Retro Album Review: Grey Britain by Gallows

Gallows have been a personal favourite of mine since I first heard them. I loved the all out chaos and punk attitude of Orchestra Of Wolves.  Their self titled album with new vocalist Wade McNeil surpassed my expectations and the slightly more post-punk nature of Desolation Sounds peaked my interests once again. But there is one album that I consider their magnum opus.  One album that I never get tired of hearing. One album that gets my blood boiling and body moving, and that is Grey Britain.

Grey Britain was released back in 2009 by Warner Bros. Records. I know what you’re thinking, ‘but Sam that’s a major label, wouldn’t that effect their sound?’ and the short answer is absolutely shitting not. It is hundred times more aggressive, two hundred times darker than their previous album and one of the heaviest hardcore/punk albums out there. Gallows managed to capture the grim and dark reality of British culture in a single album.

There is a defined atmosphere to the album. It is dark and depressing from the outset. The Riverbank opens the album with an eerie oar striking the water followed by ominous strings. Then it hits you. Square in the face. A steady assault of driven Sabbath like guitars and marching drum beats  whilst vocalist Frank Carter decries that ‘Grey Britain is burning down’ .That’s how you get introduced to Grey Britain. Over a minute and half of build up, then a short burst of music before the torrents of rage, anger, depression and all out misery flood the album. Turn back now because it gets bloody heavy from now on.

London Is The Reason screams revolution with its heavy punk vibes of rebellion and face ripping groove. This is helped by the gang vocals that end the song. A call and response style of pissed off shouts over a squealing guitar. You’ll then be thrown into the bounce of Leeches an anti-religious anthem that tears Christianity open. I mean just listen to the mid song bridge. I challenge you to listen to it and resist the urge to jump about and smash stuff up.  This is aided by the most underrated drummer in heavy music, Lee Barratt (this man needs to win an award or something). He creates the beat that not only rolls up the tension to the eventual drop but smashes that tension down on the listener. The drum beats and fills are one of the biggest factors in Gallows being able to create these massive musical moments that get people riled up.

The album continues and never really losses this drive. Laurent ‘Lags’ Barnard  and Steph Carter do a fantastic job at keeping the pulse racing throughout Black Eyes, I Dread The Night and Death Voices. The later is especially rage inducing with the return of the gang vocals during a few seconds of musical silence. Nothing but the pumping beat of Frank leading the cry of ‘Four nails, Four corners, Four riders and Four horses’ before punching straight back into the rest of the chorus. This is where you’ll notice the atmosphere of the album. The intro to  Vultures (Act I and II) is simply a depressing acoustic progression with Franks droning vocals. It leads the listener into one of the most shattering songs on the album. An explosion of aggressive hardcore riffing and a very metal driven chorus.

Misery is another example of the use of calming moments as an opener for some pretty heavy music. A melancholic (or misery riddled if you will) piano piece softly marches you head long into a beasty bass line. Stuart Gili-Ross has the tone and punk rhythm to not only open this song, but to bridge the chorus with the verse in a way that creates a backbone for the rest of the band to balance on. Oh and then the breakdown at the end of Misery! It’s a piece of chugging perfection.      

Throughout the album Gallows called in several guest vocals to mix things up. Most notable is Simon Neil of Biffy Clyro lending his iconic voice to Graves, but Frank and Stephs half brother, Richard Carter of hardcore band Blackhole also came to fuck shit up on Black Eyes. The impact of all the vocals are helped by the impressive lyrics. No beating around the bush here, it is in your face and does not shy away from anything taboo. It works to create some of the most passionate and powerful lyrics that you can really get invested in. I have to mention my favourite line ‘The Union Jack has bled away. It’s black and white and it’s fucking grey’off Queensbury Rules really gets me pumped up.

The structure of the album creates the feeling of a narrative flow. From Riverbank to its sister song Riverbed all way to the creepy music box end of Crucifucks. If you listen carefully, or watch any of the music videos from the album, you’ll begin to notice the story develop. Each song has its place on Grey Britain from the all out riot starters to the tension building dark openings and interludes. Now it isn’t quite concept album worthy but it is definitely worth mentioning as this grim album tells an equally grim tale.

I could talk for hours about this album. Grey Britain holds a special place in my heart. As one of my all time favourite albums and the album that pushed me further down the heavy and dark music path I now love. Gallows went all out to displays the very best of British hardcore and punk in the modern era. I highly doubt we will ever see an album quite like this ever again.

Score: 10/10 / 5 Stars /100%


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