GALLOWS: Self-titled: CD

This self-titled record is Gallows’ first full-length effort with former Alexisonfire vocalist Wade MacNeil fronting the band. It’s a follow-up to their 2011 EP Death Is Birth, which introduced MacNeil to the fold following the departure of original vocalist Frank Carter over creative differences. The self-titled record marks a turning point for a new chapter in the story of Gallows. I understand wanting to close a past chapter on a band’s history to continue to move forward, but I don’t know if Gallows is a step forward for the band as much as a lateral move, a reinvention. The album opens with a spoken word intro before thundering to life with the first track “Victim Culture.” What’s immediately apparent in this first track is that there are new things going on with the band since their last full length, 2009s Grey Britain than just a new vocalist. The band’s songwriting has also taken a new turn, with a much more rock’n’roll vibe, and some of the catchiest riffs they’ve yet written. Judging this album on riffs and songwriting, I’d consider it a stellar achievement, and the best album in the band’s catalogue. Tracks like “Vapid Adolescent Blues,” highlight for me the pinnacle of both catchy guitar riffs, and songwriting structure, something many bands can’t pull off doing both of at the same time. It makes the squealing leads and epic crew vocals in the background at various points that much more intense and enjoyable. “Vapid Adolescent Blues,” is the kind of song you’d expect kids to go nuts for live, and it’s followed by the ripper “Austere,” which blazes flaming riffs into your ears from start to finish. As much as I loved this album musically, I was not enamored with their new vocalist. As angry and aggressive as he sounds on every track, MacNeil lacks the dynamism of former frontman Carter and the charismatic grit of his delivery. Even after multiple listens, raging along to the music, I could not get into his voice. While a weak vocal performance keeps this album from firing on all cylinders, holding it back from otherwise being one of my favorite albums of the year, it’s still worth a solid listen. Longtime fans are sure to feel divided on this record, as I was, but should give it a chance before dismissing it.

 –Paul J. Comeau (Bridge Nine)