In Massachusetts, there are a lot of all-ages Sunday afternoon band showcases in VFW halls, and if you’re 14 and want to see live local music, this is where you go. Having once been a 14-year-old in Massachusetts, I went to a lot of these things, and it was here that I learned about hardcore music. Without fail, at least 3 of the bands at any all ages matinee would be hardcore groups, and while I was never that into the music, seeing it live made me appreciate why a lot of people did: that inarticulate rage-for-rage’s-sake that wracks every white suburban teenager put to music. Forgive me skinheads, but hardcore is almost like country music for the blue states: There’s no irony or obscure influences – just distorted power chords, rabid drums and a guy (it’s almost always a guy) screaming about how the universal “you” is full of shit and ruining everything.
The better hardcore bands could take this well-worn formula and make it feel just fresh enough to create an army of fist shaking kids that you might actually want to join. Gallows, a UK group whose second album Grey Britain was recently released after the band signed a deal with Warner Bros., is one of these better hardcore bands. The songs on Grey Britain are primarily about what the England local tourism boards like to think went away with the Thatcher years – unemployment, crime, garbage in the streets. And unlike Guy Ritchie movies, Gallows’ aim is to show how much this sucks.
“We are the rats and we run this town / We are the black plague bearing down / We have no fear / We have no pity / We hate you / We hate this city,” singer Frank Carter sneers on “London is the Reason.” Carter’s got a fine hardcore voice, his husky scream coming out with a Herefordshire accent. It’s not a low cookie monster groan, and when he actually sings on the album’s token acoustic slowdown “The Vulture Act I & II,” he shows off a set of lovely, if slightly nasally tenor pipes.
But that’s not what the tattooed masses come out to see.
The masses come out for power chords and stabbing guitar riffs and that Gallows offers in spades. Aside from a few attempts at expanding the sound (the soft intro on “The Vulture Act I & II,” the cello that opens the first track “The Riverbank” and the strings that fade the album out) Grey Britain largely offers one thumping sludge-fest after another. After “London is the Reason,” songs the “Leeches,” “I Dread the Night” and “Death Voices” might as well be the verse, chorus and bridge of one long track.
This is probably the biggest complaint from critics about hardcore music: Not that it’s too loud or too in-your-face, it’s just that many of the songs are too similar. Bands’ songs, and often the bands themselves, sound interchangeable. Gallows fall prey to this as much as a lot of other bands. Their saving grace is that they do what everyone else is doing quite well. Carter’s voice, guitarists’ Laurence Bernard and Steph Carter’s SoCal punk riffs and Stu Gili-Ross’ surprisingly melodic bass lines make the group stand out from a thousand other clones.
Grey Britain‘s strongest track is not the ambitious “The Vulture Act I & II,” but rather “Black Eyes.” The band doesn’t go for grandeur on the track, but rather boils all its best elements into it. It kicks off with Carter singing about keeping a razor blade in his shoe to keep his mind off more hurtful things, while drummer Lee Barratt plays a sharp staccato beat. Then come the same three chords over and over and the whole band backing up Carter like a gang on vocals.
Wrapping up just shy of the 3-minute mark, “Black Eyes” displays everything fans love and critics hate about hardcore music. It’s a quick burst of angry rawk that sounds like a million other quick bursts of angry rawk. But if that’s what you’re in the market for, it hits the spot.
Rancid – Self-titled (2000)
Black Flag – Damaged
Fluffy – Black Eye