Sound — 8
It's an extraordinary feat for a new band to captivate veteran musicians right out of the gate, so when punk legend Brett Gurewitz praised Gallows' debut album, "Orchestra of Wolves," as one of the best hardcore records of the decade, the fresh-faced UK band quickly boosted up from the freshman ranks in the music world. This attention duly led to Gallows signing with Warner Bros. Records for a hefty record deal, but that quick-spurring momentum would also be short-lived. After the release of their follow-up album, the symphonic-tinged concept album "Grey Britain," Warner Bros. would drop Gallows from the label, and in the midst of trying to work on a third album, frontman Frank Carter would leave the band.
With this being the band's lowest point (though that's not saying much for a band that was only six years old at the time), a second wind would come when Alexisonfire's lead guitarist Wade MacNeil became the new vocalist for Gallows, and would then put out their self-titled third album through their own label Venn Records, which brought the band's sound back to a basic hardcore punk style from the pomp of "Grey Britain," and earned acclaim for doing so. Though Gallows might suffer another loss of a vocalist now that MacNeil is returning to Alexisonfire for a temporary revamp (and who knows if that'll lead to Alexisonfire making another album), they're still living in the now, and have released their fourth album, "Desolation Sounds."
Sonically, a Gallows album has always drawn a fairly small boundary for itself. "Orchestra of Wolves" was techy, "Grey Britain" injected orchestral elements into their formula, and "Gallows" was straightforward, but each album had suffered from a degree of homogeneity. That's an issue that Gallows seem to have focused on fixing, because "Desolation Sounds" is the most varied album the band have ever made. Though the band's hardcore heart is still pumping strong (especially in the direct hardcore tracks like "Desolation Sounds," "Leviathan Rot," and "93/93"), Gallows focus on appending different genre flavors to their batch of hardcore songs this time around. The opening "Mystic Death" is meaty hardcore bookended with Black Sabbath-style doom metal sections, "Swan Song" outros with an acoustic melody dancing atop a noisy, shoegaze-influenced atmosphere, and the melodic "Leather Crown" sounds like a mix between Gallows hardcore and Alexisonfire circa "Watch Out!"
The more major change shown in "Desolation Sounds," however, is Gallows trying their hand at a less-energetic but equally brooding gear. In their downtempo tracks, "Chains" commits fully to the Sabbath-inspired doom metal that was first heard in "Mystic Death," and "Cease to Exist" takes a morose, Armor For Sleep-esque guitar melody that slowly climbs into a post-hardcore crest akin to O'Brother. The band even compose some songs strongly inspired by grunge, like "Bonfire Season," which oozes the sullenness of Nirvana, and "Death Valley Blue," which sounds like if Stone Temple Pilots were infected with the deep-seated anger of '90s-era Nine Inch Nails - and though these are the most radio-friendly songs Gallows have ever composed, they still harbor an emotional intensity on par with the band's overall demeanor, and don't feel like songs that were intentionally watered down for the sake of accessibility.
Lyrics — 8
The lyrical matter of "Desolation Sounds" bears a faint parallel with the concept of "Grey Britain," with both albums gravitating around the subject of anarchy disposing of society and religion. But whereas "Grey Britain" was unapologetically (and at some points, excruciatingly) destructive, MacNeil articulates a sense of hope in the wake of desolation - and not just in the instance where he literally sings "There's hope in desolation" in the title track. MacNeil still growls with animosity towards the negatives, like the teardown of global politics and economics in "Leviathan Rot," and the haranguing of vanity-based sham culture in "Chains," but MacNeil focuses more on the sacredness of renewal after wiping the slate clean. The state of anarchy depicted in "93/93" wields a hook of inherent morality ("Love is the law / I'll find a will, and that's all"), the mutual nihilism shared in "Death Valley Blue" ends up breeding personal kinship between those surrounded by emptiness, and the call for change in "Bonfire Season" even has MacNeil shunning fatalism in the light of a hopeless situation ("I'm losing my desire / To be in love with death"), which consequently conjures hope that transcends the hopelessness.
Overall Impression — 9
With Gallows' previous penchant for sticking in a constant hardcore gear being a strong suit just as much as a vice, "Desolation Sounds" brings some refreshing and beneficial changes to the table. The sonic curveballs thrown in the album help the band flex some different-sounding muscles, as well as exercise the dynamics of the band's songwriting. But even outside of the solid variance the album provides for the band's discography, "Desolation Sounds" holds itself together with a strong juxtaposing theme: wearing a mask of dark and downcast melodies and imagery, that mask hides the true message of positive growth always being able to succeed destruction. With that overarching concept paired with a healthy broadening of music style, "Desolation Sounds" is easily Gallows' most profound album.