Album Review :
Gorilla Warfare - The Battlefields
2. Another Day
4. The Great Depression
5. Working Class
6. Pack of Wolves
7. No Way Out
8. Our War
9. The Truth
10. Two Faces
11. Line of Respect
12. When The Good Times Are Over (Bonus Track)
While perusing Gorilla Warfare’s MySpace, pursuant to the writing of this review, I saw that they tend to post reviews in their blog. I rather hope they don’t post this one there. While Gorilla Warfare have some potential to be a modern Spirit-filled hardcore force, that potential is often lost underneath sub-par lyrics and somewhat cookie-cutter musicianship.
Gorilla Warfare are a Spirit-filled hardcore band out of Nashville, Tennessee, and their approach to the genre would be flatteringly described as “minimalist.” Vocalist Matt Wade’s weapons of choice are gruff, hardcore barks — no clean vocals here. The drumming centers on the bass (though there’s not as much heavy double-bass as perhaps there should have been), with some tom-work thrown in to switch things up. Brett Wade plays his chords (generally of the “power” variety) loud, proud, generally in D minor, and sometimes palm-muted. Nate Hartley played lead guitar at the time of this recording. He has since left due to creative differences. I don’t know exactly what this entails, but if I had been in his shoes, I would probably have had creative differences too; the lead guitar generally serves only to extend the rhythm chords, sometimes not even being allowed to break out that much (some breakdowns stick only with the tried-and-true palm-muted power chords you know and love). In places where Hartley does play something really cool, as in the breakdown at the end of “The Great Depression,” it stands out miles from the rest of the CD, suggesting that the lack of memorability of most of the songs and breakdowns here is something that could have been avoided. If this musical description sounds somewhat less than exciting, it is. You’ve probably heard this all before by whatever local hardcore band opened for whatever better local band at that show last Saturday.
I assume Matt Wade writes Gorilla Warfare’s lyrics (it didn’t credit anyone in the liner notes). If so, he has some work to do. His lyrics are very sincere and upfront, sometimes even worshipful, but his surprising lack of tact and insistence upon trudging through hardcore cliches hurt him in this area. “Awaken” is a pretty driving song with a relatively memorable (though somewhat monotonous) lead guitar line, but it is hampered by its, to put it bluntly, sophomoric lyrics: “Salvation doesn’t come cheap. I pray my soul to keep. I trust in God’s Son. He is the only one.” Alright, it’s an okay sentiment. But just because it’s true doesn’t mean it’s said well, and when considering the rhyme scheme, the whole chorus seems rather dumb. “Crusade” ventures past the kitschy into the realm of the alarming. To be sure, songs denouncing abortion are refreshing. The sanctity of life is an awesome topic about which to write, especially from a Christian perspective. But the message suffers when lyrics like “Send me in now; I’m ready to destroy. I want to watch the foundation burn to ashes…You say you weren’t ready; well, you should have thought twice” are penned, the song comes off as sanctioning acts of terrorism while also failing to show God’s mercy to those who have sinned by aborting unborn children. Other lines are just cliche: Do you feel like you’ve heard “I’ve gotta break these chains that are holding me down” or “Work hard and fight everyday! We’re never gonna give this up” before? Strong lyrics would have quite possibly made up for the generic musicianship, but that’s not how it ended up. Matt should take note of lyrics penned by modern Spirit-filled hardcore forces (I highly recommend those of Pistis In Him Alone) and hone his skills in this area a little more.
It’s kind of a shame that The Battlefields winds up being unsatisfactory. Gorilla Warfare shows flashes of talent. Simply steering away from overused D-minor makes a lot of difference, as on “Awaken,” which is a pretty cool song overall. Bonus track “When the Good Times are Over” shows that the higher tempo moments enable the guys to exude their energy better, not to mention the fact that it has the best lyrics by far of the eight sets in the liner notes. And album highlight “Our War,” with its intro dedicated to members of the military, its driving lead guitar sadly buried in the mix, its gang vocals (which along with cut time and 2-steps, Gorilla Warfare should consider incorporating on a larger scale) and its positively blistering outro will not fail to stir up the fire in circle pits everywhere. If Gorilla Warfare can capitalize on this potential, they could fill a spot sadly left open in a genre sadly forgotten by most bands on labels other than Facedown.
The reader may say to me, “Headless, are you sure you’re even a hardcore fan? You sound like you’re ripping on breakdowns, power chords and ‘we shall overcome’ lyrics, which are pretty much what make the genre.” He may have a point. That was the first thing I thought after I realized I don’t care for The Battlefields. I don’t own Double Nickels on the Dime, Damaged, or anything by Minor Threat. Heck, I don’t even have any Unashamed or Strongarm. So I pulled out my collection to check. I pulled out CDs by Focused, Few Left Standing, Comeback Kid, Madball, Stretch Arm Strong, No Innocent Victim, Six Feet Deep and others. And I realized that I think hardcore can be pretty sweet. But it needs to be memorable, it needs to be energetic as anything, it doesn’t hurt to be fairly technical or intelligent, and it needs to have heart. Gorilla Warfare have the last down to a T. Hopefully on their next release the other qualities will shine through as well.
Standout Tracks: Our War, When the Good Times are Over
RIYL: No Innocent Victim, Alove For Enemies, Seventh Star
Listen to “Awaken,” “Another Day,” “Crusade” and “Our War” here.
– The Headless Horseman