Review Summary: Out of oblivion and once more cause for some deep conversation.
"I stared into oblivion... And found my own reflection there". Remember that key lyric from Funeral For A Friend's third LP 'Tales Don't Tell Themselves'? You know, the mainstream rock album which told the story of a lost fisherman... The release which did not find the widespread appeal that the band were hoping for, and - while attracting some new fans - dismayed many more loyalists. Well, that same lyric feels like the motivating mission statement for the Welsh quintet's fifth LP 'Welcome Home Armageddon'. Not ready to fade into oblivion, Funeral For A Friend hit back hard and recall the energy, enthusiasm and vigor of their much-loved debut 'Casually Dressed & Deep in Conversation'. Suggesting that it is simply a retread however, would be a misnomer. Arguably over-rated, 'Casually Dressed...' contained all the components required for an excellent post-hardcore release, but little of the songwriting nous to achieve it. Eight years on and it is finally time for all of those ingredients to come together.
Having haphazardly attempted a variety of melodic and mildly experimental music in the three LPs which have preceded 'Welcome Home Armageddon', it surprises that the album in which the band's sound comes closest to appearing complete, is the one which sees the infusion of two new band members. Taking into account a reshuffle, Gavin Burrough displaces Darran Smith on guitar, while Richard Boucher replaces Gareth Davies on bass. How significant a factor these line-up changes impacted the crafting of Funeral For A Friend's new album is unknown, but one would be hard-pressed to suggest that the end result was not for the best. This seemed apparent as soon as the four track EP 'The Young & Defenceless' was released last September, since it was clear then that this was a rejuvenated unit with something to prove.
'Welcome Home Armageddon' first seduces the listener with a short instrumental, before plowing into the simultaneously hectic & melodic 'Old Hymns', and then welcoming back Ryan Richards’ screams on lead single 'Front Row Seats to the End of the World'. Richards could be this album's MVP, since his drumming is also phenomenal throughout. This is especially so on the double-bass workout of 'Damned If You Do, Dead if You Don't', and the rapid-fire revelation that is the punky 'Aftertaste'. Assisting with rhythmic duties, Boucher impresses with his bass-lines both audible and adding complementary melodies. The star of this show however, is supremely talented lead guitarist Kris Coombs-Roberts, who has been belatedly let loose on this LP. Whether its supplying a solo for the metallic 'Broken Foundation', adding an ethereal quality to 'Owls (Are Watching)' or providing the sing-along 'Medicated' with a sublime melody, his intricate work is stamped all over what could well be the best guitar album of 2011.
As a testament to its cohesion, the variety which 'Welcome Home Armageddon' offers is initially misleading. Where they previously switched pace and genres awkwardly, the quintet do so here with skill and uniformity. Even longer cuts 'Spinning Over the Island' & the title track explore multifarious dynamics and structure for the benefit of growth. It results in an album with little filler, even if the standouts still do not reach the peak of the bands potential. If blame was to be laid for this, then it would be on lead singer Matthew Davies-Kreye, whose desperate yelp suits most tracks, but deprives others of the required catchiness. For that reason, it is bewildering why EP single 'Serpents In Solitude' was excluded here, since its "I have blood on the brain, I see red like a snake" choral hook would have fit right in.
While a return to their more aggressive post-hardcore roots will delight devoted fans, Funeral For A Friend have not done so just to appease loyalists. 'Welcome Home Armageddon' is as much a step forward for the Welsh quintet, as it is a reacquainting themselves with their past. The driving guitars and crashing drums evident here means they are as hard-hitting as ever, yet such hostility is integrated with an almost graceful nature that reveals the band's melodic sensibility. It results in a technically proficient and well-crafted release which is a real musicians album. And the two-edged sword concerning 'Welcome Home Armageddon' is that it is far from perfect. That room for improvement factor is exciting, but instead of looking too far into the future, listeners should just be pleased that Funeral For A Friend are out of oblivion and once more cause for some deep conversation.
Recommended Tracks: Aftertaste, Damned If You Do Dead If You Don't, Medicated & Front Row Seats to the End of the World.
I actually thought about beginning this reviw with a personal story about the first time I saw them live. Kris absolutely blew me away with how well he performed that night, so you can definitely count me as a fan of his. Why he had not been truly unleashed until now, I have no idea.
I guess the worry about their live performance now is whether or not Kris can live up to the level of the guitar lines on this album, whilst the other guys step up their game. Still, stoked that both these guys and Lostprophets seem to be back on the right track!
I did hear somewhere that the number of times you spin a guitar around your neck, or the frequency of your violin backflips off amps is directly proportional to the technical ability of the musician...
Saying that, when Muse's bassist swung his bass around his neck twice in one go, I was pretty impressed.