Review Summary: Grey Britain resonates louder today than it ever did before.
What an exit. Taking in to account Gallows still manage to maintain an unyielding level of quality with their albums, fronted by Wade MacNeil, it's always been Frank Carter's Gallows that saw the band at their hungriest, angriest and most ambitious. It's also surprising and frustrating for some to hear that two of hardcore-punk's finest albums from the last decade were made with a frontman who saw his band as a "hobby"; Frank isn't your conventional frontman, and his blaring honesty is what worked so well for this band. Frank always had a hypnotic stage presence and charisma about him, which drew people into the band's savage and raging live shows, but couple that together with Grey Britain
being, not only the band's most ambitious album to date, but a career defining masterpiece -- and swansong for Frank Carter. These factors must have been a terrifying prospect: to carry the torch on from someone that charismatic when they leave the band.
even stems from odd and unique circumstances. The band exploded from the underground scene just a year after forming, with the release of their hardcore-punk debut Orchestra of Wolves
, but then immediately surprised fans when they signed to major label Warner Bros. to make the band's sophomore LP. Considering the punk ethos and mentality, many were concerned by the band's decision to move to a major label. However, the decision to go with Warner's worked in their favour; with full creative control, and a much bigger budget, the band were able to deliver a hardcore-punk album that not only contained a continuous concept throughout, but a high level of experimentation you couldn't achieve with a small budget. This isn't just a hardcore record, it has a collection of different styles: trash; metal; hardcore; piano and string arrangements; acoustic, and it's all underpinned by a classic punk snarl.
The concept of this album is bleak at best; a broken Britain, society as we know it is in chaos. The royal family is dead, the crown is broken. The nihilistic theme is laid throughout and generally points out all of --not just this country in particular, per se-- the worlds problems. What makes this topic so unique here though, is there is no solutions; we're set to make the same mistakes over and over. No riding off into the sunset. And definitely no happy endings. The only resolve Gallows offer to the countries problems, is that we throw in the towel, kill ourselves and start again. The dire nature of the topics and themes used throughout the album are made more vivid and believable by the phenomenal snarl and venomous bite of Frank's performances here. It sounds as though the band were literally tearing themselves apart when they were writing it. Frank Carter And The Rattlesnakes showcase a semi-visceral Frank, but it's here where you can really hear he was at a very, very dark point in his life. Every track is saturated in black tarred hatred and shows a uniquely honest and bleak loathing for life. It's something countless artists attempt, but no one makes it more believable than Frank does here. The dystopian setting is featured predominantly here, and his ability to pull at various, negative emotions on here is impressive.
Musically the album is equally exceptional, primarily for the sheer amount of unpredictability found on tracks; it leaves you elated and on edge. The opening to "Riverbank" catches the listener off guard immediately, because if you were expecting a fast and hard start to the LP you'll be in for a shock: the track begins with the sound of cold, murky water splashing around, before strings arrangements begin to slowly creep into the track. The song then kicks into a half-time slam of face-peeling heaviness with Frank shouting:
"Grey Britain is burning down on me. Buried alive before we drown. The Queen is dead, and so is the crown. The shallow grave, fit for the ground. Stick your coffins in the riverbed, where all our sins are laid to rest. Set alight to the flag, we used to fly. God help us now, we are ready, to die."
It comes as a shock to the senses, because the track is lathed in a metal influence, than a sound you're previously accustomed to hear from the band. The real punch to the teeth comes from Frank's abrasive lyrics, which real heighten your senses and ensure you are giving your complete attention to the album. The 5 tracks after it contain hefty grooves, blues licks and a scathing anger cranked to 11 -- blending metal and hardcore-punk seamlessly. "Death Voices" brings the album's catchiest chorus to the LP, as well as more string arragements for its closing seconds, but Grey Britain
rarely gives you an inch of room to rest. Things get interesting when it comes to "The Vulture Act I & II", which is a prime example of how the band manage to convey their anger in several different ways: the acoustic opening sends a shock to the system and does a U-turn on everything the band has built up to that point. More surprising is it gives the listener a false sense of safety: the vocals sound gental and romantic, but focus on the lyrics and you'll hear they're just as cynical --maybe even more so-- as the rest of the album. But as the realisation that you're far from safe sinks in, the band kick into more fast-paced punk. It's a genius piece of music, and one of the best songs on here.
At this point in the album, you'd think Grey Britain
couldn't get any better, but it does. In fact, the second half of the album is much better, and it's because the aggression gets more and more heightened. The staccato shouts that are locked in with the drums in "The Riverbed" is simply devastating. Simon Neill's guest vocals are a fantastic surprise on "Graves" and really hones in on the emotion. The first half of the LP is like a setup to introduce you into its bleak world, and anything after "The Vulture Act I & II" is just sheer Armageddon. The little moments where tracks breath and reveal that insanely distorted bass feels like a very vivid picture of the band opening its tornado of sonic hatred and letting you in to see the eye of the storm. The way Frank delivers his lyrics on "Queensberry Rules", with the trashy guitars and backing vocals are just little moments that bring the album together to create a devastating package overall.
I can't give this album enough praise. It's so damn dismal, and there's no consolations to be had with the band's conceptual theme. It's well thoughtout, well laid out, and there is just buckets of influence and style that go far beyond being just another hardcore album. I think if I was put in the same position as MacNeil after this point in the band's career I'd have bricked it, because this was at a time where the band were running at full power, full ambition and complete harmony and self destruction. I wouldn't like to say the individuals that made this LP would ever top this, with whatever they're doing now, but it would take a miracle to better this. A damn near perfect album, and essential listening for anyone into heavy music.
Editions: CD/DVD, V̶I̶N̶Y̶L̶, M̶P̶3̶, C̶D̶
Packaging: Standard Jewel case.
Special Edition: The DVD contains a "feature film" that accompanies the music for the album, and guides the story to its impending doom.