Review Summary: Combining progressive and metal influences with alternative rock , Fair to Midland's major label debut doesn't fail to amaze the listener and take him on a trip into their magic world, a world where fables still exist.. Definitely a breath of fresh air
Founded in 1998 in the quiet farm town of Sulphur Springs, Texas - where people still say 'please and 'thank you', Fair to Midland was named as one of the planet’s best unsigned bands in 2005 by Music Connection. Well, that was before Serj Tankian of SOAD fame attended a live performance of the band and decided to sign them to his genre-bending label, “Serjical Strike”, the following year, resulting to the release of this very album.
Just by judging from the band's name, which "is just an old saying originally used to grade cotton, a synonym for average and/or mediocre" according to the singer,
you can tell from the beginning that this isn't your average band.
Fair to Midland’s music encompasses many different styles and draws its inspirations from a wide range of artists; going from Pantera-inspired riffs to Pink-Floydesque keyboard ambience and catchy melodies that could make even the Ramones blush.
So what is so special about this quintet? First of all, the way they are combining all their influences. The songs are very coherent and the different parts never sound disjoined from each other as the transitions from soft to heavy and vice-versa are always smooth. A lot of bands nowadays choose to use the soft/heavy dynamics but very few manage to do it as effectively as these guys.
What is more, the singer has an amazing range and is very versatile. His voice can be soothing, almost hypnotic at times and the next moment go into a harsh scream (though most of the time he refrains from doing that). He also tends to sound very epic in the choruses, stretching his voice to its limits.
The guitar parts are drawing influence equally from prog/alternative/classic rock and 90’s alternative metal, or even world music in some tracks - something that adds to the uniqueness of this band.
The keyboards are an essential part of the music, blending in well with the other instruments and providing an enchanting experience. They are usually warm-sounding and either complement the guitar parts or provide a background for them. But they’re always well-placed in the songs and playing their role just as they should.
The drums sound quite simple but the songs don't feel like they needed something special, something that also applies for the bass. What i'd like to note is the use of what sounds like a violin in the intro to Tall Tales Taste Like Sour Grapes. Atmospheric and very relaxing. Prompts to the band for experimenting a bit more than usual.
As far as the lyrics go, they seem to tell stories that resemble very much the fairy tales our parents used to read us before we go to sleep. They are mostly metaphorical and can be interpreted in various ways by the listeners, which is something that – along with the artwork – grabs the listener into these tails and makes him feel he is a part of them.
The opening track and first single off the CD, exemplifies many of these qualities and is one of the best tracks – beginning with a heavy riff, Daroh sets in with his melodic voice while a sweet riff sends you travelling in sunny beaches. Just when the epic chorus explodes u can tell these guys are nothing usual. Think you’ve heard it all? Well, look for the breakdown after the second chorus where Daroh screams in his most guttural voice “Take a gander the bigger they are the harder they fall...”. Pretty good for headbanging. A climax follows leading to the final chorus.
Speaking of the songs, 6 appeared on their previous album, “inter.funda.stifle”, although this time they’re slightly altered and better produced (no wonder, as the producer recruited by Serj is David Bottrill who has worked with King Crimson, Coheed and Cambria, Tool & Muse among others). Occasionally, the songs may sound too polished for their own good but you wouldn’t tell the difference unless you’ve listened to their previous effort. Gone are also the short interludes, which are now placed in the end of the songs rather than existing as separate tracks.
Some songs are harder (Dance of the Manatee, A Seafarer's Knot, Upgrade Brigade), some more mellow (The Wife, the Kids and the White Picket Fence, A Wolf Descends Upon the Spanish Sahara, Say When) and others are more upbeat (Vice/Versa, April Fools & Eggmen), but all of them are brilliant.
All in all, this is a must for progressive rockers, as well as fans of alternative/rock metal. It has enough to satisfy anyone with an open mind and a good taste in music. Enough said. Go get this. Now.
Recommended tracks: Dance of the Manatee, Kyra Cries Cologne, April Fools & Eggmen, Walls of Jericho
(in fact, there are no fillers and i could go on filling the list with the whole album)
Dance of the Manatee video clip: