Rochester, NY native John Gallo has flown essentially under the radar despite his pivotal role as guitarist and creative mastermind behind seminal doom act Orodruin and almost singlehandedly hacking his way through horror rock heaven under the moniker Blizaro; it’s a shame, because a musician of his caliber deserves universal reverence and respect even if the accolades are unimportant to him. But musicians like Gallo have a unique gift that allows artistic conception and execution to be simultaneously realized; the focus is on creation, giving life to an idea, and seeing it through to completion. Violet Dreams sees Gallo ambitiously ‘going it alone’ (under the name John Gallow) with a 14 track journey through life, death, blues and doom. And like Paul Chain’s experimental classic Violet Art Of Improvisation, his (full length) solo debut lays the foundation for what may become the breakthrough of his career.
Indeed, the spirit of Gallo’s sound owes a great deal to the ‘Paul Chain aesthetic’, from the metaphysical/occult inspired themes, to the core of his playing style. Opener, Entrance To The Unknown, is not unlike much of Paul Chain’s doomier material (check out 1991’s Whited Sepulchres or even his collaboration with Wino on 2004’s Unreleased Vol. 2) but the song has enough twisted segues to be entirely unique and really serves as a one track snapshot of the album proper. It opens with a one minute introductory plunge into lumbering sludge and battery before the real riffing begins; the production is clean with warm, mid-range guitar tones that maintain enough bite to tear through the mix. Gallo’s vocals fall somewhere between Wino’s wail and Bjorn Flodkvist’s (Dactylis Glomerata era Candlemass) croon with just the right amount of operatic flare. His solo shredding holds front and center, and for the most part is anchored in traditional blues; occasional atonal/jazz tangents come through adding an extra dimension to an already complex arrangement. There are many similarities in Gallo’s calculated amelodicism to Patrick Mameli’s (Pestilence) innovative guitar work on the 1993 classic Spheres album; odd time signatures, freak out solo breaks and synth undertones are just a few of the parallels, but Gallo maintains an accessibility on this outing that invites listeners of all shapes and sizes. But don’t confuse ‘accessibility’ with ‘non-heavy’; Gallo trades gloves with Saint Vitus for a Sabbathian doom crushing fist that dominates the first half of the record.
Tracks like the blistering Dark Traveler rock with a 60/40 Iommi/Weinrich groove, its main driving riff taking you back to the days of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, complete with requisite croons and infectious hooks; but it’s the brooding blues dirge of Violet Dreams that really flaunts the ‘Vitus touch’. Opening with a riff just a couple of degrees from Burial At Sea, Gallo shreds a blues marathon for the first minute before settling into the meat of the song. It’s apparent early that improvisational solos are an integral component to the album’s compositions and not an afterthought; whether it’s the electric acoustic free form jazz experimentation in the final minute of Rain Messenger or the sultry blues noodling in the closing seconds of Purple Room, Gallo defies our conventional understanding of what doom metal really is. He emphasizes ‘experience’ and ‘senses’ over rigid definitions and genre tags. Life is pain, life is sadness, life is happiness; life just is (independent of what we think it should be) and will eventually end as the ultimate transformative process. Gallo’s music exists in much the same way; multidimensional, good and evil, but undeniably kick ass heavy.
Album highlight Wall Of Doom expounds on the notion of death and transformation as Gallo sings, “…You hold the dagger in your hand, you must take your own life to transcend…” ; here, suicide is one alternative to the realities of depression and despair; through Gallo’s eye, these ‘realities’ are personified as predators, and the song is the personified hunting ground. The Sabbath influence once again takes center stage with the driving main riff, but Gallo twists and shifts the track with progressive breaks before culminating in a swirl of ascending/descending tritones and clean electric acoustic jazz/blues picking. There’s more variability in the latter half of the album, with multicultural influences playing more of a role. Burning Trees is a great example, with its Iron Maiden-esque mid-tempo, mid-track break that shifts into a middle-eastern inspired acoustic finale; the passages might seem incongruent on casual listen, but if each song (and the album as a whole) is viewed as a one way journey, it makes sense.
John Gallo has treaded a well worn path just inches from greatness; with Violet Dreams, he closes the gap and achieves in one outJeremy Irons & The Ratgang Malibus, ing what few musicians could ever achieve in a career. As a visionary, he’s part of an elite group; Daniel Higgs did it with Lungfish, Dave Wyndorf with Monster Magnet; they conceive an artistic idea, cultivate and nurture it, and give it to the world. Listen up, this is Gallo’s gift. Essential.
Scribed by: Jeremy Moore