Review Summary: A fine example of superb emo music.
Having lost secondary guitarist Gerb, Benton Falls appear as a three-piece on the hard-driving 'Guilt Beats Hate', and do not appear any worse for the wear. Their sound has tightened up a little since the brilliant 'Fighting Starlight', with the songs mainly being a little shorter and harder than those of the preceding album, and producer Matt Bayles has buffed up the sound without detracting from the band's individuality.
Opener, 'This Housecall Could Kill', immediately lays down the foundations of the album's tone - melancholic, but surging and powerful all the same. Guitarist/singer Michael Richardson's guitars go from crunching riffs to snaking, plucked clean notes, and are hard to fault, while bassist Vance Gore locks tightly in with Eli Deering's impeccably crisp drums to form one of the best openings to an album since Sunny Day Real Estate
's 'Seven'. The outro to the track also hammers home the raw feelings with a sprinkling of a vicious scream backing up Richardson's excellent vocals - simply put, this is a brilliant song.
'The Race To Die' continues the same feeling as its precursor, with the same inventive riffs and string plucks, and it condemns materialism of society, and how money is no substitute for love, as Richardson sings; "Credit buys you everything / except love / except life / except this / and everyone's chasing the same ***ing thing." In particular, this is another showcase for Richardson's unique voice - instead of veering towards the limpness that sometimes occurs with 'emo' singing, he sounds genuinely hurt, and you can feel the anger that lurks beneath the surface, which comes to the forefront in the song's outro, which is dominated by a thunderous guitar line and raw, angered screaming that cannot help but leave you awestruck.
'Bitter By Choice' demonstrates a tricksy but pounding main riff, and the band show their talent for knowing when to hold back before attacking with breathtaking force, which is demonstrated by the angry leap from verse to chorus. Here, Richardson decries materialism once more, with lines such as "Given everything you've ever wanted" and "Mother pays your rent / and daddy buys your car", delivered with a gut-kicking passion.
'Trial And Terror' opts for a mid-tempo thump for the start, which is followed by a gentle, seductive, almost lilting verse. This then bounds into another trademark powerhouse riff, and then the bounding chorus, where Richardson sings with a naked passion that is unmistakable, singing lyrics that would sound ropey coming from anyone else; "January's cold / But February's colder / And I can't stand to hold her anymore".
'Angel On Hiatus' is almost a ballad, with soaring melodies and tightly-wrought vocals, but in the hands of Benton Falls, a ballad becomes something so much more. The song twists and turns through three and a quarter minutes of a heartfelt, winning tune, and the lyrics convey a brilliant emotion without sounding soppy. Then, just when the listener thinks the song will carry on being soft and mellow, the guitars dial up the gain and launch into a flying riff while Richardson cries: "And who's gonna save me from falling / To the ground"". Then, the sound retreats for a short while, with a repeat of "You might as well / Finish me" in the background, before the guitars burst back into life with lyrics that are simple but so effective, with Richardson's scream rising to the fore again; "Grab with both hands / And rip out these wings / And watch me fall."
This, friends, is how a ballad should be approached.
'Like Portraits On Walls' begins with another great guitar strain, but then everything slows for a little bit, with Richardson opining "I can't recall / The last time I saw you smile / It's been a while." The guitars bludgeon for a short while soon after, and the scream re-enters the fray. After the song meanders on in the softer vein for another brief period, it builds and builds until everything explodes into a punk-informed passage which Benton Falls could do a million times and still make sound fresh and inspiring.
'There's No "F" In Team' documents a bitter, angry break-up between two lovers, as the dour, crashing guitars and bleak tone only enforce. Richardson's lyrics are once again heartfelt and well written; the song begins with words addressed to him rather than issued from him; "Michael / Is this where you run" / Is it my fault / Am I the reason you're gone"", which is followed by a brutal reply from him; "Expect one thing from you... / And you fail." This is a far cry from the usual self-deprecation and pity that is common to break-up songs, and is all the more refreshing for it.
'Defining The Warm-Up' begins with a bouncy bass and guitar passage, which has an almost punk-pop feel to it, as does the following part, with clean, crisp guitar chords. However, this is brilliantly set at odds with the savage lyrics; "I'm scratching my eyes out / Trying to find you / It's tearing my heart apart / Just waiting here." Following this, the song takes a detour into slower territory, until the listener is once again hit by another superb thick, crunching riff - it seems as though Richardson has an endless supply waiting in the wings - which then lays the path for a tumbling, rolling passage with jerking guitars and pulsing bass. But after this, everything stops. All that can be heard is a guitar. Then, in come the drums, starting softly, and the song builds up into another explosive outro section with another signature riff and guitar twang.
'Beneath The Ashes And Lies' has a more outward looking feel to it, with lyrics concerning the media and the problems in our daily lives, but that doesn't stop it from being another fine, hard-rocking Benton Falls song, with the classic breakneck riffs and spidery fretwork. The lyrics are, as usual, great; "Surprise surprise / You've been handed more lies / By the press / But I confess / I've covered my eyes / The same as you."
'Broken Frame' features a guest spot from producer Matt Bayles on piano, and it is a pleasant end to a magnificent album, with the whole band gelling into a soft, ethereal jam that stands well on its own as well as part of the whole.
'Guilt Beats Hate' is emo, but the best kind of emo - music that really is emotional without being so for the sake of it. In a word, this is a must-buy, not just for fans of guitar music, but for anyone who would like to buy an outstanding album that is sure to become a large part of your life. Unmissable.