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I've never liked hype. Ever. More often than not, when something ends up so celebrated and gabbed about, my initial response is usually a simple irked reaction, reaching to a point of impure contempt when the volumes of said gabbing get too loud to ignore. And sometimes, I'm ashamed to admit, my defenses and will power are beaten down enough to where I finally scream "ALRIGHT, ALREADY!" and finally partake in just what's so damned impressive or important. That's when I'm usually left in a state of utter disillusionment, a total facepalm situation, where I learn that "Young Frankenstein" is a slow, trudging affair with two laughs total rather than it being "one of the greatest comedies ever made". Yeah, how about NO???
That was what went through my mind when my hatches were batten down as a result of all the glad-handing given to this Gallhammer entity...
When it comes to where all the hype is/was coming from, it sure as shit isn't from its musical standpoint. Oh sure, there are some people out there who'll claim that their whole blackened/crust blend thing is genius and a total throwback to when that particular style was where it's at, but let's be frank about it, if only for a second. What Gallhammer does isn't essentially anything I'd consider genius or interesting. It's not even bland. It's nothing. Seriously, there's so little going on with this disc that I found myself toying with my cell phone or messing around with my dogs rather than paying attention to it while it all came oozing out of my speakers. I don't want that in any bands I'd feel the compelling need to check out; I want something that's purely attention-grabbing, if even minutely, in order for any level of enjoyment to be achieved. But "Ill Innocence" is such a blank, white void that enjoyment is pretty much impossible. Every song essentially sounds the same: slow, chugging guitar riffs with maybe two or three chord progressions total, doomy, snail's-pace drums that barely register in the beat department, and unintelligible "OOUUUGH!"s and "AAUUUGH!"s every few seconds that don't sound like anything lyrical. There are times where the tempos are a bit faster than usual, but it still doesn't make the whole affair more interesting in the least. Multiply this over one thousand times and you've got the whole of "Ill Innocence". And this is championed over more talented and realistic bands? Seriously? Are the folks out there who bleed black crusts seeing the forest for the trees (you know, the whole "they're all HOT METAL CHICKS!" thing, and their breakout role appearance in "The Misanthrope") so intently that they can't spot a lack of ability and compositional skill? Now granted, it wouldn't be fair to lump all this simply on them being an all-female group, as I've come across a few lady bands that can actually play their instruments and write good songs, but I can't help but think that it's all image at this point and the main focus for a good portion of their fan base (and in all honesty, they're not that attractive at all...), and it might be such a thick smoke screen that uninspired songs like "Blind My Eyes", "Ripper in the Gloom" and "World to be Ashes" can be overlooked the more corpse-painted T and A are shown. And if that's the case, then that's sad. Very sad.
In the end, this album sucks. Badly. When I get an album, I want to be entertained, feel the need to evoke a mental image, or be thrown for a loop, not be beaten over the head with a slab of veritable nothingness. I've once said that there's a market for everything, and there seems to be a demand for this sort of thing (both the musical style and the image portrayed), but in the future, I'll be happy never to hear the name "Gallhammer" again. Ignore.
Gallhammer’s ‘Ill Innocence’ is – the stereotype comes from norms – a very surprising sound to be produced by a group of three diminutive Japanese girls. This music is worthy of anyone, even of the greats of the genres which clearly influenced them; either shown by their attire (Celtic Frost, Amebix), or by their sound (Electric Wizard).
The three bands listed there essentially tell you all you need to know about the album – it is a delicious mix of crust punk, black metal and doom metal. These parts shine through at varying degrees in different songs – the doom is the prevailing aspect in opener ‘At The Onset Of The Age Of Despair’, whereas ‘Killed By The Queen’ is super-punky. This provides the album with enough variety to easily keep one’s attention throughout its duration.
The production is nicely done and perfect for the style of music – much like recent DarkThrone, it is a long way from polished, yet still has the clarity to be able to distinguish between individual notes. My one complaint would be that at times, the snare drum sounds a little hollow – this detracts little from the overall quality of the album, but is a slight nuisance nonetheless.
Largely, the album is played at a doom tempo, often using the funeral doom trademark of a 4/4 beat played as three light cymbal taps followed by a single beat on either the high hat or the snare, but obviously somewhat faster than your average Esoteric album. As I mentioned earlier, the occasional faster beat provides variety, but the drumming here is very much run-of-the-mill, so is inadvisable to purchase if drumming for you means Gene Hoglan circa ‘Individual Thought Patterns’.
Unlike most metal albums, or indeed those of rock of any ilk, the key instrument here is not the lead guitar, but rather the bass, and indeed for Gallhammer’s recent album ‘The End’, guitarist Mika Penetrator has left to little noticeable effect. An obvious example of this is ‘Delirium Daydream’, which is based around a dissonant riff with the treble-clef guitar in the background, and the bass in the foreground with a rather pleasing twang – both are playing essentially the melody, but the treble is naturally a couple of octaves higher and in a different key (I believe), which helps add to the dissonance.
The vocals are grunted at a moderate pitch – generally at a monotone, with small amounts of intonation here and there, but this is not to the detriment of the album, for they act largely as a percussive element rather than adding to the melody, which aids the punk simplicity to no end. On the aforementioned ‘Delirium Daydreamer’, there are also some interesting squeaks – these sound more like a six year old than a grown woman, but add intrigue to the song, and I’ll put it down to their size.
All these elements together come together to form an inspired, well-constructed album with few flaws to it. Although it won’t be challenging ‘Arise!’ for the crust throne any time soon, it is surely one of the best albums in the style from recent memory.
I listened to Gallhammer after seeing them in Terrorizer magazine. I knew something was going on when I saw three Japanese girls covered in corpse paint with one wearing an Amebix shirt. When I found out it was crust punk meets black metal meets doom, I knew I had to listen. And I have to say, I think these girls do a really great job of meeting that criteria.
I think my favorite songs are probably At The Onset of the Age of Despair, Blind My Eyes, Ripper In The Gloom and Killed By The Queen. "Onset of the Age..." is very doom-y and simplistic and is probably the best song to start off the album, as I can't imagine another one taking its place. It is also one of the longer songs on the album, following behind "Slog" (8:35). "Blind My Eyes" starts off with a very simple but rather gripping bass line that sets the chugging tempo and mood for the rest of the song. I especially like the lead that kicks in a little before the halfway point. The drummer does a little girl shouting/chant about halfway through the song (I'm assuming it's the drummer because she does it live) and that's the only thing that irked me out about the song. "Ripper..." is quite different from the other songs that I like from the album in that the guitar is an acoustic strumming of the same chord over and over again with a lead guitar playing with a blues-y vibe. The bass line really has a voice in this song, even though it is repetitive. Then outta nowhere, the song really kicks in! The tell-tale chugging guitar and the first vocals of the song begin. The guitar at that point is straight punk oriented and Vivian and Mika trade-off doing vocals until the end of the song. "Killed By The Queen" is an extremely straight-forward song. The guitar riff it starts with is the basis for the song. A slight changes dots the song briefly until you're assaulted with the same riff again. Again, Vivian and Mika trade-off vocal duties throughout this catchy, crusty and blackened tune.
Overall, I have to say that the album, while not anything ground-breaking or mind-blowing, is a solid effort by this Japanese trio. As I have not heard any other works by Gallhammer, I don't have anything to compare it to. Whether that's for better or worse, I don't know. It's something I listen to rarely but it's definitely worth a listen every now and again. If you love doom, crust punk or black metal (or all of the above!) then this is something you need to check out. You WILL find something you like if you are a fan of any of those. But don't take my word for it: listen to it for yourself.
Wow. I am at such a loss for words after listening to this CD. No need to overstate the obvious but moments such as the ones this album captures are worth writing about. You can say that the blackened, encrusted beast that is Ill Innocence has been done before and you wouldn't be completely wrong. But this album harvests something that I have failed to hear in many albums of similar style - passion for depression. Depression has never been this fun... ever.
The music of Gallhammer could accurately be called an ode to Hellhammer and Darkthrone. It is reminiscent of Burzum at times and sweeps into Earth styled drone-scapes while maintaining a filthy tone and atmosphere in an entirely feminine way. "Delirium Daydream" could never be done by another band as well as Gallhammer. Each track is sarcastically emotional in that girlish manner that is so misunderstood. While Angela Gossow continually tries (and fails) to be a "strong" woman, these three girls don't try to be anything other than natural and come off sounding stoic. In return, Gallhammer come off sounding as if they were meant to write these songs instead of being perceivably gimmick driven such as the last two or three Arch Enemy albums - odd analogy I know. The point is there is no joke here - everything about this band is gimmick free.
The fact that the musicianship is perfectly primitive yet competently played works well. Vivian Slaughter's simple plodding bass and earthy tone are perfectly suited to the droning nature of many of the tracks. Risa Reaper's drums have this "gravestone quality" to them - protruding from the ground / earth / base of the music to be examined as they ring out. Mika Penetrator's guitar tone is wholesome and full. It fits perfectly with the other instruments and retains heaviness without contradicting the feminine nature of the music. The vocals are one of the most intriguing aspects of Gallhammer's sound. With each member adding vocals to the mix, the messages seem to be completely universal for the three. Vivian does most of the vocals however she never once pulls an "I'm the leader" or implies anything of the sort. No one has a leader personality. The "whole" exists as a leader.
Why has "Blind My Eyes'" intro riff never been written before? Best riff on the album. Not because its the only riff either. It wipes the metal table clean of crumby riffs that so many bands are using these days. The album contains a lot of sludgy, droning, black metal but "Song of Fall" wins the blackened drone award. The vocals at 5:44 are spectacular. "Speed of Blood" is the punk - fueled song with moments of intensity. "SLOG" contains the albums main compositional blunder - breaking into an untimely section at 6:53. One thing that Ill Innocence doesn't capture enough is the use of feedback in the band's live shows. Dawn of... captures this important aspect of the Gallhammer sound. The lack of "May Our Father Die" is also somewhat disappointing. A Re-recorded version of this blackened song is displeasing.
Overall, there is a great sense of promise that the band shows. Let hope that Peaceville will bring these three to the US.
The majority of you out there should, by now at least, have some grasp on my general attitude towards females in metal and the tendency for their presence to be nothing more than a gimmick or commercial angle for the rest of the band to use as a means to play shit songs but still have all you mongoloids out there throwing bundles of cash at them because there's a set of tits in your fat faces. There are few exceptions to the whole 'female + average, limp dicked metalhead = money' equation such as Jo Bench of Bolt Thrower fame, that chick in Diablo Swing Orchestra and Wata in Boris, maybe because all these bands actually play decent metal/music and thus have no need to wave their female members about in minimal amounts of clothing in the way that Arch Enemy and In This Moment deem to be of the utmost important. Gallhammer up the ante by having an band composed entirely of girls, that's three sets of tits for you to stare at! Realistically this is reduced to two sets because the drum set will obscure the anatomy of the other member of the band, but the point of the matter is that they're going to be in close proximity to you at a live show and that's the important part right?
Gallhammer don't really sell the sex however and that's reassuring to some degree, in fact they seem to very much enjoy giving out the vibe of being punk rather than metal. Image projection aside, their music is about half way decent; sometimes they go for the whole very stripped down doom metal approach with lots of Varg-esque screams, albeit with an obvious feminine edge to them. Other times they crust punk it up a notch which tends to be where the album dips in quality at times, exceptions being "Killed by the Queen" and "Speed of Blood" which actually nail the punk sound down properly, rather than letting it hobble about with a floorboard fixed to its foot. Of course they manage to cock it up with the other songs; those high pitched vocals in "Blind My Eyes" really detract from the overall atmosphere that I can only assume the band wanted to convey and had established with their morose and dark first track "At the Onset of the Age of Despair". "Delirium Daydream" also has distracting female vocals, thankfully they aren't as high pitched as those in the previous track and merely sound like she's strung out on PCP or something, rambling about clouds or blenders or something.
The slower songs are where the band come heavily into contention, they aren't exactly instrumental virtuoso's by any stretch of the imagination so you're more or less forced to focus on the atmosphere and song structure which is where the band sort of breakdown faster than dropping sodium in ethanol. "Song of Fall" does that whole start off quiet, use distorted three chord riff, quiet part and three chord riff again shit that passes you by without a second glance. "At the Onset of the Age of Despair" works well for an eight minute first track, of which there are few, at least outside the drone/doom genre; its atmosphere is constructed via the dirge-like riffs combined with Vivian's trademark rasped out and occasionally distressed vocals. It sort of peaks in the second half with the guitarist slowly moving down the fretboard before deciding to drone out the same chord for awhile and let the bass step in to drive the song for awhile, which works to some degree and is an interesting attempt by these amateur-ish musicians. The bass-driven "Slog" is oddly charming, maybe it's all that drone doom I keep listening to that's polluting my once amphetamine-esque brain patterns. The fact this song actually takes it's time and then builds up into this section of unusual choir like voices flitting around the background with growls on top and droning guitars which suddenly bursts out with some crust punk aggression is a sign of using ones song structures to their full potential. "Long Scary Dream" does the whole bass-driven build-up fairly well with all the hopeless cries and melancholic riffery, it's another example of simple song structure put to good use and shows a lot of promise in the band.
Gallhammer could probably be an above average black/doom band if they dropped all the silliness vocals and worked on pumping out more depressingly sombre songs in the vein of "Slog" and "At the Onset of the Age of Despair", perhaps throwing in the odd crust punk interlude as some sort of perverse salute to sludge kings Eyehategod? As cool as it would be to watch them reach such lofty heights, for now we'll just have see if this band can maintain their integrity through it all.
Except the great cover image, everything that I've found on this album is damn average.
There is a fair amount of speed on this album, though it seems that plodding parts are favoured. However, no matter if there are fast or slow parts, this album is an monolithic slab of depression (as if it could've been anything else). It just marches forward like a maniaco-depressive Hello Kitty in a mental hospital, without any trace of change, except some violent pace changes, like disruptions in its stream-of-consciousness. The guitar parts are nothing special at all, only some distorted three-note riffs with occasional acoustic picking that does not manage to create any sort of atmosphere. Well, it is depressive, of course, but it is not something that would make the listener have a great revelation. Not to mention that some moments get unbearably close to punk (crappy punk, not The Stooges!). Fortunately, the girls seem to have a sense of equilibrium that keeps'em away from falling in alt-rock nonsense. I've never been a sucker for female vocals except stuff by Janis Joplin, Diamanda Galas, Jeanne Lee or Jennifer Herrera from Royal Trux, and I've never been a sucker for hardcore-sounding vocals either, so it's obvious I'm not a sucker for this.
The drumming has "that" frying pan sound, and the girl who beats the frying pans has "those" speed stomps plus slow-paced snare+cymbal plus some toms involved in the aging process. Not a virtuoso performance, but she manages to keep the rhythm going without any problem.
I am really fine with the bass distortion, still I am pissed off by two aspects: first, it's no Kevin Rutmanis to play it, meaning that it is played lifelessly and second, THAT bass part in SLOG reminds me very much of the bass part in the third track from Fushitsusha's PSF 3-4 (without any pretention of touching the magnitude of that performance from a band that would shred a lot of competition's ass in metal music).
It is an honest effort and it contains some conviction, but sometimes, you really have to be more open-minded and creative. For fuck's sake, I just hope that Gallhammer aren't striving to be the next Drudkh.
With “Ill Innocence”, Gallhammer begins to fulfil the promise hinted at on “The Dawn Of …” At the very least it’s a down payment and the album shows the band is prepared to experiment and push the boundaries of the rather limited style they assayed on their first Peaceville release.
The opener is the manifesto. “At the Onset of the Age of Despair” was one of the strongest demos on the earlier disc, a funeral dirge with inventive texture and strident vocals. Here with the full studio treatment, the performance is still minimal but thought has been given to presentation. The bass plays the lead line in the solo section, defining the harmony against the guitar’s chiming suspended chords. The drums emphasise dramatic shifts and by song’s end you can hear and feel how far the band has progressed.
Even though slow tempos dominate, the band shows it can motor, especially on the second track, “Speed of Blood”, reminiscent of Burzum in sound and arrangement. The pace is maintained through the third track, “Blind My Eyes”, one of the best on the album and the pick for a single if the band ever felt so inclined.
The strongest virtue of this album which lifts it above previous efforts is the array of ideas, imagination and variety in evidence. The members of Gallhammer are not virtuosos, nor do they try or pretend to be. Their website admits that each player started out as a vocalist and that the band was formed even before the three members had sufficiently learned their instruments. Rather than simply bash harder to cover up their limitations, the musicians have opted for brain over brawn. Guitar and bass tones are varied track by track, from clean to brassy to flat-out distorted. Restraint is employed to good effect in both composition and arrangement. The restful, Zen-like start to “Song of Fall”, for example, is hypnotic in its simplicity. “SLOG” presents a mini-symphony of building texture and drama. The closer, “Long Scary Dream”, is an instrumental tone poem of phased bass and distant moans of disembodied despair.
At times the band’s “ill innocence” shows. Tempos can be a little ragged and uncertain but as with the previous disc the sheer chutzpah drives the music enough to keep it on track. On occasion, the drifting feel can be an advantage. Faust in the 1970’s used uncommitted tempo to great effect, never allowing pieces to become “songs” in the conventional sense. Gallhammer do it too, particularly on the excellent (and appropriately named) “SLOG” which lurches and meanders its way to a surprising climax. At around five minutes into the track a choir surrounds the band as it begins its mountain climb to a triumphant up-tempo crescendo, a nerve-tingling moment on my first listen.
Vocals remain Gallhammer’s forte while they woodshed on their instruments. Vivian can easily take her place in the growling girls’ club and she still sounds unmistakeably feminine, even sexy. All three players contribute vocals, from the growl to the wail and even to clean vox on rare occasions. In “Blind My Eyes” it gets a little comical with the two vocalists chasing each other like a werewolf on the tail of Minnie Mouse.
“Ill Innocence” might feature less than stellar musicianship, but there’s a strong musical sense throughout. The album is surprisingly enjoyable, more so than the previous album, and certainly reveals greater depth on successive plays.