Review Summary: A pivotal moment
On paper, it would appear that Flaw has stabilised - after over a decade largely lost to various internal strife, the band took a perfectly customary three years to produce a follow-up to their reunion album. However, in typical Flaw fashion, a lot of stuff happened under the hood since we last checked in. While they may have caught the public eye for being the butt end of a running Colbert gag culminating in a free touring van, the most notable change was a definite splintering of the line-up. Prior incarnations of the band had a rotating cast of drummers and the occasional surplus guitarist, but a subset of the primal Jay Daunt and the expansive Lance Arny on guitars would be backed by dextrous bassist Ryan Jurhs. Chris Volz, the heart-on-sleeve charismatic frontman, has become the lone surviving original member. Flaw Anno Domini 2019 is comprised of the most technically prolific shredder to grace the fold and a rock-solid rhythm section poached from an exemplary progressive support act.
However impressive the new recruits' chops may be, Flaw's always been one of those acts that lived and died by the fickle whims of chemistry. The quality of the band's output was always extremely volatile, with gut-wrenching turmoil somehow capable of leading to both the band's best (Endangered Species) and worst (Homegrown Studio Sessions) records. As troubled as the relations between Volz and the original instrumentalists may have been, they had a magical spark that would allow them to craft genuine, memorable songs when the stars aligned. Unfortunately, the celestial bodies are a bit all over the place for the duration of Vol. IV.
There are moments where stuff manages to click. "Persistence" is all about monstrous drop A nu-metalcore riffs colliding with the brand of melodicism championed on Divided We Fall. Flaw's sound gets slightly updated with current developments while respecting the direction Volz was previously pursuing. It may not stick quite as well as the album highlights of yesteryear, but it comes pretty close. Things feel even more organic on surprise late-album banger "On Your Feet", with the band letting loose and messing around with electronic whooshes, bass fills and screeching guitar register jumps. For the first time in many moons, Flaw sounds like it's having fun rather than delivering some flavour of tenseness. It's a refreshing experience.
The bulk of the writing is studious, the guys are more concerned with crafting a Flaw-appropriate song than a good one. You can hear Volz failing to gel with the energy, leading to a plethora of adequate tracks that lack the secret ingredient to lift them off the ground. Look no further than workmanlike lead single "Conquer This Climb" with its overcautious main riff sounding like the musical equivalent of looking up at the rest of the band to check if things are okay for a perfect manifestation of this. "Walk the Line" has some interesting ideas, but is let down by an unneeded spoken word part reprise that shoots the song's momentum in the foot. "Everything" is just a touch too calculated in its balladry, and could have used a lengthy solo at the end for some instrumental catharsis. Things only really go south when Volz provides a clunker of a melody over particularly uninspired riffing. The worst offender is "Because of the Brave", butchering the listening experience with its track three hiccup. This is the sort of thing you try to sneak in mid-album, unnoticed, possibly ashamed it's there ("Prayer for the Lost"), not in broad daylight as the title track and second single.
The band can't be judged too harshly for Vol. IV's shortcomings. Volz's first collaboration with Daunt, recorded after more time than this line-up had to break itself in, had nuggets of brilliance buried among overlong, pedestrian workouts. Dissecting Divided We Fall reveals most of that album's gems to be archival material, and the stuff on here's comparable to the tracks Daunt and company weren't sitting on since 2007. "Persistence" and "On Your Feet" hint at good things coming out of this partnership if the parties involved manage to successfully feel each other out and get a groove going. That is, unless this line-up also splinters, turning Flaw into a Powerman 5000-style rotating cast of backing musicians. There are some signs that it might happen - the bassist skipped town, and the ridiculous guitarist's been stuck filling in for him live. I really hope it doesn't end up that way, Volz seems to be trying his damnedest if the release schedule and frantic touring is anything to go on. You're not likely to build up chemistry if your instrumentalists change like the seasons outside.