Sound: The second album by the Japanese trio was my first encounter with Gallhammer's music, despite a longtime interest. Though owing a certain debt to Celtic Frost and, as the name suggests, Hellhammer, the songs presented show a band with potential, something that could evolve beyond two albums. Upon first listen it's easy to dismiss the music; simplistic wanderings over the fretboard that give the impression of someone waiting for what's never going to come. It's the music for the insomniacs; a relatively raw mix of crust punk, black metal and funeral doom spread over 10 tracks. At the same time, repeated listens will uncover the magic that really lies within this album. It's a rather strange album, indeed. The music just seems to happen. There's no particular conviction, and despite a lot of atmosphere, it's almost unintentional. The accent is almost on listening to the actual events like a played chord, or a snare hit, rather than building on a greater theme through the course of the album. The songs meander through changes, occasionally embellished in a harmonic or a volume swell. But here a strange thing happens; that's exactly what makes this album work. It's so bleak and nihilistic in it's lack of direction, that it's atmosphere is a lot more authentic than if they tried to bring more intensity and intention to the music.
Aforementioned Celtic Frost and Hellhammer are an obvious influence, but bits of Moss and Mournful Congregation occasionally make their way through the dense mix. Production is raw, though without being a mess; it almost softens and warms the sound, and gives the whole record a feel of the day you recognise existence is futile. Ripper in the Gloom breaks the pace of sludgy distortion mid-way through the album, to open some room for a soft acoustic intro. A very welcome change in dynamics, it's minimalist and simple, but fits the part. The acoustic guitar is very well recorded, too, with a very immediate and intimate feel about it that is almost soothing. The song then breaks into something that is almost pure punk in an almost complete turnaround. The tempo and aggression are at their highest, like a big slap in the face. It didn't quite work for me, as the change is very drastic, but it keeps one on their toes, and gives the record an interesting edge. Onto track 7, entitled Song of Fall. As if anticipating my thoughts, the similar idea of clean opening followed by heavy riffing is present here, but because the tempo overall stays relatively slow, the song works far better. For the rest of the album the songs mostly stay slow and heavy, submerging the listener into a great sea of anthems to nihilism. It's probably suits the music of Gallhammer most, as this is where they create their greatest atmospheres. SLOG is a perfect example of this, with beautiful changes and probably the greatest degree of melody.
Finally, onto Long Scary Dream; immediate thought is the title is true to the song. Creepy melodies slowly building towards the imminent end, slowly introducing it's fatal elements. This song adds some post-rock sensibilities that almost made me think Red Sparowes to what is already an eclectic mix of sounds. Swarming feedback circles around notes that ring out into the space around them, and vocals are kept to a minimum to let one delve into their darkest perceptions. It's a very good track, and demonstrates exactly what's so great about Gallhammer in the first place. // 7
Lyrics: The vocals bring the record down for me in some respects. While in some cases they suit, in others they sound strained and unconvincing. I want to believe the despair, but try as I might I wouldn't if it wasn't for the music. Maybe it's something they can work on in the future. Given the style of the music, a lot more clean vocals could be used, especially in regards to the slower sections. The lyrics reflect the overall minimalist aesthetic, but with that in mind are actually quite well written. The phrase structure is a bit odd sometimes, as is often the case with lyricists writing in a different language, but that's what gives them their spark. The words are somewhat worn and cliche at times, and also something I believe they can improve on with future releases. // 6
Overall Impression: Not overly original, nor as gloomy or threatening as the first release suggested, Ill Innocence is still a great album. The music has an authentic feel, with plenty of atmosphere and interesting musical moments. Are there better bands? Sure. But this is still very much worth paying attention to. It's a band showing a strong promise and a fruitful career, and one that has more than justified their existence. As mentioned previously, lyrics and vocals could be better executed, and the performance in some cases is just too uninvolved. For most of the record though they keep that in check, making for a great listen. The album mixes quite a few styles and influences that sometimes come across cut-and-paste. The faster songs are good, but in my opinion are better suited to a separate EP, perhaps an accompanying extra to the album. The slower songs work much better, especially where clean/acoustic sections are involved, so I was often left wondering whether keeping to one style would have paid off more for the band. Either way, this is an album well worth spending the money on. // 7