Review Summary: One day (very) soon, this will all be theirs.
Fightstar are a peculiar beast to figure out. When debut full-length Grand Unification
dropped in 2006, despite an obvious wealth of talent, there was an underlying feeling that they were happy to cement themselves within their peer group of British post-hardcore acts, rather than make a genuine name for themselves – and that it was merely enough Charlie Simpson to shake the boy-band shadow from his back.
Then with the releases of One Day Son, This Will All Be Yours
and Be Human
two and three years later respectively, the undeniable winds of change were blowing: both records were littered with radio-friendly singles, and surprising stabs of rage and weakness in equal measure, but the experimentation of ideas prevented true cohesion.
Then they went away in the blink of an eye.
Over the following years the promise that they had shown on these records has been truly appreciated (and indeed missed), new fans have come forward, and in their absence, there has been real demand for their return.
Behind The Devils Back
is just that. Boosted by four stellar singles in the run-up to release, hype has been steadily amassing. But what, if any, strides have been taken by the band in this comparatively large time away?
Well, the songwriting here in many ways hasn’t changed all that much. Fightstar’s innate ability to blend between throat-shredding anger and unashamed pop choruses remains strong as ever, and even though this is assuredly their heaviest album to date, it never once threatens to alienate the casual listener. The guitars maintain a beautiful crunch from the first pick to the last, bringing something to the table for fans of metal riffing as well as providing a massive backdrop for the more easily-accessible choruses (see ‘Overdrive’ and that absolutely sublime outro).
What has changed, however, is that their delivery is becoming unique, and forging a strong, clear path for themselves rather than wearing their influences quite so brazenly on their sleeves.
The title track has more than a little in common (initially) with Deftones’ ‘Diamond Eyes’: slightly unnerving vocal delivery over an absolutely crushing riff. What follows, however, takes the reins and runs far, far away – a jumpy, vocal-walled chorus, dramatic breakdowns and a truly beautiful ambient section. One thing is becoming clear rapidly: Fightstar are becoming masters of their craft rather than mere pretenders.
‘Titan’ displays Simpson’s strongest vocals to date, in not just his truly hellish screams, but in the slight wobble on the more empty and vulnerable moments too. What’s interesting to note here is the ease at which the heavier moments come into play - where previous records screamed out for precisely this kind of sharp, cutting aggression (Be Human
had ‘Damocles’, One Day Son…
had ‘Tannhauser Gate), what makes this all the more satisfying is that it’s simply not required to stand out. Every song is as compelling as the last.
Alex Westaway’s vocals are not a weak link here by any standard, but (if there is criticism to be found in this record) where he was able to pull off a more resigned performance to his credit on the fantastic Gunship side-project, he sounds a little pressured to keep up with Simpson as he soars above almost effortlessly – however on ‘More Human Than Human’ he thrives in his own space, maybe sounding more at ease given room to run alone.
On the subject of Gunship, there’s more than a little borrowed synth work here, but where it was the sole focus of that album, here it merely serves to elevate these truly satisfying songs to a fresh new level ('Dive' takes it to a phenomenal conclusion), and as a result even at it’s most overt poppy moments, this record sounds HUGE. Every second is filled without sounding crowded, and the styles never jar, not one burst of electronica becomes compromised by the crush of the heavier sections, and the clean choruses never sound out-of-place to fulfill a radio obligation.
Everything here is put together purposefully and perfectly.
Welcome back, boys.