You ever liked one of those bands that you really couldn’t explain to people why you enjoy their music and why that person should try to give the group a shot? I was always that way with Japanese blackened crust doom band Gallhammer.
They never came off as a band that was particularly interested in being the best sounding or best produced or even the best musicians, not that these ladies were slouches by any means. It always seemed like they plugged in and just went for it, scars and warts be damned. That was always what kind of appealed to me more than anything, that they were so raw and so flawed, yet when you heard their music, it had a brutal honesty and a dark shadow that was both sinister and attractive. And perhaps because they weren’t virtuosos, they always came up with interesting concepts. Their second full-length “Ill Innocence” is a really good album, one that really stepped up from their 2004 debt full-length “Gloomy Nights” and even set itself far apart from their 2007 compilation “The Dawn Of…,” the collection that introduced me to the band for the first time.
The awesomeness of “Ill Innocence” (I happen to be listening to that as I write this) seemed to indicate the band was onto bigger and better things as they improved as a unit and sunk their teeth even deeper into the doom muck. So it was with great anticipation that I met their third effort “The End,” released by Peaceville, though ultimately it is bitter disappointment with which I’m left. I’m kind of at a loss with what they came up with for this record, so much so that I kept listening and listening, hoping the overall picture would dawn on me and I’d feel a fool for not realizing it in the first place. Well, that actually did happen, but it didn’t have the positive effect I expected. Instead, I walked away feeling like this album was a garage demo by a brand new band that accidentally got labeled as the new Gallhammer. It’s a big letdown, and weirdly enough, it’s pretty grating at times.
Not sure what effect this had creatively on the songwriting, but since “Ill Innocence,” guitarist Mika Penetrator left the band, leaving Gallhammer as a duo of Vivian Slaughter (bass, vocals) and drummer Risa Reaper, who gets a far bigger role here with her own vocals, one of the fatal flaws of this album. Just toggling between songs from “Ill Innocence” and “The End,” there’s a noticeable difference. The new album is a huge downgrade musically, making me wonder just how pivotal Penetrator was to this band, and at times, the compositions are repetitive and just way, way too long. There’s a lack of focus and glut of interesting ideas. “Ill Innocence” even jumped around a bit, adding some post-rock and indie atmosphere, which broke up some of the monotony and let the thing breathe a bit, but that’s completely absent from “The End.”
One of the biggest mistakes the band made was not bringing in a guitar player to replace Penetrator. It’s not that you can’t do a bass-drum duo, but you better be able to do it right, because it can get awfully boring if not. This record proves that. Slaughter’s bass work is fine, and it has a grimy, vicious edge that serves the slow-driving, sludgy material just fine. But it’s not enough to keep these songs from wearing out their welcome. Perhaps if they knew where to cut these songs short, they would have been better served, but that didn’t happen. Four minutes instead of eight minutes or 10 minutes or 12 minutes would have done a world of good. There’s nothing wrong with the opening title track, as it’s a total mammoth, but it could have used a few minutes trimmed from it. Even “Rubbish CG202” is vicious and blinding, easily registering as the best cut on this disc. It’s just a ripper. And then the train just runs off the tracks on “Aberration,” where Reaper takes her very, very unpleasant turn as co-vocalist. Now, Reaper has done some vocals before, but considering she was singing on fuller, more realized songs, and she only was a partial contributor, she didn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Wow, does she ever here. I really just want her to stop doing this. Her voice is annoying, and she often sounds like a 5-year-old, chirping away with whatever nonsense she’s spewing. These things are precious when you actually are 5 years old, but not when you’re an adult, singing over songs you expect people to buy. This was a bad, bad, bad idea. I hope they do away with this on the next record.
The next three songs crawl ever so slowly along, with hardly anything worth keeping, and again, Reaper’s voice keeps insulting your senses and goodwill. Only closer “108=7/T-NA” (no idea what the hell that means) somewhat saves the record, as Slaughter’s freak jazz saxophone blasts over the mountain of mud, proving they do have some good ideas in there, but they’re few and far between.
Had this album occurred four or five years ago, I wouldn’t nearly be as baffled or as let down. If this was a band with little experience, you could chalk up these gaffes to that and tell them to learn from where they went astray. But this is record three, and they’ve been around far too long to have come up with something as substandard at “The End.” I’m certain there are garage bands that have been together a quarter of the time these two have that could come up with something far better than this. I always thought Gallhammer would be one of those bands that would be long misunderstood, who people like me would have to righteously defend to the naysayers, but underneath it all they would be releasing groundbreaking records that influenced other bands. Then again, it’s possible I was wrong. Maybe they peaked on “Ill Innocence” and never will reach that height ever again. There isn’t anything on “The End” that makes me hopeful for their fourth album, though I’ll certainly give it a try since I do like their back catalog. But they’ve got to find a guitarist, they’ve got to write better songs, and Reaper needs to keep her mouth closed for the most part and concentrate on scrambling our brains with her drumming.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.myspace.com/ghammercrust
To buy “The End,” go here: http://www.burningshed.com/store/peaceville/product/261/2777/
We have some exciting things brewing next week, including a look at U.S. Christmas’ new one-track, nearly 40-minute new album, as well as piece on a record that I think could be my metal album of the year. And let’s just say my review is going to differ greatly from one that ran on another, well-known web site. Have fun.