Desolation Sounds, the latest full-length from chaotic punk rock outfit Gallows, maintains the aggression and speed of their previous records while cleverly experimenting with the softer boundaries of their sound. However the opening track, Mystic Death, does nothing to hint at this direction. The brutal chanting of “Even bad dreams are too good for you” is classic Gallows. Rather than sticking to the signature growl that is still a force to be reckoned with on this record, lead singer Wade Macneil uses a softer singing voice on the album’s title track that we haven’t heard since his days with Alexisonfire and the short-lived Black Lungs. The repetitive chorus adds a degree of catchy pop-punk levity that was previously unheard of from Gallows, but plays an important role on this record. Leviathan Rot brings the band back to their brutal roots and the environmental focus of the lyrics is an interesting change for them.
Chains contains the album’s most beautiful and melodic moments. Opening with an eerily pretty guitar riff and gorgeous female vocals, the listener is thrown off from the brutal moments to come. Crushing guitar, bass and drums eventually kick in as Wade growls “Sham rock ‘n roll!” repeatedly. Calling out the hypocrisy of rock’s beloved culture is nothing new in punk rock but it has never been done with such beauty and brutality before. Adding to the beauty is the choir-like background vocals in the chorus. The pretty intro repeats itself before the song descends into chaos a final time, where a finale of screeching feedback abounds.
Bonfire Season is the album’s only song that warrants an Alexisonfire comparison. It combines the psychotic and violent fire imagery of songs like Mailbox Arson with the creeping darkness of You Burn First, both of which can be found on AOF’s classic album Crisis. For the most part, Leather Crown is classic Gallows; fast, loud and wildly aggressive. The short melodic chants in the chorus are a nice touch that keeps the listener on their toes, as is the doom-y instrumental part halfway through the song.
On 07 93 93 “Love is the law” becomes an unlikely mantra for a song this aggressive. Their rhythm section shines here, its wild tempo changes are handled gracefully. Death Valley Blue sounds like it would be a good single to prepare listeners for the more melodic aspects of the record but by toeing this line while trying to sound heavy, it becomes the album’s weakest song.
Cease to Exist has a bluesy early metal sound and Wade’s gorgeous vocals make it my favourite song on the album. The line “If I told you this was killing me, would you stop?” got my attention and gave me chills on the first listen making it the album’s strongest chorus. Swan Song wraps up the record in typical Gallows fashion until the closing acoustic guitar riff, followed by extremely loud static that serves as a reminder of the vaguely different but undeniably familiar beast you’ve just been exposed to.