Review Summary: A solid, but sadly unremarkable comeback from Finch.
Finch is one of those bands that brings out hugely different reactions in people who like them. Many of their fans were introduced to the band via the stylings of their hugely-successful 2002 debut What It Is To Burn
, which can arguably be considered one of the opening shots of the early 00's wave of post-hardcore, albeit a poppy, more palatable version of it. Many of those same fans who latched onto the easily-likable sound that Finch cultivated on WIITB
(and likely the hundreds of copiers it spawned) were understandably pissed off when Finch decided to go the "arty" route and release a follow-up (2005's Say Hello To Sunshine
) that was essentially a giant, deliberate "*** you" to that same sound, and by extension, crowd. Over the years SHTS
has garnered much more respect and praise in circles of fans as the superior record, not dissimilar to Weezer's Pinkerton
in some ways, but at the time the backlash pretty much killed the band. Although they again reunited again in 2008 and attempted to bridge both styles in 2008's Finch
EP (rather well I might add), the band again lost focus and abandoned what would have been their 3rd album World Of Violence
, the demos of which hinted at an even darker, more chaotic musical direction than even Say Hello To Sunshine
. After a 2013 reunion and world tour where the band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of WIITB
, Finch returned to the studio for what would become Back To Oblivion
, Finch's first full-length in nine years. After such a tumultuous existence as a band full of in-fighting and stark musical differences in taste, what are we left with after all that?
Unfortunately, it's a hell of a mixed bag. Finch consciously tries to avoid falling too far into either the tried-and-true anthemic pop-core of WIITB
or the unrestrained chaos and experimentation of SHTS
and forge forward with a sound that's rooted a lot more in power-pop and alternative rock. But despite the generally good quality of the record, there's just nowhere near as much to bite into as there was on their previous albums. The band has notably stepped back on the more technical, creative aspects of their playing and goes for a more minimal and simple textured approach that pays off... when it works. And when it doesn't, they sound like literally any
other faceless alt. rock band, which is ***ing maddening considering what they are capable of. As a result, many of the songs like "Play Dead", "Tarot", and "Us Vs. Them" largely fail to elicit interest because they play it so safe it ends up sapping the songs of any truly interesting, memorable parts. When you remember that guitarists Alex Linares and Randy Strohmeyer have built an entire band on cool/creative/memorable guitar parts (and contributed to Sounds Of Animals Fighting), it's kind of shocking that they sound so bored and sterile here. Alex Pappas returns to the band on drums for the first time since WIITB
and sounds much improved from before while simultaneously bringing Finch backward two steps in creativity. He's playing perfectly competently of course, but it's snore-inducing and when you consider just how much better Marc Allen and Drew Marcogliese were as drummers (i.e., a lot), it's a hard downgrade. Fortunately, Nate Barcalow's vocals are still extremely impressive and largely the main draw of Back To Oblivion
, many times saving the album's momentum and keeping the more boring stretches going, although it'd be nice to hear him cut loose a bit more like we all know he can.
When the band's new direction is focused properly, it works. On the rousingly catchy, fantastic s/t opener "Back To Oblivion", Nate's powerful vocals and the driving pulse of the rhythm makes it easily one of the band's strongest songs to date and an album highlight, because it does everything this album tries to do the right
way. "Murder Me" begins uncharacteristically quiet and subdued with gentle drumming and strings for the first half before picking up energy in the second with a triumphant and powerful chorus, showing that Finch can definitely remain fresh while still sounding like themselves. "Picasso Trigger" has a big Deftones influence in Nate's vocals and a fantastic chorus. Singles "Anywhere But Here" and "Two Guns To The Temple" are further examples of how Finch can still rock like the band of old and do it in a more mature and modern way, and "Further From The Few" is a great answer to anyone who thinks Finch can't still kick the *** out of your eardrums, featuring some of Nate's fantastic screams that are, sadly, few and far between on here. Even though they're sequenced terribly at the very end of the record, "Inferium" and "New Wave" are the biggest departures yet for Finch, playing more to their quieter, subdued melodic side with loads of acoustic guitar, synthesizers and Nate's mournful crooning keeping it together in a really beautiful way, the final dynamic build up in "Inferium" being the only reminder of the typically aggro nature of the band.
Problem is, again, they just play it way too safe. Part of the allure of Finch are the unpredictable moments that truly make the band stand out from their peers and field of imitators. Moments like the closer of "Insomniatic Meat", the melodic and rhythmic breaks of "Miro", the crushingly anthemic choruses of "Chinese Organ Thieves", "Grey Matter", "Bury Me" and "Daylight" (and most of WIITB
really) the balls-to-the-wall insanity of "Project Mayhem" and "Casket Of Roderick Usher", the relentless intensity of "Ravenous", "Hail To The Fire", and "Valley Of The Lip Readers", etc. Back To Oblivion
comes close in some ways, but rarely reaches those heights. Many of the songs could benefit from a more creative riff or rhythm but end up falling flat, giving the record an "under-cooked" vibe. Detracting further from the album is the track order, a classic example of being front-loaded. Virtually every great song on the album is taking up the first half, putting three of the more boring tracks together and loading the biggest departures in sound right in the back, which hurts the pacing and flow of the album quite a bit. However, it's hard to argue that the first half of the album is still really strong and makes it an overall worthwhile listen, even if you'll likely be slightly disappointed if you're a huge fan of the past albums.
It's frustrating because Finch have a newer take on their sound that can easily be expanded into something truly great and have shown that they have plenty of musical talent to back it up, but all too often go through the motions of the song and take no risks when they should be going for the throat and drawing blood. Considering there's at least three or four songs off the scrapped World Of Violence
demos that are clearly superior to several songs here, as a fan I'm left wondering how the hell songs like "Play Dead" and "Tarot" made the cut for this while "Valley Of The Lip Readers", "Glitter", "Souls For Sale" and both songs on the Epilogue
EP somehow get relegated to b-side/unreleased status. While it's admirable that the band want to clearly forge on forward into new and uncharted territory and do show that they can still write great songs while doing so, they do it by sacrificing a lot of what made people stand up and take notice in the first place. Comparisons to the older material are to be expected, and the sad truth is, Back To Oblivion
as a whole really struggles to stand tall next to that catalogue. Finch still has plenty of untapped potential that will hopefully manifest a bit better next time around, so long as they remember what makes them a truly great
band. Let's just hope it doesn't take nine more years...