Review Summary: "Staring at the sky for years..."
In the realm of music, there's very few things harder to pull off than a successful comeback album. When a band like Hopesfall manages to attain such high acclaim for previous releases like No Wings to Speak Of and The Satellite Years, successfully coming back from an extended break up only becomes harder. How do you top albums that have effectively achieved legendary status within the post hardcore underground? Well Hopesfall's fifth album, their first in 11 years, Arbiter, answers that question and shows how well a comeback album can be done with the proper focus and direction.
Its important to note before even jumping into this album that Arbiter is a direct stylistic continuation of the style Hopesfall adopted on their last two albums, A Types and Magnetic North. The large stylistic change between those releases and their early work drew a great deal of ire from long time fans when they were released and they continue to do so even now. Under vocalist Jay Forrest's leadership, Hopesfall had changed from a more aggressive metalcore band to a much more accessible post hardcore one with a much larger focus on clean singing and hook laden song structure. The band had a difficult time pulling this change off as A Types came across as an awkward transition and Magnetic North, while vastly improved, had it's greatness marred by interference from labels. Arbiter is a different story though, without any label to get in their way, and with a lineup consisting of a mix of their early and latter members, the band effectively deliver a record that feels like everything those last 2 records strived to achieve but never quite could.
Blowing the door wide open with a mix of heavy riffs and harsh screams before alternating to softer sections with those spacey guitars we've grown to know and love from these guys, the opener Faint Object Camera feels like everything I ever wanted out of Hopesfall's later works. Featuring a catchy vocal hook and an extended bridge showcasing the band's sense of space and airiness, Hopesfall deliver a song that stands tall amongst their very best tracks. This is the sound of a band picking up right where they left off over a decade ago. The rest of the album follows suit with lead single H.A. Wallace Space Academy giving us another catchy hook laden banger while other songs like Drowning Potential show off a somewhat more aggressive side, harkening ever so slightly back to their early works.
Jay Forrest gives perhaps the strongest performance of his career, his singing playfully bouncing around the mix and his screams piercing through to the listener with a sense of passion not seen in them since The Satellite Years. His lyrics, consisting mostly of abstract cosmic fantasies, give the impression of a young boy staring up at the night sky, longing to explore the cosmos and see every star. Fitting for a band who's primary influences consist of spacey bands like Hum and Cave In. The rest of the band is on point here too, the pretty guitar leads contrast wondefully with the heavy riffs and thumping drums. Hopesfall wisely chose to regroup with producer Mike Watts as well, who gives the mix plenty of space to breath and show off each seperate part.
Arbiter's greatest track comes in the form of its closer, Indignation and the Rise of the Arbiter. In typical Hopesfall fashion it's a lengthy track, clocking in at over 6 minutes long and very much feeling like an epic in the same way The Bending and Paisley felt like epics. "Nostalgia of aristocrats, adulthood to middle class.." Jay croons over a breathtaking swirl of melodies and leads. The track ends with an extended coda and a gentle fade out, perfectly concluding the record with its strongest and most impactful song.
"Nostalgic" really is the perfect word I can use to describe Arbiter. Its a record that sounds like it could have been released just a couple years following Magnetic North. Cathartic and gorgeous, Hopesfall realize all the potential they had been working towards during the second half of their career. While those longing for a return to their metalcore roots may be disappointed, those who approach it with an open mind are sure to leave more than satisfied. Arbiter is a comeback that doesn't feel like a comeback at all, and in my mind that's the best you can ask from a band returning from such a long break.