Even within the relatively narrowly defined world of trad goth rock, there are still subdivisions to be found. The question of whether one swears fealty to the nimble Leeds sound of Sisters, Mish, and March Violets, or to the bellicose sturm und drang of Fields Of The Nephilim can end up splitting hairs to a degree Emo Philips would be proud of. Personally I’m on record as never really getting on board with the Nephilim or their disciples (mostly German, looking in your direction Dronning Maud Land),.but the hooks, polish, and range of influences including the Nephilim brought to bear by Sweden’s Gallows’ Eve on their debut LP has more than overcome those prejudices.
It’s tough to overstate just how direct Gallows’ Eve are in their approach to goth rock. There’s no beating around the bush with darkwave ambiance or post-punk austerity; you’re getting smoke-machine riffs, doubled-up drum machine fills and Djarum-stained bellows from the outset. Thankfully, unlike so many continental acts who take the Nephs’ brooding compositional style to heart, Gallows’ Eve are arriving with plenty of immediate riffs and instantly memorable anthems. That songcraft could be a product of band members’ previous tenures in various metal acts (though the chug of “Just Like Us” owes more to Vision Thing than King Diamond or, god forbid, gothic metal), but regardless of origin, they’re working an impeccable set of sub-styles and markers into those tracks, from the crooning harmonics of Ikon (“Oneirocide”) to the sort of thunderous rhythmic propulsion so many second wave bands attempted but often fell short of (“The Rivers Will”).
The Malmö trio have had a string of singles and EPs over the past couple of years, with 13 Thorns being made up of rerecorded and remastered versions of their extant catalog, plus a handful of new tracks. That slightly prolonged gestation means that by the time tracks like “Born To Die” or “Reign Of Ash” appear here, the band doesn’t just sound tightly dialed in, but has had time to make minor adjustments in instrumentation and focus, allowing elements like the haunted ballroom piano which waltzes through the latter track to have a full and lush body, serving as a nice counterpoint to the speedy riffs. That attention to detail isn’t a substitute for core songwriting, but works to justify 13 Thorns‘ near hour long run-time; sure, three or four tracks in you have a solid sense of the ethos the band’s going to hold to for the rest of the record, but there’s just enough subtleties in the production and ornamentation to keep things from ever getting too repetitive.
I’m not sure that I’ve encountered a debut LP by a trad goth band that felt as bracing, well-assembled, and memorable as 13 Thorns since 2010, which saw the full-length arrivals of both Pretentious, Moi? and Solemn Novena. Make no mistake, this isn’t a record for casuals or the uninitiated; if you can’t handle non-stop pentatonic fretwork or lyrics about drowned loves and blood spilt upon graves there is absolutely nothing for you here. But if, like me, those things are catnip to you (and I’m guessing they might be if you’ve read this far), I’m already confident in saying on the last day of January that no other band will give you them in spades this year the way Gallows’ Eve will. Recommended.