Listening to Gallow's Grey Britain while writing on my laptop, sitting in a coffee shop is like listening to the Rolling Stones in an office cubicle or like listening to Wagner at the beach or like listening to JET without slamming my head in a car door. It just feels wrong. Honestly, I think any listening experience short of bleeding from the nose in the center of a sweaty mosh pit in a London Rock club is probably not in keeping with the spirit of this music.
While the familial relation to British Punk pioneers The Clash and The Sex Pistols is definitely perceptible, Gallows' approach is from the more Metal end of the spectrum and while they may not be objectively more angry than their ancestors, the members of Gallows collectively embrace their fury and let it shine through in every aspect of the music from the aggressive, dissonant guitar work to lead singer's vocals. Lacking any vestige of the archetypal whiny Punk sneer, vocalist Frank Carter belts his songs through undoubtedly raw vocal chords with a masculine, guttural force more reminiscent of Metal, but his aggro style and cockney accent are still unmistakably true to the genre. The same can be said of the lyrics which, while being a touch darker than your typical Punk fare, have that familiar grounded disillusionment of the resentful lower class London Rocker.
The imagery conjured up on Grey Britain is super violent but the musical context of the individual tracks is important in how they each come across. The more traditional Punk sound of “London is the Reason” lends it a relatively light-hearted tone which, in combination with the rally cry “We are the rats and we run this town,” sounds like a veritable party anthem for anyone with some surplus anger and a bunch of anti-social mates in tow. “I Dread the Night” is another tune which is improbably fun, due in part to the fact that it's sung from the ironic perspective of someone who went out looking for a fight, and lost. In addition, the rousing Punk chorus and driving guitars infuse the listener with adrenaline and though I'm a lover not a fighter, I'll admit that the song does make me imagine what it would feel like to fracture my knuckles on another man's head.
At the CD's halfway point we get an uncharacteristically slow and somber departure from an album that is otherwise a consistently fast and brutal affair. “The Vulture (act I)” gives Frank Carter a chance to reveal his tender side, singing softly and sweetly over an acoustic guitar and a string ensemble arrangement that borders on cheesiness. It's a clever move on the band's part; they play it so that right about when you might ask yourself if Gallows has gone soft, they rip into the second act of “The Vulture” and thoroughly disintegrate any misguided sense of serenity you may have been harboring. We are led across this Rubicon to a notably darker, more aggressive B side where any Punk playfulness has been cast aside in favor of a merciless attack on The United Kingdom and its status quo. An air raid siren wails away ominously in the background as if to say “You ain't seen nothing yet.”
On songs like “The Great Forgiver” and “Graves” Gallows kicks into another gear riding a pulse of thrashing dissonance while hammering home their anti-social, anarchistic themes. The downer of the album may be “Misery,” whose beautiful but foreboding intro leads into a perverse love note to suffering itself.
“Misery fucking loves me, but I love her more
she is the last light, the dark nights
the noose round my neck and the hole in the floor
there is nothing left for me, I want to kill myself just for relief
the black cloud, the death shroud
the weight of the world dragging me down.”
Delivered at full force, “Misery” is hard and ugly but as over the top as it is, its sincerity remains intact and this is the true success of Grey Britain. With such aggressively angry music, if its underlying sentiments were to be perceived as contrived or manufactured it would trigger any listener's internal BS detector and it wouldn't work on any level. To my ears, Gallows achieves an air of authenticity and that makes their interesting mix of Hardcore Punk and Metal all the more enjoyable.
The band leaves us with dark parting words screamed over a military drum beat; a bleak vision for the future of the U.K. The sound of Carter fighting for breath as the music fades away conveys his anger and intensity as well as anything else on the album.