The last time a flame-haired iconoclast found himself at the forefront of British punk, he coined a timeless phrase: “anger is an energy”. Energy is a useful thing; it alters its circumstances and inspires its surroundings. And this is the frustrating thing about the often-great second album from Gallows, and our generation’s ginger-savant, Frank Carter. ‘Grey Britain’ has important things to say, but due to the lack of any direction or mission, it allows itself to be eaten up by the anger that fuels it.
The country portrayed in ‘Grey Britain’’s broad concept is so fucked it isn’t even worth saving. This isn’t anything as simple as a left-wing agenda. The usual corporations, complicit governments and corrupt churches all come in for a pounding, but there’s an uncomfortable whiff of the reactionary too. Kids, if they’re not having kids themselves, are waving knives at other kids. Parents, if they’re not scamming the dole, are probably using those kids as drug mules. And anybody who isn’t involved in this cycle is complicit simply by allowing it to happen, and so just as guilty.
Meanwhile, Gallows seem to have been made angrier by their own success and subsequent portrayal as punk cartoons. And to push them over the edge is the chorus of punk purists waiting to tear them down for signing to that major for a rumoured million pounds.
‘Grey Britain’ is the sound of what happens when you wind all that ire up and let it explode. Knowing they needed to tear out something special, they drafted in GGGarth, the man behind Rage Against The Machine’s explosive debut. What’s so impressive is how he manages to channel all this force into the shape of a landmark record. This is still rooted in hardcore, but the flair and flourish is pure metal. For a major label debut, it’s brave indeed to go several notches fiercer than last time on the nuclear-powered likes of ‘Black Eyes’ or ‘I Dread The Night’. And if the bludgeoning of apparently holy men on ‘Leeches’ lurches towards melody, and if ‘Misery’ begins with piano and strings, the album’s pure-punk second act is both classically ferocious and unremittingly grim (“I wanna kill myself just for relief”).
Elsewhere, two-part single ‘The Vulture’ begins with a genuinely plaintive-sounding Frank singing over acoustic guitar with real delicacy, and ‘Graves’ finds Simon Neil from Biffy Clyro turning up for the most terrifying episode of harmonising you ever heard.
Yes, ‘Grey Britain’ has all the makings of a classic work. Yet for all its bravery and invention, it lacks the heart and vitality of their debut – those qualities substituted for mere fire and unremitting venom.
It’s not until the very end, the sweeping, militaristic dirge ‘Crucifucks’, that we get anything approaching the scent of salvation. As pounding drums give way to sirens, which give way to nothing, it’s left to Frank to croak with what sound like the final breaths of life: “Let’s fucking start again”.
By that point you barely have the will to listen to music again, let alone effect
a revolution. The last time an album this unremittingly grim had such a shot at the mainstream jugular it was called ‘The Holy Bible’. As bleak as that was, it was also shot through with a vivacious, er, gallows humour. There’s none of that here, and they’d argue that this is the point. But if the world that Gallows depict is even half-accurate, it’s not one you’d want to live in. And it’s doubtful you’d want to listen to its soundtrack many times either.