Review Summary: To many long time Funeral fans, The Young and Defenceless will usher a sigh of relief and will certainly appease those who have been beating their head against a concrete wall for their last two albums.
It is the all too common tale of modern artists. They burst onto the scene with fervor and originality, youth and inspiration. Their first album will define them, and set in stone the expectations fans will have for years to come. This widespread attention will lead to a quickly crafted sophomore effort, which often will stay within the same boundaries of the first. Then, around the third or fourth album, a line is drawn. Either because the attention they’ve received plants the idea of a more mainstream audience, or because the band is just outright ready to mature and experiment, some bands face a dramatic shift in musical direction at this point in their career. We’ve seen it before, Radiohead took a massive risk in kid A, and were well rewarded, as the album would become widely regarded as their magnum opus, defining an entire decade of music. However, attempts at musical “progression” can often become an act of “regression”, as seen in Linkin the bane of music Park’s third album, Minutes to Midnight. Although it also changed their sound dramatically, it was critically seen as a massive failure due to its alienation of long time fans and hatred of artistic expression. Once a band steps over this bridge, they will often attempt to appease themselves with self proclaimed “returns to form”, but rarely pull an about face before going splat against the pavement below.
Funeral for a Friend is a well known culprit of musical regression. Their early EP’s and debut weren’t magnificently constructed by any means, but they stood out amongst fellow post-hardcore greats, such as Thrice, Brand New, and Thursday, during a time that can be described as the golden era for that genre of music. Regardless of their early short comings, the Funeral did something for me that bands often fail to do. Wether it was the youthful energy of their music, or the perfect imperfection that they portrayed, ffaf were just damn likable. With their sophomore release, Funeral took early risks by stripping their music of harsh vocals and by adding a ballads and more poppy tunes into the mix. However at the same time, “Hours” expanded upon aspects that I loved about them. In many tracks, their dueling guitar approach to riffs had been refined and ultimately improved from Casually Dressed. Then, in 2007 ffaf decided to take a misguided risk in “Tales Don't Tell Themselves”. Attempting to pander to a more mainstream audience, Funeral dipped into the alternative rock well of mediocrity, never to be seen again... or so we thought. While 2008‘s “Memory and Humanity” was not the return to form they promised, it did feature energy that ffaf had not shown in recent years, even adding harsh vocals in a few songs (ok maybe in just one song, and poor placed at that). But memory did something I never saw coming, it gave me hope for a band I had lost hope for. Then, in the summer of 2010, Funeral announced their new EP, promising “bigger riffs” and a more aggressive sound than ever before. At first this sounded intriguing, yet ultimately I was hesitant to pre order the ridiculously overpriced EP, especially since so many bands I have liked have failed to deliver promised returns to form (*cough*lostprophets*cough*). Yet, perhaps the brilliance shown on the four new tracks on their “best of” album, or long time nostalgia, forced me to pledge my 20 dollars to Funeral for an EP I had every right to be skeptical of. I am proud to say that my loyalty payed off.
The Young and Defenceless is, without a doubt, the most energetic and youthful set of songs the Funeral have released since Casually Dressed. The dueling guitars are back and better than ever, and the production is raw, yet at the same time, well delivered. Still, this is not just CDADIC part 2. Nor is it a continuation of “Hours”. The Young and Defenseless has a distinct and fresh new feel to it. They no longer sound of a band with an admittedly inconsistent discography. This new EP sounds similar of a newly discovered band still excited about their music and career. Perhaps this is because the production of this EP was not backed by a major label and was instead self released. Maybe this new found freedom allowed Funeral to write for the love of music rather than money for the first time in years. Or it could be that the recent line-up changes throughout the last year added enough fresh perspective and energy to generate a golden album from such a run of the mill, over the hill band. Regardless of the reasoning, ffaf have obviously done much soul searching prior to recording this ep and decided to return to what they do best: post-hardcore.
Aggression is what drives this 13 minute long EP. As stated before, the dueling guitars that Funeral were so famous for back in their prime have returned with new vigor. The best example of this can be found in the verses of the third song, “Damned if You Do, Dead if You Don't”. This is easily, and by a wide margin, the very best riff that Funeral for a Friend has written in nearly 6 years. While no one ever questioned the musical talent of ffaf’s guitarists, on the past 2 albums they were shoved in the corner for an emphasis on vocal melody rather than complex musicianship. It is incredibly good to hear they’ve been let out of their creative box and allowed to fully express their skill. Along with the technical guitar riffs, we also see the return of another missed ffaf quality: double bass. Thankfully, this is used liberally throughout this EP, and it accents the aggressive nature perfectly. The drummer also contributes to the vocals quite often for the first time in nearly a decade. Every one of the 4 songs on The Young and Defenceless utilizes his signature drunken harsh vocals, which although have never been perfect and remain undistinguished, it is rather nice to hear them being used again, if only for sentimental value. On the other end of the vocal spectrum, it is also a joy to hear Matt’s voice being backed by honesty and true emotion, which I cannot say the same for much of ffaf’s catalogue. Nonetheless, beyond the presentation, not much has improved in Matts vocals. If you never liked them before, The Young and Defenceless will most certainly not change your opinion. Along with Matts lack of vocal refinement, it can also be said that lyrical theme of Y&D is rather cliche. One their site, funeral describes its concept as a “f*ck you in the face of those who dare to sit on their asses and watch everything around them turn to sh*t”. While this seems like a rather prestigious, and conceivably pretentious theme for little ol’ Funeral, whose normal lyrical subjects range from heartbreak to sailers, the material falls into the normal youthful angst that ffaf has been executing quite nicely their entire career. I say this not to rail against the bands lyric writing abilities, which has always been one of their strengths and continues to be excellent on this EP. The problem I find with Y&D is not in the lyrics, but rather the subject matter, which seems all too young for a band whose members are pushing their late twenties.
To many long time Funeral fans, The Young and Defenceless will usher a sigh of relief and will certainly appease those who have been beating their head against a concrete wall for their last two albums. While these four songs will not gain the band any new followers, it shows that they aren't quite ready to throw in the towel and have rekindled lost energy not seen by them in years. A dream that was born nearly 10 years ago is finally being recaptured, and we can only hope that the brilliance portrayed throughout this short EP can be implemented in their next full length.