“Professor, have you worked out what it is yet?”
“Well, I'm inclined towards the view that it's a mix of Thingamabob and Wotchamacallit topped with some Bobs's your uncle.”
“You don't know what it is, do you?”
“Ain't got a fucking clue.”
GALLHAMMER are broadly described as a meeting of Doom and Black Metal whilst their Myspace site declares them as New Wave/Black Metal/Punk, who am I to disagree with the band themselves? Perhaps you have to be a boring old fart like me to recognise the elements of more acidic New Wave/Punk in their work especially tracks like “At The Onset Of The Age Of Despair” which provokes a wash of nostalgia as I try to recall some of the Anarchos that were possessed of the same ambience when they slowed down from their usual railing. It's well documented that their primary influences are HELLHAMMER and AMEBIX but that only tells half the story on “Ill Innocence.”
There is no doubting the bleakness of GALLHAMMER's approach but it isn't the bleeding despair characterised by recent Black Metal, more the sincere expressions of chagrin I was listening to over 20 years ago. Simplicity plays a large part in the bands sound, it allows the rawness in the music to tap in directly, tripping synapses as it both bludgeons and cajoles inside your skull. There is an almost ritualistic aspect running through a number of the tracks, the primal drum and basswork working on an instinctual level and awakening the primitive in us all. The majority of the texture is provided by the guitar which needles incessantly when not resorting to rusted, doomy Crust chords.
GALLHAMMER avoid resorting to any over the top cliché, they do however cook up some quirk that manages to separate them from the Black/Doom pack, you only have to listen to the bastard rough, almost Space Rock tinge of “Blind My Eyes” which is curious enough without the yip yap infant vocals that preach like a spoiled brat in counterpoint to the mainstay grunting. The band also demonstrate the ability to add a sense of portent to tracks like “Speed Of Blood,” here a bleached guitar riff acts as an emetic, driving out the bile. This song also brings to mind a hint of the first PIL album, in fact a lot of the bass stumble reminds me of Jah Wobbles technique, again it shows that categorising this trio is pointless.
The opening salvo of tracks on “Ill Innocence” are all strong enough to stand alone, unfortunately some of the impact is lost further into the album. Each song is a genuine attempt to sound different from the rest but not all of them carry sufficient weight to count, you also wonder whether the band are attempting to cut the ties from their proginators, there are many subtle motifs that indicate that GALLHAMMER are mixing from a wider palette, that said “Ripper The Gloom” raises a glass to their ancestry, as does “Killed By The Queen.” These two tracks have a ring of scum running round them and will require more than a squirt of Cillit Bang to get rid, they are also the bounciest songs on board which should have that rancid scrumpy swilling about in your gut going exit as entry. Seeing as folk insist on the Doom descriptive then events nearer the end of the album should go part of the way to give them the glow of justification, the back quarter is predominantly ponderous and barren, at times it is also strained.
For all the clumsiness inherent in their sound, GALLHAMMER also have the finest of meshes wrapped around their work, like mist adding drama to the mountain, there are elements that ensure that there is more to the plot than meets the eye. “Slog” meanders its way through its labours gradually gaining emphasis as a soft chorus of clean vocalisation is overtaken by the prevailing guttural voice before the last frantic gasp leads to expiration. How an album finishes is always important to me, unfortunately due to a technical fubar “Last Scary Dream” refuses to come into the light and so whether “Ill Innocence” finishes in misery or defiance is something of a mystery.
GALLHAMMER's latest shows a broadening of horizons, despite the Heath Robinson structure of their songs they maintain an allure thanks to the mix of perspectives and pinch of Japanese essence. The fact that they are difficult to pigeon-hole should mean in their case that the audience should widen rather than wither, after all this is a case of fuck knows, rather than fuck, no!
(Online September 20, 2007)