Review Summary: Determined to distance themselves from their past - Gallows have created their most ambitious album to date, whilst leading themselves slightly astray along the way.
It wasn't that long ago when the signs were looking grim for Gallows. Following the departure of singer Frank Carter in 2011 (whom many considered to be the foundation of their sound), Gallows were faced with the option of fading into obscurity or soldiering on. Choosing the latter, the band went on to write their testosterone fueled self titled record in 2012 with a new frontman; guitarist and back up vocalist of Alexisonfire - Wade MacNeil. Shortly after, guitarist Stephen Carter departed from the band, leaving the band to hark back to their formative days as a four piece for the recording of Desolation Sounds.
'Mystic Death' opens the record sounding like a statement. The power chord worshipping, suit wearing, British flag waving Gallows of yesterday is nowhere to be found in the track - with a dissonant guitar riff reminiscent of a Black Sabbath meets black metal hybrid being the first thing listeners are presented with. "Cut the cord, walk into the sky," MacNeil touts before the track finishes in familiar hardcore punk territory. The line can be seen as symbolic of the new paths Gallows attempt to tread through within the course of the album.
The path of experimentation continues in tracks like 'Leviathan Rot', a distortion drenched, sludgy monolith of a track which finds comparisons from guitarist Laurent Barnard's other musical outlet, Krokodil. 'Chains' opens with a delay and reverb drenched guitar track accompanied with female vocals, before turning into a full on melodic hardcore assault. MacNeil's claims of "Sham rock 'n roll," could easily have come across as cheesy and manufactured, but are delivered in a manner which appears fitting and effective - proving as one of the highlights of the album. Lead single 'Bonfire Season' is an interesting track for the band, sounding like an ode to Gothic imagery. It starts off a little shaky, but they eventually find their feet and deliver one of the most memorable choruses of their careers. The equally melodic 'Death Valley Blue' feels right at home next to more straight forward tracks like 'Leather Crown', proving the band has more tricks up their sleeves than your average hardcore punk band.
Unfortunately with experimentation, many bands come across missteps before they reach a successful compromise from their original sound. Whilst Gallows successfully tread new ground on Desolation sounds, they manage to produce some awkward moments as well. The title track begins with a timid staccato based riff before joining with some unusually high vocals from MacNeil. "There's hope in desolation, it's a familiar sound," MacNeil optimistically states. Disappointingly, the track begins to stagnate into mediocrity just as it starts to pull you in, favoring a formulaic song writing approach instead of following a more adventurous suit like the rest of the album. 'Cease to Exist' presents an interesting instrumental atmosphere which the band hasn't ventured down in the past, but lyrics like "You are the forest, i'm lost in the trees,' bring down any hints of imagination the band attempts to present.
Gallows have created an album filled with artistic ambition and flairs of brilliance, but at the same time come across as sounding a little lost. Having already created the straight forward hardcore punk record 'Gallows' with their new frontman, Desolation Sounds comes across as a natural and admirable progression for Gallows - a band desperate to outlive the shadow of their previous successes. But if there is a next time around, they need to be more meticulous with distinguishing which new sounds actually work for them from those that come across as a little bit forced. Gallows could present the most refined and focused record of their career in their next effort but for now, this acts as a great dose of the Gallows of new.