Austerity, the credit crunch, the BNP winning their first seats in local elections, not to mention Peter Andre and Katie Price’s divorce – 2009 Britain was no picnic. It was (and is) a dull place to live that seemed to be regressing far quicker than it was progressing; a bleak Britain, a Grey Britain. One popular music cliché claims that tough times spawn great art. If that theory is true, then perhaps it can be blamed for Watford group Gallows’ second album. Two year prior, the band had famously signed a record deal worth £1m with Warner Bros off the back of rough and raucous 2006 debut LP Orchestra Of Wolves. The result was an uncompromising bout of hardcore punk, the potency of which is truly unrivalled even amongst a genre known for its intensity.
From minute one, Grey Britain set itself up as a more important affair than its predecessor. Though it retained Orchestra…’s raw energy, this was a record with something to say. Commencing with sound effects and momentous strings, the opener soon gave way to fiery hardcore powered by a focused fury. In fact, the album was so full of spit and bile, so devoid of anything merely resembling a vocal melody, that frontman Frank Carter would leave the band before their next record for a duo with a very different vibe called Pure Love, their first single seeing the singer address the stylistic shift with the line “I’m so sick of singing about hate, it’s never gonna make a change”.
It was a far cry from the venom-spitting dissident seen on Grey Britain. “Set light to the flag we used to fly,” he yelled on opener ‘The Riverbank’, and the cause of this anger was clear – “The London Metropolitan / all the fucking clergymen / child abusers, National Front / rapists, racists, all fucking scum” he yelled on impassioned closer ‘Crucifucks’.
His Watford accent ever present, the album revealed a clear inspiration from third-generation Brit punk, and channelled a primal rage that recalled the genre at its most rebellious. But it was also more complex and conceptual, almost cinematic in scope at times. The band’s mohawked forebears would probably resonate with their rugged sound, commanding rhythms and vitriolic vocals, but less so with the lurching time signatures, drawn-out intro track, two-act epic ‘The Vulture’ or the remarkably effective guest appearance from Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil on the cathartic crescendo of ‘Graves’.
Not to mention the metallic double-bass pounding of Lee Barratt’s drums or the sometimes sludgy guitars of premiere riff-writer Laurent “Lags” Barnard and Carter’s brother Steph (who, like Frank, would go on to form a less aggressive band called The Ghost Riders In The Sky). Together the guitarists drove the album, their dissonant riffs boasting both the frenzied adrenaline of punk and the needling complexity of metal, their riffs always undoubtedly laden with a bouncy accessibility. Stuart Gili-Ross’ bass was also key – thick and weighty, it lent everything an uncompromising weight.
The finished album is every bit as spine-chillingly monstrous as the band clearly desired. Grey Britain is an album that grabs you by scruff of the neck, with Carter’s yells so venomous you could almost feel the spit splashing against your face. It’s bracing and wearying, the lengthy section of mournful strings at the end offering a period of reflection that is surely needed after such an experience. The vigour of these tracks is incomparable, their impact initially feeding the bitter resentment so many of us feel at the direction of our country but also offering a cleansing catharsis by the end.
“Who’s with me?” they shouted on ‘Crucifucks’. Ten years on, many of us still are. Grey Britain may be so life-affirmingly intense that it alone should’ve been enough to kick-start a revolution, but ten years on its relevancy has only increased exponentially. It offered no solutions (unless you count mass suicide) and told us nothing we didn’t already know, but it articulated disgust, despair and pure anger so convincingly that it was impossible not to be swept up in the vitriol.
“Great Britain is fucking dead,” indeed.
Words: George Parr