With every new album from The Fierce And The Dead, there have been changes to the band’s sound. The now classic ‘Spooky Action’ took the experimentation of their earlier ‘If It Carries On Like This, We’re Moving To Morecambe’ and added extra layers. On tunes like the title cut and the now classic ‘Ark’, the lighter guitar tones from Matt Stevens gave the material a quality that was pleasingly playful. A few years down the line, the band’s breakthrough album ‘The Euphoric’ was heavier in places, but in others, sounded more accessible and tuneful than The Fierce And The Dead had ever been before, without losing too much of their recognisable sound.
Five years in the making their eagerly awaited fourth long player ‘News From The Invisible World’ is a different beast entirely. With this album, TFATD not only change their sound again, but take a giant leap into the previously unknown by trading in some of their chunkier elements for a fantastic, layered post-rock sound with traces of Explosions In The Sky and, for the first time, make lead vocals an important part of their musical set up. Would vocals work? Would such a drastic change be a turn off the fans who’d taken them to heart as one of the UK’s most interesting instrumental acts? There was always a chance that such a massive change could backfire, but the best bits of this album still capture a band capable of delivering on some huge musical promises, and armed with a few of the biggest bass riffs since ‘I Like It, I’m Into It’ , Kevin Feazey, in particular, has much to be proud of.
It’s Kevin who is now also responsible for the lead vocalist’s role, and as such, he’s also the man who’ll be in the firing line of any detractors. However, his voice really suits the bulk of the music here, and with a bigger range of influences at play – ranging from weird prog bits from Cardiacs, hefty bass grooves calling back to peak Stranglers and noisy indie fare – the rest of the band sound equally happy in their new world of song-based works.
Right from the start, there’s a huge difference in sound when TFATD trade in their post-rock crunch for pulsing synths drawn from 1984, and couple those with a dour Elbow like vocal melody. It could be a new band, but there’s something about its mechanical feel and eventual layered vocal that slowly draws in the listener. As Stuart Marshall’s drums begin to rise, there’s a feeling the track is headed for bigger things and, sure enough, this atmosphere heavy opener eventually delivers a massive crunch via Steve Cleaton’s guitar – as big as the previous album’s ‘Truck’ – to lend a huge climax. In some ways, this three minute workout acts as a glorified intro; it introduces the “new” Fierce/Dead effectively, but also builds towards the other things on offer. There will be some who are immediately xpecturned off by this, but for those willing to keep an open mind, it’ll confirm any feelings that this now mature band can turn their hand to most things. Likewise, the vocal hooks throughout ‘Shake The Jar’ set the number apart from any earlier recordings, but the crunchy riffs are unmistakable. The heavier moments call back to bits of ‘The Euphoric’ via some great guitar interplay from Matt Stevens and Steve Cleaton; the occasional reflective interludes fall heavily on the increased use of synths, which sound great swirling beneath Matt’s intricate playing. The push and pull between both is a perfect snapshot of the band’s desire to blend their heavy post-rock with actual songs, creating an album highlight. In terms of musical reference points, its got a lot of its own identity, but occasional nods to Blur’s noisier self-titled album and Queens of The Stone Age almost certainly factor in this musical menagerie.
Released as a digital single ahead of the album, ‘Golden Thread’ works another massive stoner-ish groove and Cleaton wields another weighty tone against Kev Feazey’s monolithic bass. For an instant attention grabber, this sound of TFATD channelling Toundra and Fog Giant proves an immediate success, before the arrival of a heavily treated vocal gives the heaviness a layer of other-worldly oddness that further taps into the band’s desire to not be easily pigeonholed. Kev’s vocals aren’t as immediate as those present on ‘Shake The Box’, but are still a good fit, and as with the best bits of ‘News…’, it’s the contrast between the heavy riff and his arty melodies that really makes the track. For those hoping to find a more “traditional” lynchpin, guitarist Stevens links all of the elements with a clean, shimmering tone that’s absolutely unmistakable. Although his more distinctive approach is in danger of taking a back seat against some of the overall heaviness, he’s occasionally able to cut through with a wonderful clarity that brings a very strong link with older tracks like ‘Ark’ and ‘Spooky Action’, which should please long time fans. On the negative side, in approaching the other side of six minutes, ‘Golden Thread’ feels maybe a “verse” too long, but with its dominant riff acting as a massive hook – especially for fans of classic stoner rock – that slightly drawn out feel, in time, might even become one of its strengths. It’s fair to say that although the band clearly considered this one of the album’s flagship tunes, it’s actually eclipsed by two or three others which have much better melodic hooks.
Focusing more on fuzzy bass and tinkling noises, ‘Photogenic Love’ reintroduces some of the moody feeling from the opening track, and blends that into a brilliantly layered tune that falls somewhere between noisy indie rock and post rock. With quieter verses, it throws a bigger spotlight on the vocal, but by doing so, its easy to hear how proud the band are of their song oriented approach. Elsewhere during this semi-long workout, the keys add even more of a future-retro feel, but those who’ve followed the band from the beginning will absolutely love the heavier moments, which, thanks to a massive production sound and truly dense feel, add some of the biggest riffs to the Fierce/Dead catalogue to date. ‘Wonderful’ keeps up the momentum when Kev’s heavy fuzz bass kicks in immediately. In lots of ways, despite not being the album’s best tune, it’s a great showcase for all of the band’s skills this time around. There are droning sounds hark back to bits of previous albums, and there’s a real crunch that is certainly sympathetic to the band’s heavier side, but beyond that – and most importantly – the three minutes whips up a whole world of sonic newness. The core bass line drops into a punchy post punk groove that sounds like The Stranglers circa 1981; a sharp indie rock fuzz occasionally owes more to more of Blur’s noisier experiments on their self-titled album once again, whilst an arty pop/rock heart accentuated by big vocals mixes traces of Cardiacs with more of a melodic rock charm. During the track’s second half, the confident air is so massive, they’ve even taken to dropping in quirky time signatures akin to Knifeworld and a quirky sax that shows a great love for King Crimson. There are musical nods all over the place, and yet, it somehow sounds greater than the sum of its influences – the work of a truly original band pushing forth and genuinely progressing. Whether you’re a long time supporter or the band are brand new to you, ‘Wonderful’ is the kind of recording that features musical hooks and energies that just keep giving.
Lovers of Matt’s clean toned, looping guitar will create an instant bond with ‘Non-Player’, a track where his easily recognisable tones dominate. They’re there, constantly beavering away throughout the opening verse, and even when noisier elements rise to fill the chorus, his crisp approach cuts through a great wall of sound. By the time the second verse finds its feet with a combination of atmospheric chords, floating melodies and a semi-droned backdrop, the band’s love of Radiohead is at its most obvious but, thankfully, Kev’s mournful tone is hugely more preferable to Thom Yorke’s whine, and by the time the mood changes again for the instrumental part of the track, there’s a retro feel of a different kind when traces of Mark Knopfler solo works collide with a huge sax that’s very obviously derived from more King Crimson and Gong records, but delivered with occasional tones that are reminiscent of Dick Parry. Another of the album’s highlights along with ‘Shake The Jar’, it’s the kind of track that immediately feels a bit special, and as gang vocals tail off with one of the album’s most immediate melodies, there’s a feeling that the album has peaked a little too early. Thankfully, that is not the case…
A tune that’ll definitely appeal to the original fans, the largely instrumental cut ‘What A Time To Be Alive’ marries a glam rock stomp to a sludge metal guitar tone for another elephantine sized riff, immediately proving that the band can still pull out some massive post-rock/metal moods when required. The smaller details and more melodic twists call back to ‘Spooky Action’, yet at the same time, sound like a band trying to break new ground, before a final shift into floaty prog shares a love for 70s Floyd, complete with a ‘Sheep’ inspired vocoder interlude. It plays like three half formed ideas glued together in some ways, but still works. Eventually, the opening groove makes a final appearance, inviting listeners to crank the volume, before ‘Nostalgia Now’ drops into a noir-ish world where 60s guitar tones twang above a blanket of keys in a most unexpected marriage of sounds. With the track also exploring Radiohead and Peter Gabriel-ish piano melodies, absolutely huge bass grooves and weird, dark trip-hop vibes, it really shows how many styles of music the members of TFATD absorb during their leisure time listening. Like most of ‘News…’, there’s almost nothing that connects with past classics like ‘I Like It, I’m Into It’ and ‘Dancing Robots’, but that just makes it more interesting. There are piano and string based moments here that allow Kev to reach inside himself for a vocal that’s far bigger and more emotive than expected, which comes in absolute contrast to the extended coda’s collision of doom metal riffs and jazz piano. If the ‘Wonderful’ and ‘Photogenic Love’ singles suggested that this album could have anything and everything up its sleeve, then this track confirms it. Even as part of a collection of songs full of surprises, there’s nothing that’ll prepare you for this. Nothing.
Like all great bands, The Fierce And The Dead had no interest in either merely recycling previous sounds for safety, or just giving fans what they want or expect. Their goal has always been to embrace their muse, and with that, accept any changes it brings. As a result, ‘News From The Invisible World’ often sounds like a very different animal, but now they’re a band with riffs and hooks that aim for both the heart and the head. It’s an album that’ll lose them fans. It’s also an album that’ll win them a new raft of supporters. It might take a little longer to adjust to the huge changes, but once you do, it’s a record that has a lot to give. Sounding like nothing fans would’ve previously expected from TFATD a couple of years earlier, or anything they would’ve imagined, somehow, ‘News From The Invisible World’ is all the better for that. As a stand alone work, it really works; as part of the Fierce And The Dead canon, it’s a giant leap sideways, but with that, it ensures this band will continue to progress. If there are a core of fans open minded enough to take a journey further into the unexpected with them…then that’s even better.