Album Review: Gallows Pole – ‘Doors of Perception’

I know I usually start off music reviews by filling everyone in with far too many details about the band I’m talking about, but this time, I think I really do need to give you the cliffnotes version of it, because I have to fill everyone on details going all the way back to 1973 AND with regards to a band that I’m sure most people reading this won’t have heard of even in passing.

So, for the benefit of people reading this, Gallows Pole are a hard rock band (originally with melodic touches, but now with progressive touches) from Austria who formed in Vienna in 1973. It would take until 1975 for them to play their first gig, but tragedy struck in 1976 when the band’s then-vocalist Karl Prinz, died. The band continued in the aftermath of his passing and released their first single in 1980…under the name Angelina, because their then-label urged them to do so. They were able to change their name back in 1981 in time for the release of their debut, 1981’s In Rock We Trust. The band’s next three releases would take a long time between each of them to be released, being released in 1989 (We Wanna Come Home), 1999 (The Smile of the Dolphins) and 2008 (the imaginatively titled IV), but the band’s records have since come out at a fairly consistent rate, with their next few releases being 2010’s Revolution, 2011’s Waiting for the Mothership and 2013’s And Time Stood Still. The member of the band who has been with the band on all of their recorded albums is frontman Alois Martin Binder, although keyboardist Gunther Steiner has been part of the band long enough to count as a key member of the band, having joined the band sometime between the release of In Rock We Trust and We Wanna Come Home (I don’t know exactly when). The band’s current line up includes guitarist Harald Pikasky (who was with the band when they released their 2013 album) and drummer Michael Haderer (who was with the band when they released their 2011 album). There is a guest appearance on ‘Bring Me Through the Night’ from a musician named Harry Fischer, who I can no information on beyond him being a live musician for the band Sextiger in 1985 and (if he’s the same guy, which I’m not entirely sure of) working in 2009 with the singer-songwriter Clemens P. Raffett.

So, what are my thoughts on Doors of Perception? Well…I think there’s a few odd decisions that hurt it, but it is a mostly solid record, honestly!

Cover GALLOWS POLE_Doors of Perception

Musically…this is where I have the biggest problem with the record, and it’s more due to how the record is structured than anything else. See, the band’s style on the first two (arguably three) tracks of the record is very comfortably in the melodic hard rock spectrum of things…but the rest of the record is much closer to a faintly progressive sound which has a focus on building atmosphere within the songs, with the only real thing tying both sounds together being Binder’s vocals. The end result is that the first three tracks on the record just don’t feel like they fit in with the rest of the record. The best way I can put it (albeit through using a somewhat farcical example) is that it would be like Dream Theater breaking out into a cover of ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’: it might end up being a very good cover, but it wouldn’t fit in with anything the band does! I think I might have reacted to this better had the three tracks been placed through the record rather than being what opens it, in fairness, as I don’t dislike the tracks as tracks, but, as the opening three tracks, it builds up an expectation of the record sounding like a melodic hard rock album, which isn’t what the main sound of the record is.

Speaking of the songwriting, it is here that I do have to commend Gallows Pole for some pretty good songwriting. The opening three tracks are a lot of fun to listen to, but I can tell that a lot of effort went into the progressive side of the record, as none of them really felt underwritten. I think my pick of the best song on the record might actually be a toss up between ‘Someday Soon’ (which showcases the progressive side very well without outwearing its welcome) and ‘Angel Eyes’ (which has a really good chorus and handles the melodic side well), as both are truly excellent tracks and do their roles on the record well. I’m not convinced that the band can write epics as well as they need to be able to, but I can’t deny that ‘Doors of Perception’ has its moments where I feel it works well, so that’s something to bear in mind.

The performances on the record are honestly not going to win over people approaching the record expecting the progressive touches to mean that the band are a fully fledged progressive metal band, because they aren’t, but I can’t say anyone did a bad job either on the performance front either. There’s definitely a level of skill to the musician’s performances which is above that of the typical hard rock band, with the clear highlight being Pikasky’s guitarwork (his lead guitarwork in particular deserves praise: his guitar solos are always enjoyable to hear!), but, really, there’s nothing bad on the performance front.

The vocals…I have to be honest, I am not sold on Binder’s vocals overall. He has a habit of either singing in a range that his voice clearly hasn’t built up proper strength to handle (‘Your Own Demons’ springs to mind: in some cases, it’s nigh on impossible to even tell what he’s singing) or singing with a way that seems more than a bit strained. I appreciate that the guy has been singing for 40 years now as the frontman of a hard rock band, but his voice feels barely capable of handling the band’s material now. I can’t say Binder is a bad vocalist, as I don’t dislike his voice and his vocal tone is still fine, but, if Gallows Pole was a completely new band and their vocalist sounded like him, I’d be asking why the band haven’t replaced him with a much more capable vocalist. He does remind me a bit of what I’d expect Runrig’s vocalist Donnie Munro to sound like today (sans the Scottish accent, obviously!), though, which I’m personally fine with because I like Runrig!

The production, honestly, is really good! No complaints at all beyond the digital production occasionally making itself fairly recognisable once you know what to look for and the mix of the guitars probably needing a bit more of a kick to them. Good job on the production job to everyone who was involved in making this record sound the way it does!

Ultimately, like I’ve said, I think my biggest complaint with Doors of Perception is really that the first three tracks feel like they don’t fit in with what the bulk of the record is trying to do. There’s nothing that I actively dislike about this record and it certainly has a lot of enjoyable songs on it, so, if you’re a melodic hard rock fan who likes progressive music as well (I know, odd combination) and you don’t mind some underwhelming vocals, then this might actually be worth a look into. It’s not something I expect to personally be seeing in my list of best albums of the year, but it’s certainly a fun enough listen if you like this kind of thing!

Doors of Perception will be released on the 13th of May by Pure Steel Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.