Sunday, February 28, 2010

Grand Halls 44

GALLOWS POLE – “In Rock We Trust” 1982 (CBS, Austria) – Blind-sided. (Seems to be a theme around The Realm lately!). That’s what I was by this record. I had no idea of it’s existence until around 1997 when it showed up in my mailbox but since then I’ve probably played it a couple thousand times. It struck me, after the first few of those myriad listens, that my thoughts began to revolve around the notion that I had my all-time obscure Top 10 to do over again. I wasn’t sure what would get the ax, but I was pretty sure this one would knock something clear out of the Top 5 anyway. But enough of all that happy horseshit. Let’s get to the real deal. GALLOWS POLE was from Austria and they released their debut “In Rock We Trust” on CBS Records (out of Holland, catalog # 25009, for what it’s worth) in 1982. The first thing you’re probably thinking is “Ok, if this came out on CBS, why didn’t I see copies of it all over the place back then when metal imports were selling like hotcakes in the early ‘80’s?” Well, much like the exalted 1980 Brats LP (pre-Mercyful Fate, which saw issue on CBS as well), “major label” does not necessarily equal “large press.” In truth, while I don’t have exact numbers, it’s a fairly certain that this was one of those limited issues that the label never really got behind, was lost in the shuffle and probably got deleted quickly. Despite the great gatefold sleeve, the cover of the album provides a frustratingly meager amount of information. There are not even any band members listed! The following IS stated, however: “All songs written by A.M.B. Produced by GALLOWS POLE and R.S. Recorded at Workhouse Studios, London. Recording engineer: Laurie Latham.”

But what about the music itself, the very work that has made this record such a favourite of mine over the years since it’s arrival in my collection? Let’s take a tour. Side One starts with “I’m A Loser,” and the song certainly is not one either! Opening with an acoustic intro, the first thing that stands out is the singer’s voice. This guy does not have any kind of operatic, Geoff Tate-inspired tone. What he does possess, however, is just a killer mid-range, augmented by a rich European accent. Within seconds the band kicks in. The cut is sure as hell nothing complicated, merely comprised of straight-ahead chunky riffing. The lyrics tell a woe-be-gone story of being “drunk again” as the band powers through an immensely catchy 5 minutes, nicely appointed by some scorching albeit to-the-point lead guitar. We’re talking ‘70’s styled metal at it’s best. Up next is “Abyss.” This one begins in a totally doom-inflected manner, with the vocalist singing over a slow eerie riff. Lyrics about such things as the “banner with the sword” lend a very medieval feel to the proceedings and the band easily shifts back and forth between the aforementioned slow rhythm and an up-tempo one. The lead guitar work is burning in this 5 ½ minute classic. Make a careful note that when I say “burning” I don’t mean that in the sense of the “million notes a second” modern style. What I do mean is fewer but more meaningful notes, played with a passion and intensity that says a thousand words. “Whiskey” follows next. It’s a short one, at 3:13, but killer just the same, kind of a funk-metal riff with more great guitar work. Then, drawing Side One to a close is the awesome “Welcome Song.” Clocking in at 6:02, this is one of those magical ballads that, because of it’s atmospherics and deep, timeless feel is actually “heavier” than the hard-riffing cuts other bands produce. More intriguing lyrical themes dwell within this gem, delivered with pure feeling by a singer who’s talents seem to grow exponentially with every utterance. He’s like a lot of the great ‘70’s crooners who were not technically perfect but who made indelible marks the minute they opened their mouths.

The track that opens Side Two is not only the album’s tour de’ force but is, quite honestly, one of the greatest songs I have ever heard in my entire life. It makes me think of a description that Rudo Anvimeister, editor of the late/great ‘80’s metal zine Suck City used once when speaking about a big fave of his. Yes, “In Rock We Trust,” weighing in at 10:44 is an absolutely massive tree stump of genius. There it sits, a long, wide grizzled piece of art, sprawling half-way across Side Two, spreading twisted and gnarled roots into every area of pulverizing heaviness and melodic acoustic fare. I could try to break this number down into all it’s various components, going into detail about mellow sections, crushing riffdom, all the rhythm changes and so forth. However, I’ll boil it down to the “fist in the air” quotient, a stage that I am seldom taken to by things musical, especially these days. Somewhere around the halfway point, during which “I.R.W.T.” segues into one of it’s heavier riffs, the singer most forcefully intones “Hang ‘em from the highest tree, is all I’ve got to say!” As many times as I’ve heard this song, I cannot be present for this part without singing along, my fist pumping in the air. At 52 years old and with all the records/songs I’ve heard, it takes a lot to bring that out and this masterpiece has it in spades.

It would be a good guess that after a devastating presentation like “In Rock We Trust,” the rest of Side Two would probably come off like a humungous let-down. The truth is that while the remaining three cuts here are all short and to the point, they are all varied, interesting and great enough to supply a fittingly strong denouement. “Lonely Road” is the first to pick up the gauntlet laid down by it’s intimidating predecessor and it equals the charge by going in a totally different direction. This one is a short (2:51) hard rock boogie, driven on by it’s butt kicking guitar solo. The lead axe here reminds me a little of that by Andy Powell in Wishbone Ash’s “Blowin’ Free.” Following hot on it’s heels is “Only The Night,” a 3 ½ minute late ‘70’s styled goodie that could act as a sister song to Side One’s “Abyss.” Maybe not quite as doomy as the latter, it still displays a feel that is quite moody and heavy at once. The record is finally brought to a mighty conclusion with a pounding three minutes entitled “Memories.” The guitar soloing here is arguably the best on the record. In fact the point during the lead break where the backing rhythm changes from fast to grinding is one of those moments that raises the goose bumps every time. It’s a physiological effect that’s hastened on additionally by another frighteningly powerful vocal performance.

In summary, GALLOWS POLE’s “In Rock We Trust” is just “one of those albums.” Truthfully, it’s somewhat difficult to present a clear and fair description of it in the context of a review for one very good reason. You may have noticed that, throughout the course of my write-up, I didn’t give many comparisons to other bands or albums. It’s for the simple reason that I really can’t think of that many and that is about the highest compliment you can pay to any record – originality. In fact, creating music that is straight-forward enough in structure to be memorable, yet still highly unique may be the most difficult thing to do of all. GALLOWS POLE managed to do this in 1982 at the highest level of their art. The record is absolutely, completely and utterly indispensible for any hard rock and/or metal fan! Pole Axed Out And Burnt

NOTE: Of note is the fact that, during the period of 1989-2008, various line-ups of GALLOWS POLE produced 3 more albums, each of which was decent but nothing on the level of “In Rock We Trust.” However, the greater news is that 2010 is seeing the release of a brand new record, “Revolution,” which has reportedly brought back the style of the masterpiece above. If that’s the case, it would be awesome and I’m waiting for a copy of this with baited breath.

See what GALLOWS POLE has available for your purchase at:


Anonymous said...

Proudly, I have the copy of Chaos Realm with this original review in it, and a wonderful CD master of "In Rock We Trust" because of it.

They did that "Smile of the Dolphin" album back in 99-2000 sometime...not so good. Glad to hear they're back to the gothy dark style!


raysrealm said...

The band's mgt is sending me a copy of this within the next few weeks and as soon as I've digested it (well, I really don't plan on eating it, but...) there will be a review up. I'm really hoping for good things here!