The ever-changing beast that is Funeral For A Friend, even now in their fourteenth year of existence, is still a fascinating creature to behold. Following their discography’s strong foundations and the, erm, “challenging” mid-Noughties records, 2011’s ‘Welcome Home Armageddon’ hailed something of a renaissance for the Welshmen, in which they went back to basics and produced some of their finest material yet. This rich vein of form was continued into 2013’s ‘Conduit’, which saw them strip back even further to their roots in hardcore punk, this style bleeding into their sixth studio effort ‘Chapter And Verse’. Made in conjunction with producer Lewis Johns, one of the hottest properties in UK post-hardcore, this seeks to build on the successes of its predecessors, whilst galvanising FFAF’s modern sound with the melodic catchiness they have been famed for throughout their existence. Whilst ‘Chapter and Verse’ isn’t without its flaws, this latest chapter in their continued evolution is a more than worthy entry into the quartet’s canon.
If you have a friend who hasn’t listened to Funeral For A Friend in a while, play them ‘Stand By Me For The Millionth Time’, this album’s opening track; watch them try and guess who it is, then observe their open-mouthed gape when you reveal the band responsible. Chances are, even if you have been following the latter exploits of the Bridgend boys, you’ll be surprised by this one – evoking the sounds of the recent past in post-hardcore, such as Defeater and Goodtime Boys (R.I.P.) and forcing the listener to sit up and pay attention from the off. This simmering build pays off in excellent lead-off single ‘You’ve Got A Bad Case Of The Religions’, bursting out of the traps like an ‘Hours’-era offering but tinged with the overarching themes of maturity and experience that thread through this album. Their transition from “bright young hopes” to “scene stalwarts” has given them license to let more commentarial comment creep into their songs, from the emotional disconnect to a shitty 9-5 on ‘Pencil Pusher’ to a treatise on feminism on ‘You Should Be Ashamed Of Yourself’.
As good as the material at hand is however, one nagging question persists throughout; where on God’s green earth is the bass?! One hopes this isn’t a hazing ritual akin to Metallica’s treatment of Jason Newsted on ’…And Justice For All’, but newest member Richard Boucher is barely audible throughout, leading to higher-pitched songs such as ‘1%’ sounding more than a little reedy. The mid-section of the record continues the scorching nature of the first half, especially in the thunderous thrash of ‘Modern Excuse Of A Man’, but the latter stages see filler start to drift in, ‘Inequality’ lacking in punch until its final throes, and ‘Brother’ the sort of pointless acoustic interlude that should have been left with Matthew Davies-Kreye’s much-forgotten brief sojourn with The Secret Show. The bridge section of ‘Donny’ sorely misses the input of the now-departed screaming drummer Ryan Richards, as Davies-Kreye’s interplay with Gavin Burrough sounds a little thin in comparison.
Finale ‘The Jade Tree Years Were My Best’, in addition to boasting a wonderful title to titillate their “old-school” fans, is the best representation of the natural maturity shown on ‘Chapter And Verse’ (horrible cliché though that may be), rather than the enforced “maturity” (i.e. M.O.R. dullardry) displayed on ‘Tales Don’t Tell Themselves’ and ‘Memory and Humanity’. This rumination on past regrets, while not a spectacular parting shot is possibly their best stab at a ballad since ‘Hours’’ ‘History; however, the goodwill built up by this emotive ending is almost immediately cancelled out by an unnamed bonus track tacked onto the end (a cardinal sin in the digital age), an aimless, lunk-headed two-stepper that’s little more than an underfed practice-room jam. This juxtaposition perhaps sums this album up better than words can say – whilst ‘Chapter And Verse’ has attributes by the spadeful, it’s a couple of dud moves from being truly great. Funeral For A Friend’s latest reinvention has the balance of melody, maturity and brute force almost dead-on, it’s just the consistency that’s lacking. Still, the last men left standing from that crux of Welsh bands unleashed all those years ago prove here they’re still as worthy of your time in 2015 as they were in 2005.
‘Chapter And Verse’
by Funeral For A Friend is released on 19th January on Distiller Records.
Words by Ollie Connors (@olliexcore)