Review Summary: Lost in the undertow, with no-one near to lend a hand.
Post-hardcore has always possessed a penchant for the grandiose, be it through splendid technicality or towering song structures. Irrespective of methodology, the focus was always on something epic, something that couldn’t already be found in a factory-made hardcore album: a record that dismantled and extended beyond genre confines—that veritable brick wall of stereotypes. Failed Gods
is the sound of a roaring stream bursting through the dam that desperately tried to contain it, each crash against the river’s banks reverberating deep underground. Despite the strength of that imagery and the evident confidence of Sparrows on their third full length effort, the accomplishments made on this disc paradoxically arise from a sense of consistent unease. The Toronto collective ebbs and flows amidst the turbulent waters left in their wake. Moments of supposed calm are contrasted by ominous instrumentals and a vulnerable vocal performance that perpetuate this anxious atmosphere, whereas explosive crescendos unearth absolute vitriol spat out in a manner far from nervous. Restraint and aggression, portrayed with commendable emotional grit, power the heart of Failed Gods
and send it rampaging around the landscape.
Conducted through a classical framework of post-rock, Sparrows define their work by the orchestration of climactic moments and the journeys crafted to reach them. Slower-paced forays characterize the record, their gradual gait allowing for the near-tangible turmoil to sink under the skin. More often than not, the band is willing to terminate individual tracks in violent outbursts as if they were the primary source of anger—consider how “Repose” erupts in a melodic tremolo supported by thunderous rhythm contributions until the tempo suddenly ramps up, and the guitars regress to their dissonant beginnings, slowly being torn down in a shower of static. The lion’s share of entries on Failed Gods
introduce themselves similarly in guises of gentle strumming to create that tense ambiance. String instruments stab through the fragile cover, yet they hold off until launching one final assault. Traversing “No One Gets Past Four” outlines this route immaculately: the ever-present bass lingers as cleans vocals drift along, the heavy scale of all included elements elongating the rather brief duration of just under four minutes. As the closing seconds near, Sparrows amp up the intensity to startling levels, guitars acting more like conduits of a grave warning as visceral screams rise above an all-consuming discord of colossal riffs. Listeners are plunged into darkness, carried under the ferocious current, melody appearing sporadically between exhibitions of foreboding, devastating guitar passages.
When the halfway point of the album comes about at “Black Gold,” this post-rock strategy starts to feel formulaic; tunes are seemingly set on the same pathways without too much divergence in their progressions. Frequently, the sheer weight of the climaxes included are enough to dissuade doubts, but the absence of variation in that structuring can cause uncomfortable deja-vu for the audience. That being said, Sparrows do not always abide by the domineering musical ideology behind Failed Gods
and are certainly capable of going straight for the jugular. True opening number “No Masters” is set off running by frantic cymbal-crashing and a rapid bass riff, commanding clean singing and haunting screams dueling underneath an ominous atmosphere. Later comes the spiteful, cynical vocal performance that announces the approach of “Fifth Helena Drive,” which again features immense percussion additions acting as a guide for the crew to follow, all the same being able to act as the ultimate strike to hammer home the heaviness of Failed Gods
’ massive sound. Both examples, regardless of immediate audial attacks, unsurprisingly fade from existence in a beautiful, albeit destructive peak of force—all those moments where Sparrows throw out everything they can at whoever lends an ear.
It cannot be overstated how incredible Failed Gods
is to behold when it is in full swing. Allegations of a standard tactic are not baseless and it can’t be helped to notice this particular musical identity isn’t exactly unique. Though it’s equally impossible to ignore the passion emitting from the members of Sparrows, all of whom are heard adding their individual touch to the album’s personality. The harrowing nature of beastly tracks akin to “An Honest Coward” make Failed Gods
an uncompromisingly brutal experience. The concluding number’s finale feels larger than life, collapsing instrumentals caving in around a fading series of screams that desperately try to unburden their dire message. Even “An Expiry, In Years,” the only time Sparrows refrain from demolishing serene plucking, is thoroughly drenched in a despondent mood. There’s no levity to be discovered within the forty-five minutes of crippling despair presented by this release, perhaps making it an album difficult to love—the audience has to pay the cost of sacrificing their joy to succumb to the waves. As defeatist as that may read, it is described with the best intentions in mind; Failed Gods
rewards those prepared to submerge into a world of discordance, a realm where light cannot reach. The immense wall of noise erected by Sparrows produces awe, fear, and even a sense of gorgeousness in how everything falls apart. It’s the soundtrack to drowning, and it couldn’t be more thrilling.