Review Summary: The definitive Gallhammer album: Doom, gloom and depressive atmosphere all in one.
It seems that Japanese Extreme Metal bands these days always manage to either confuse us or impress us with their constantly disorienting sounds and eerie atmospheres. Sigh have their saxophones, violins and psychedelia, Dir En Grey have their madness, insanity and obscurity and even all-female duo Gallhammer have their distinguishing qualities. However the latter, who used to have three members but then lost their guitarist for unknown reasons, has an extremely unpromising future ahead of them-If at all there is a future. The band's second album, which is the last to comprise of all three members of the band before Mika Penetrator decided to call it a day, is “Ill Innocence”, and is definitively their best album and certainly the one that manages to pin down precisely what Gallhammer set out to do.
However, for those who have already listened to Gallhammer's previous material and most probably cast it aside by deeming it a complete and utter mess of a sound, you might as well stop reading this review, because “Ill Innocence” will not change your opinion of the band at all. Beginning with one of the gloomiest and most depressing songs of their career, Gallhammer appear to sound more ambitious and adventurous than ever before. 'At the Onset of the Age of Despair' (A clumsily titled song) is perhaps one of the better examples of Gallhammer's longer songs. Vivian Slaughter's bass rumbles and almost moans its way through the entire song, whilst Mika's guitar follows on, making for a heavy, primitive sound that wouldn't seem out of place on an early Burzum album. It generally sets the standard for the rest of the album in the gloomiest and most miserable way possible, yet the rest of the album doesn't continue in this fashion.
In an album that seems to be flawed by too much unnecessary repetition and mediocrity, there are quite a few shorter songs that never seem to go over the four-minute mark. The extremely aggressive 'Speed of Blood' and 'Delirium Daydream' share their hauntingly dark atmospheres as Risa Reaper batters her poor old drum kit into oblivion, whilst Mika's bass and Vivian's guitars as usual give these two songs an extra layer or two. The shortest song on the album, 'Killed by the Queen' fully embraces it's Crust Punk influences mixed in with a bit of Motorhead-inspired rhythm, and consequently makes for quite a rambling, raw and raucous atmosphere. It's not just these songs themselves that charge ahead faster than a speeding train however, as the longer, tenser songs such as 'Song of Fall' and 'Ripper in the Gloom' appear to have a mixture of all tempos and moods. 'Song of Fall' begins with a two-minute bass interlude that unfortunately could make even the most focused listeners fall into a deep sleep, before suddenly battering naked eardrums to deafness with a maddening riff-raff of rawness and primitive musicianship, the guitars acting like a scythe and cutting through everything in their way as easily and roughly as a chainsaw. With 'Ripper in the Gloom' a similar structure is used, yet it proves to be a much better song than the former simply because there is less unnecessary repetition and more of a cohesive and consistent sound.
The instruments themselves appear to suit the songs quite well, but the vocals are, for the most part, completely dismal and consequently too distracting for each song to be fully enjoyed. Take 'Blind my Eyes' for example, a song that falls flat on its face and breaks its own nose, purely being the fault of the vocals. It is the only song to be co-written by Vivian Slaughter and Risa Reaper (Vivian being the main songwriter here), and yet Risa Reaper proves to everyone that she cannot batter the drums to death and 'sing' at the same time. Alongside Vivian's oh-so-monotonous vocals, Risa provides a cleaner approach and unfortunately sounds like a yelping puppy that wants some food. Not even the groovy rhythms of the bass and guitar can salvage 'Blind my Eyes' from being a complete failure. This happens once again on 'World to be Ashes' which, to say it is actually very well written musically, really does suffer from Vivian's vocal style, dragging along throughout as slowly as a crippled tortoise.
Arguably the worst thing about this album however is it's final two songs, the horribly unnecessary 'SLOG' (which doesn't seem to have any meaning in its title) and directionless 'Long scary Dream'. Whereas the former plods on at 0.003 miles an hour for the first five minutes of its eight and a half minutes total running time, the latter, thankfully being instrumental, never seems to go anywhere and actually should have stayed as an apparent B-side on one of the band's earliest demos. 'SLOG' does indeed pick up the pace after its ever long, painfully drawn out introduction, but it's just too little, and most definitely too late, and is surely a good reason for skipping to the next track.
This said however, “Ill Innocence” still stands as Gallhammer's best work to date, and even though it is full of flaws that can easily be picked out by even the biggest fans of the band, it works well in the sense that the band wanted to show their influences in their own way. What this album will certainly not do is change your mind, but if you haven't heard anything by the band before, you would do well to check this one out first.