Review Summary: Blessed With A Curse.
A brief biography precedes the review.
FFAF are a band that I feel proud to have stuck with. The hype that accompanied them in the early days of their career pushed them to the forefront of the post hardcore rock scene in 2003. Casually dressed at the time was as a groundbreaking debut album, building on the best elements of their prior E.P’s. The album was certified gold, produced three top 20 singles and booked them support slots for heavyweights such as Iron Maiden and Linkin Park. It was safe to say the band was white hot and heading straight for superstardom. Then they had the unenviable task of following it up, a task that would eventually prove too big.
The albums that followed, Hours, Tales Don’t Tell Themselves and Memory and Humanity continued to build on the sound that they broke ground with on CDADIC, the only thing missing this time was the publicity. All of these albums charted well, they had loyal fan base that kept them ticking over. They continued to tour and play festivals in support of the records, but it just felt like with every release their star slowly faded.
Leaving a major record and becoming independent is always a bold move. The benefits that come from more creative freedom and final say on your product develops a deeper connection and involvement to the material. I forever read about the freedom bands experience when they leave a major label and the excitement of a fresh start.
A fresh start is the road FFAF took. Having lost their first original member Gareth Davies (bass) in 2008, it was evident that a transition period was underway. Since the bands incarnation there has been thirteen credited members of FFAF, dating back to 2001. This was the first major loss since mainstream fame.
The band would surface with Welcome Home Armageddon in 2011, suffering yet another loss as Darren Smith withdrew from the band. This was a tough period for the band. Not having the marketing machine behind them forced them to rely on the longstanding fan base for direct support, pledge campaigns were set up to fund E.P’S prior to the album release. Despite the line up changes, they managed to still hold together the sound they were known for. The production may not have been as polished, but this did not subtract from the quality of their song writing.
Line up changes has become common practices in the industry today. Life catches up, you get older and life responsibilities take priority. The grind of touring and recording become less appealing and a ‘normal’ life becomes the chosen road.
FFAF have the benefit of never replacing their lead vocalist and lead guitarist. As a result they can still produce their signature sound. I am always concerned when bands I like replace these elements; it’s always a struggle to live up to the standards set on previous release. The fans connect to the vocalist, the identity/face of a band.
By 2012, Ryan Richards (drums) would leave the band, citing it was time for family to take the top spot in his life. This was the year that Conduit was released, and after suffering another loss and line up change, the musical direction of the band would also change.
Conduit received a mixed reaction despite breaking the top 40. Production especially was highlighted, it has a no frills approach. Vocals are delivered with a mix of shouting and direct verses. Running times were slashed, some songs barely scraped over the two minute mark. Listeners were disgruntled at how abruptly songs would end. It would feel that a track was about to launch in to something epic and just....end.
This was the sound of a band which have adapted and overcome for nearly a decade. There is less flair on display. It might just be their heaviest album to date, and despite the short running time, Conduit still managed to find those moments that the loyal FFAF fans have come to rely. There are some great melodies and hooks littered throughout to balance the straight up screaming approach that some tracks take. It was the sound of a band being honest and direct.
Chapter And Verse.
So here we are in 2015. A quick change of the drummer was undertaken with Pat Lundy making way for Casey McHale.
Chapter And Verse kicks off with vocalists Matthew Davies-Kreye’s distinctive unhinged screaming, which quickly becomes a defining feature of the album. The lyrics occasionally delve into political territory throughout this album, especially in the tracks You Should Be Ashamed Of Yourself and Inequality, however the delivery tends to stand in the way of his messages, his screaming often distracting from the lyrics making them at times indistinguishable.
You Should Be Ashamed of Yourself does have more clarity with its almost sing-along chorus and opening vocal sample of a woman proclaiming, ‘let it be that human rights are woman’s rights and woman’s rights are human rights, once and for all.’ However, this is not so much a song about woman’s rights, but rather a man’s right to be liked by feminists despite being male, which tends to reduce the impact of the opening vocal grab.
Throughout Chapter And Verse the vocals remain relentlessly intense, however this does not disguise the talent of the other musicians. While You’ve Got A Bad Case Of The Religions shows off some impressive drumming, it’s the hooky guitar riff that defines third track Pencil Pusher. More melodic than the opening two tracks, Pencil Pusher relieves the intensity of the album just a little.
The same can be said for main single 1%, with its melodic guitar line and Kreye’s slightly more subtle vocal delivery. However this track is still raw and passionate, building to a roaring climax.
The bizarrely titled After All These Years… Like A Lightbulb Going Off In My Head stands out as one of the weaker tracks on this album. While it too boasts some impressive percussion, there is a confronting disparity between the vocals and instrumentals, which seem to work against each other, losing the tight unity of previous tracks. Eventually the track recovers a little, slowing to connect with the vocals, however After All These Years still doesn’t make an easy listen.
Chapter And Verse keeps to the new direction from the Welsh rockers. While Funeral For A Friend remain pumped with an enviable amount of raw energy, at times on this release it feels excessive. Certain tracks on this album are of such high intensity that some listeners may find it overwhelming; others however will thrive on their relentless energy. While it will certainly not speak to everyone, long-time fans of the band should be satisfied by this new release.