Chains’
Similar to: Brutality Will Prevail, Feed The Rhino, Cancer Bats