Many people will tell you that the greatest punk bands burned out or faded away in the 20th Century, and that more contemporary bands within the genre have little to offer. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In 2009, a band from the outskirts of London released one of the greatest punk records of all time, and gave their record label a bloody nose while they were at it.
In 2005, a group of punks from Watford, UK, formed a new band. They called themselves Gallows, and quickly became notorious for their electric live performances. They released their debut record ‘Orchestra of Wolves’ in 2006 to much fanfare, and were strongly championed by the NME. By the late 00s they’d made enough of a name for themselves that major labels started sniffing around. Gallows signed to Warner Brothers and were handed an advance that is rumoured to have been worth £1m. The history books of rock and roll are littered with stories of advance cheques being squandered on endless partying, but Gallows took the money and got to work on what would become ‘Grey Britain’. They used their hefty advance cheque on production and recording, most notably hiring in a full string orchestra to record the intro and outro to the record, as well as various interludes throughout it.
Rather than crafting an album with a poppier sound – as the label clearly wanted them to – they made one that was far uglier and bleaker than its predecessor. The record is full of chunky riffs, guttural gang vocals, and features a wonderfully chaotic performance from drummer Lee Barratt. Frank Carter – now vocalist for indie rock band the Rattlesnakes – gives the performance of a lifetime on this record, straining every vocal cord to get his parts down. Simon Neil – of Biffy Clyro fame – makes a cameo on the track ‘Graves’, complementing Carter’s vocals with a more melodic, and haunting sound.
The album was a commercial flop. Grey Britain sold just 50,000 copies and the band were mercilessly dropped by their label. Their time as indie press darlings was over. However, to call the album a failure would be to completely miss the point. Gallows had followed the lead of their forebearers the Sex Pistols, and pulled off their own great rock n’ roll swindle. They’d taken the label’s money and used it to craft one of the most ambitious heavy records of all time. It very much wasn’t the record Warner had wanted them to make when they forked out for that colossal advance.
‘Grey Britain’ was lavishly praised by critics, with Kerrang naming it the best album of 2009. Over time, the record’s reputation as a classic of the genre has only grown, with NME naming it as one of the best hardcore punk records of all time in 2018, alongside genre stalwarts such as Black Flag and Minor Threat.
In 2021, the record remains a true cult favourite. In certain circles, ‘Grey Britain’ is regarded as nothing short of a modern classic. If you like your music heavy and uncompromising, you owe it to yourself to give it a try.