Review Summary: The soundtrack of mental anguish.
Gallhammer straddles several genres--including crust punk, black metal, and the slightest overtures of doom metal; the result on their debut, Gloomy Lights, is an unquestionably primitive, dark, gritty, and disturbed, giving off almost the vibe of being the soundtrack of a mental patient's mind. It's desolate and hopeless, and very hard to listen to at first.
What most people notice about Gloomy Lights and Gallhammer in general is a lack of any special instrumental skill--nobody who listens to Gallhammer does so because any of the members are virtuosos with their respective instruments; very, very far from it. At the time when they began recording Gloomy Lights, none of the members knew at all how to play their instruments, and it shows. On the other hand, this doesn't really hurt Gloomy Lights, because overall, it's the album's atmosphere which lends its power--the overall effect of all its parts coming together and not the parts themselves. To listen to Gloomy Lights, you can't sit there trying to pay attention to every facet, every instrument, trying to find something that stands out about them; it's better to simply let the music overcome you, to let yourself really feel the sickened atmosphere that is spewed by Gloomy Lights.
Looking at it both lyrically and from the very sound of it, this album sums up helpless self-destruction and hopeless personal decay flawlessly, in a way clichéd 'emo' bands could only have tormented nightmares of. The crushed, defeated, disturbed feel of the album puts the hordes of 'depressive suicidal black metal' bands to absolute shame, and that applies to lyrics too; while so many of those bands simply call on variants of 'life is pain and I hate myself', Gallhammer dives--or rather, sinks--into the ugliest, darkest parts of the human psyche, using what seems at first glance to be simple vocabulary and short, abrupt statements, such as "I saw cruel reality. Solemn truth in these eyes of mine. Hate is red" and "Anger like hopelessness. Slight light. Eyes for hope and salvation. I want those eyes to be crushed." For all their supposed simplicity and abruptness, however, the lyrics are profoundly disturbing in the picture of bleak emptiness and misery they create.
The music itself vacillates between slower, drifting meanders, emphasising the black metal aspects tinged with doom, and sudden moments of rapid, faster crust interspersed throughout. It's all very raw, very unrefined, and musically none too complex; most everything could very easily be played by a complete beginner on any given instrument, probably because everything here IS played by a complete beginner. The sound is very minimal, and tends very much towards repetition on most songs such as Crucifixion and Lost My Self, though others like Aloof and Proud Silence showcase sudden shifts from style to style.
The one aspect of the music that does, on its own, shine through, is the vocals. Gloomy Lights' singing is a motley amalgamation of tormented rasps, vicious screams, and guttural growls that really lends the driving force behind the tortured atmosphere of Gloomy Lights, unarguably more so than the instrumentation itself. It's definitely not typical extreme music fare; the vocals sound truly torn apart, like the excruciated snarls of a hellish creature in agony--perfect for this music.
All in all, Gloomy Lights served as the first forays of the three 'musicians', if one can label them such, of Gallhammer, into creating their own brand of disturbed, doom-inflected blackened crust--a brand that would be refined and further perfected (or 'in'perfected) on their second release, Ill Innocence.