Funeral For A Friend have never been ones to rest on their laurels. Generally accepted as a hard-hitting rock group, they have explored a penchant for the alternative and the emotional, to one that conjures easily-accessible, enigmatic, heart-bursting anthems. Now with Rise To Remain’s old drummer, Pat Lundy, on board, they appear ready to travel the Conduit to locate their inner punk.
Without doubt, it’s an album that still features, to some degree, the
band’s driven melody, gorgeously rich harmonies and addictive choruses
but there is a definite shift of focus towards metal and hardcore.
Vocalist Matthew Davies recently neatly summarised the change with the
words “it’s a post-hardcore record that is not afraid to drop into some
hardcore for good measure.”
Former band member Matthew “Snowskull” Evans has painted a startling cover for Conduit that is oddly reminiscent, like some of those old Slayer albums or Trey Moseley’s artwork for The Chariot’s One Wing.
Rest assured though, FFAF’s songwriting hasn’t gone anything like as
deep into the chaos as those particular bands regularly do. Despite
Davies’ assertions, these additions to the music do feel somewhat forced
at times – initially, you may wince at the irksome slips from
boisterous verse into slick chorus (lead single “Best Friends and
Hospital Beds” and “Travelled” are in a league of their own), but
ignoring this, it’s still a clear statement of intent and one that does
need multiple plays before sound judgement can be passed.
They certainly don’t go off half-cocked at this crossover monster –
even their usually high-end production has trimmed a little off the
sides to make way for the added gristle. It’s a full-bore attempt to
interweave both their rough and smooth edges and when they manage to
segue the two styles effectively the songs can invigorate you. Some go
in harder (bruisers like the title-track, “Death Comes To Us All” and
“High Castles”), but there’s still plenty of rousing sing-a-long
choruses to grab onto. They come thick and fast with “Spine”, “Best
Friends…” and “Nails” all liberally doused in colourful, soaring
harmonies. What the contrast has highlighted is the minor limitations of
Davies’ vocal. There’s no denying his passion, but every now and then,
when he peaks and reaches up to hawk out another yelp of anger, his
pitch and tone become painfully strained – as an example, the line “How
many friends can I lose before it all makes sense” catches him out every
Thankfully, the complex, technical guitar melodics do help to bolster
this weakness in his delivery. They form the kind of backdrops that
Sylosis would be proud of. One particularly memorable example lies in
the jarringly-angular closing segment of “Nails”. The gentle build,
tight-as-fuck chorus and crushing ‘core elements are all implemented
magnificently. It’s these multiple hues that stick it on a pedestal.
As you journey through, there emerges a noticeable overall lack of
track variation but it’s hard to deny the momentum that FFAF build
throughout. You do have to wait for “Elements” to provide the deviation
the album craves. It really would be the perfect closing track; not
overstaying its welcome and melodically-enduring with a gently warbling
fade-out. Well, it would be, except that the Hatebreed-lite
metalcore tactics of “High Castles” take the honour – “Our words are
weapons, they are our shield, our words are weapons, fist by fucking
fist” – with over-eager call-and response chicanery.
Having screamed back from the edge of the creative abyss with 2011′s cracking Welcome Home Armageddon, to head back to their EP days and begin re-establishing their love of punk and hardcore makes Conduit
a risky album for FFAF to write at this moment in time. Even more so,
when you consider just how much metalcore influence there is on this and
how much that particular genre has taken a battering over recent years.
Thankfully, none of that matters much. There is just enough true grit
and spirit powering this offering to really warrant that risk. Conduit is a whole different beast but, most importantly, it’s an album that’s honest and committed and deserving of your attention.