For the Gallows, these eight minutes are of great consequence. In the wake of singer Frank Carter’s departure, the remaining members must prove that the skinny tattooed wildman was not the heart of the band. Death Is Birth features the Gallows patented Black-Flag-meets-the-black-plague-sound, with the obvious distinction being the depth and rasp of new screamer Wade MacNeil’s voice. MacNeil, who was in the recently deceased Alexisonfire, sings in a low, unwavering growl in contrast to Carter’s shrill, straightjacket scream. “Mondo Chaos” opens up the EP with an alluring three-chord intro that gives way to a bouncy guitar progression and a paralyzingly simple hook: “You say ‘Fuck the world’/ I say ‘It’s already fucked”. With smooth production and cheerleading backup vocals, it’s the most accessible track.
Equally good is the single-stanza’d “True Colours,” which serves as proof that 36 seconds is a perfectly acceptable running time for a hardcore song. The second half of the consists of the lyrically mindless and musically run-of-the-mill “Hate! Hate! Hate!”, and the title track “Death is Birth”, which saves face a bit with powerful chugging rhythms and aching guitar bends in the background, but is otherwise unimpressive.
Frank Carter was never the primary songwriter or creative force behind the Gallows. He was, however, the figurehead and best loved part of the band. His absence leaves more of a deficit in personality than quality. McNeil is no better or worse, but there is a different level of intensity with him on the mic…and it’s not higher. For a release of such magnitude, Death Is Birth is merely adequate. The first two songs are markedly better than the last two and the overall energy is hollow. It’s not bad enough to jeopardize the Gallows status as one of the best active hardcore bands, but it certainly gives you the impression that the group aimed low instead of evolving.