By their own account, Desolation Sounds is Gallows’ attempt to take their sonic mix of doom and defiance to a ‘global level’, freeing their music from a specific place and auditory heritage. It’s an impressive move, and a timely one: Desolation Sounds is the fourth release from the band, and although I’ve been a fan of their work in the past, a change was necessary to stop the hardcore punk rockers from becoming one note. You can’t fault Gallows for their ambition or inventiveness then.
Album opener Mystic Death has a suitably heavy, wrought-in-iron feel, but the vocals and the impressive instrumentation do sometimes feel at odds with one another. Though the melodies invoke not only hardcore punk acts, but thrash metal too, the vocal performance belongs more precisely to the screamo boom of the early to mid thousands, and the gelling of the musical styles doesn’t entirely work. It’s a problem that crops up a few times throughout the album; tracks like the promising Leviathan Rot come unstuck when the gulf between the vocals and the melodies widens, and 93 93’s early power is flattened somewhat when the vocals kick in.
But, it’s a problem that became less and less important to me as Desolation Sounds progressed. I hate the idea that bands ‘grow up’ between releases; pointing to the growing ‘maturity’ of a band just sounds like pretentious journalistic doubletalk to me. So, though Gallows might not have ‘matured,’ they certainly have taken a step in a determined direction: their sound is at once richer, fuller, and more complex. The powerful Chains alternates between ethereal moments of true beauty and some of Gallows’ harshest work to date. It’s an incredible, repeated bait and switch that stops the album from ever feeling one-note, or underwhelming.
Indeed, Desolation Sounds contains some real gems. Bonfire Season is an incredible track, and a stand out not only of the album but Gallows’ career. Perhaps the most surprising pleasure that comes from listening to the song is identifying the almost poppy song structure; the track feels like the evil twin of the fare that gets played on the radio these days.
It’s not the only singularly impressive tune on the record either: Leather Crown is another epic delight, and perhaps the best example of Gallows’ decision to make their music ‘bigger’ without necessarily making it louder.
When Desolation Sounds works it really works. But even when it doesn’t, it still impresses. Bottom line? Gallows’ worst is still better than a lot of other bands’ best.