In the summer of 2011, a big change occurred in the Gallows camp. Founding member and lead vocalist Frank Carter announced his departure from the Watford-based hardcore punk band. While such a major change can be daunting, it was only a matter of weeks before Gallows announced his replacement and seemingly barely any time at all before they unveiled new material, which suggests the changes were already in place by the time they went public with Carter’s departure.
This EP marks the first Gallows release with new frontman Wade MacNeil, previously of Canadian post-hardcore merchants Alexisonfire. Before the release of ‘Death Is Birth’ he announced proudly that the new material sounded like a kick in the teeth. Judging by most of these first spawned by the Wade-fronted Gallows, he’s not far wrong. Things may have changed for the band – and with new blood comes new ideas – but the passion which has driven Gallows previously is still abundant; ‘Death Is Birth’ offers four numbers of a very high standard.
The opening number ‘Mondo Chaos’ musically suggests that Gallows have toughened up considerably to accommodate their new vocalist. Frank Carter came with a severe rasp and plenty of edge, but MacNeil’s delivery comes fully loaded with an exceptional intensity. The guitars at first have a similar grinding edge to most of the band’s previous output, but there’s more bottom end than ever before. Combining that unsubtle amount of power with the deliberately confrontational refrain of “Hey, say fuck the world” makes an opening statement which is so intense, it’s almost ridiculous. As the number progresses, there are hints of a slightly bouncier edge, but no sense of Gallows ever lightening up. However, it’s a mere pop ditty in comparison to the uber-hardcore ‘True Colours’, a track which points at the aggressiveness of US government: “if moves like a snake and lies like a snake, the whole world knows it’s a snake / Your true colours shining through like the 4th of July”. A direct statement backed by an even more direct riff gives this bile-filled thirty-seven seconds a sharp impact which never lessens on subsequent plays.
‘Hate! Hate! Hate!’ is the EP’s best number, mixing a grinding lead guitar with a slightly more groove-laden riff. The faster elements here sound not unlike a pumped up Sick of It All, something more than reinforced by MacNeil’s shouty hardcore vocal; but, obviously, this is no bad thing – especially once the band finds room for a memorable refrain of “next stop revolution!” at the track’s end. Looking beyond the fast riff, there’s even time during the relatively swift two minutes for a slow, pounding riff, which provides another blast of extreme intensity; especially so when coupled with the suggestion that “you better run for your fucking life!”
Although driven by more similarly grinding guitars, the title cut has a very slightly lighter touch, and is perhaps the closest the EP comes to reproducing the sounds of “classic” Gallows. Musically, it may nod to the band’s past, but since MacNeil’s in-your-face delivery stomps across any relative musical flourishes, it is best not to expect anything which overtly resembles Gallows’ past work. Still, since it would have been unwise for Gallows to attempt to recreate ‘Grey Britain’ – let alone improve on it – it was definitely a wise choice to take a slightly different musical path. And even when their newer-found, even more extreme hardcore elements meet the older strains of the Gallows sound, as they do here, they still excel as a musical unit…and Gallows still sound more essential and vibrant than their closest peers.
Arriving with the subtlety of a bomb, ‘Death Is Birth’ rattles the listener for little over seven and a half minutes before making a swift exit. There are hints of the old Gallows throughout, but understandably with MacNeil out front, there are almost as many hints of Alexisonfire’s more aggressive tendencies in here too. The tougher sound and different frontman might lose Gallows a few fans, but it’s just as likely to win them new ones with the big change. Some people may have predicted the absence of Frank Carter would spell the end for the band, but this EP suggests anything but the end of the road. With ‘Death Is Birth’s sledgehammer riffs and recurring messages of new beginnings, Gallows sound more determined than ever to succeed, leaving the punk world one of the year’s most brilliantly uncompromising releases in the process.