The U.K. buzz band offers proof that hardcore has finally take root in present-day Britain.
It feels odd talking to guitarist Laurent Barnard about the “early days” of his band, Gallows. Only together since 2005, the five-piece’s rise to fame, fortune, and tabloid sensation in the U.K. has been vertiginous. Big expectations have been attached to the group on this side of the pond too. “Punk is back, and its new name is Gallows” reads a sticker on the cover of the North American reissue of the band’s only album, Orchestra of Wolves. The quote is attributed to Epitaph Records head honcho Brett Gurewitz. It’s a nice boost for a group of wide-eyed kids from Britain, but a bit of a slap in the face to the other 30 or so bands on the label.
“Yeah, they probably hate us,” sniffs Barnard, talking to the Straight from his tour bus in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The 27-year-old admits that the past three years of his life have been dizzying, ever since the members of Gallows hooked up in the microscopic DIY punk scene of Watford, a dreary satellite town north of London. Early gigs took place in “the backs of pubs, or rugby clubs, anywhere that had the space to do a show,” Barnard explains. “We’d hire a PA, and so many kids would come out. It just got bigger and bigger and bigger.”
Originally released independently in September 2006, the low-budget Orchestra of Wolves garnered immediate acclaim. According to Kerrang!, which is also quoted on the front of the CD, Gallows was “the world’s most exciting new band”. The boys were rushed onto the Warped Tour roster for 2007, the same year the band’s vocalist, Frank Carter, topped NME’s “cool list”—pretty amazing for a snarling, wiry, ginger-topped tattoo artist with the eyes of a sheep killer who fronts a ferocious and uncompromising hardcore unit.
Testifying from the centre of the media storm, Barnard agrees. “It’s weird. The thing about Gallows is, we never know whether we’re in control or not,” he said. “The band is creating its own path, and we’re just”¦playing shows and having a good time. Everything around us just seems to be changing.”
Vancouver has yet to see the full-bore Gallows show (30 minutes on the Warped stage doesn’t count), but Orchestra of Wolves is enough to hang all the hype on. Across 45 scorching minutes of serrated guitar, white-line drum fills, and the odd comical organ break, vocalist Carter coughs up a gallon of blood and bile. He castigates the “cunts” who stole the band’s gear in the psychotic “Stay Cold”; howls at his dentist in “I Promise This Won’t Hurt” (“Frank was going through heaps of dental surgery that totally delayed us doing the vocals for a long time,” Barnard dishes); and provides a perp’s eye view of date rape in “Orchestra of Wolves”.
There’s a nod to speed metal in the coda of “In the Belly of the Shark”, and even a little postpunk poise in “Six Years”, but the template is all hardcore, with a strong—if slightly vigilante—moral streak. It’s more American than English, and Barnard is aware that Gallows is selling America back to itself.
“We keep saying how it’s nuts for a British band to be playing these shows,” he says. “Because no one from the U.K. punk or hardcore scene has really done much in the States, let alone a headlining tour.
“We took a lot of influence, obviously, from U.S. bands ranging from Black Flag and Minor Threat all the way to Drive Like Jehu and Murder City Devils, but we did it with our own British personality,” the guitarist continues. “We sing about social issues at home, and Frank doesn’t sing in an American accent. A lot of hardcore U.K. bands do. They want to sound like their American counterparts, because when they come to the U.K., they sell out shows simply based on the fact that they’re from the States.”
An Anglified cover of Black Flag’s “Nervous Breakdown” rounds out the North American version of Orchestra of Wolves. It’s hard as nails, with Carter refusing to play ball with the song’s vocal hook, as if the original’s sonic affront wasn’t already enough. If you hang on for another 15 minutes, Gallows’ Oi!-slanted take on the Ruts’ “Staring at the Rude Boys” (renamed Bois in this instance) is tucked away as a hidden track. Gallows brought grime MC Lethal Bizzle onboard for the update.
“At the time we were doing the song, there was a lot of gang violence in East London,” Barnard explains. “We asked Lethal Bizzle to do some lyrics, ’cause he’s from that kind of area, and it helped us get the message across a lot more. There’s a lot of intergang stabbings and shootings, young kids carrying knives to school—it’s horrible.”
American hardcore came about as a suburban response to the Ronald Reagan era. In present-day Britain, a world of binge-drinking, surveillance cameras, and globalists disguised as Labour party politicians, it’s not surprising that hardcore has taken root. Older holdouts from hardcore’s golden years in the U.S. will feel a twinge of nostalgia over Gallows’ recent press, notably in Mojo and Rolling Stone, which tends to focus on the violence at the band’s gigs once the buzz began. Senior citizens who remember the early ’80s L.A. hardcore scene will note that history seems to be repeating itself.
“That’s when things started to go downhill, when the scene started reaching the wrong kind of people,” Barnard says. Overall, he takes a dim view of the sensationalist coverage, and says “It’s completely mad” that his band was featured in Rolling Stone in the first place.
“When do Rolling Stone ever interview DIY punk bands from the U.K.?” he starts. “Like, never. So the article is about the violence, because to them it’s different. They tend to forget about the music.
“It pisses us off,” Barnard end with a whiff of impatience, “because we’re all about the music.”
Gallows plays the Plaza Club on Sunday (January 27).