Review Summary: I exist somewhere inbetween.
Oregon-based metalcore outfit Fallstar have returned with their first album in 6 years ‘Sunbreather’. While long hiatuses tend to harm most bands, it did the opposite for Fallstar, with ‘Sunbreather’ being the band’s most experimental and creative record to date, taking elements from metalcore, alternative, and hip-hop and plugging them into their sound all throughout the album. The record is full of surprises and warrants multiple listens to fully grasp, with the experimentation being clear from the start, notably on the rap-rock song “Chroma'' opening the album.
"Chroma", to put it bluntly, is an awful song and the album's biggest misstep. It doesn't fit at all with the rest of the album sonically and to put it as the opening track on the album was a terrible decision. The album is significantly better without it and the combination of the synths and rapping on the song sounds like it is a Hollywood Undead b-side from 2011. The transition between "Chroma" and the catchy and much better alt-rock track “Cloud Chamber" that follows it is almost non-existent and doesn't flow at all.
Lead single “SSRI Feel Better Already” remains a stellar track four months after it’s release, with an irresistibly catchy chorus and stellar guest guitar solo from Chancellor Reeder of the post-hardcore duo 09. The song starts one the heaviest stretches of the album both musically and lyrically, dealing with vocalist Chris Ratzlaff’s struggle with depression and mental health. The politically charged “When Justice Cracks The Sky” and “King Lazer” tackle social issues and racism while straddling the dangerous line of paralleling to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ at the same time. It can be a bit off-putting at first but there’s a lot more lines in the latter song dealing with the crucifixion and the songs hit extremely hard musically. The songs combine 2010s metalcore and 90s hip-hop with an impressive vocal performance from Chris Ratzlaff, alternating between filthy screams and clean rapped vocals with ease.
Destined for radio play, “The Meaning In The Monster” and “Waiting” are the softest tracks on the album, breaking up the pace after the heaviest moments on the album. While slightly over-polished and predictable, they’re still solid songs with catchy hooks and great vocal performances, with the latter being a song I have consistently gone back to while they do fit significantly better in the album context than they do as individual singles. On the complete opposite spectrum of the album, “The Prism Glass' is the heaviest track on the entire album and my personal favorite track on the album, with djenty guitar riffs and the best drumming performance on the record. The song also has the catchiest chorus and some of the best lyrics on the album dealing with the depravity of man and the struggle of good and evil. “I exist somewhere in between the lion and the lamb / the cure and the disease / I exist somewhere in between the colors and the shapes / the heart and the brain.”
The title track “Sunbreather” and closing track “Darko” continue the alternative rock sound laid down earlier on in the album, with the title track being infectiously catchy with soaring melodies and a solid climax. The latter, however, feels a bit weak for a closer compared to the rest of the album despite being the culmination of the many different sounds of the record. It isn’t bad by any means, but it ends up being unfortunately forgettable on an experimental and incredibly unique record.
‘Sunbreather’ is a powerful and creative record that lands itself as the best in Fallstar’s discography, showcasing vast improvement in the band’s songwriting and performances and infectious choruses. Chris Ratzlaff sings his heart out on the album, tackling many important topics such as mental health and politics head on with unrelenting passion and vulnerability even on the album’s weaker tracks. Although there are moments where it fails to land (“Chroma”, for example), Fallstar managed to come back from a hiatus at the top of their game with loads of creativity and experimentation that pays off for the good of the album in most cases (“SSRI Feel Better Already” and “Cloud Chamber”) despite its flaws, it’s a solid album worth checking out if you are into rap-rock and post-hardcore and takes a few listens to get into.