By Flood Of Red
'Leaving Everything Behind,' the debut album from Scotland's Flood Of Red, is a frustrating album. Effortlessly churning out dense, emotionally-charged, stadium-sized songs with towering choruses and heartfelt vocals aplenty, the first few songs will blow you away. However, having found a formula that works, Flood Of Red stick to it. Halfway through the album, you'll have had your fill of sky-scraping choruses and, by track fourteen, you'll have had enough of this Snow-Patrol-meets-Taking-Back-Sunday material to last you a lifetime.
Another major problem with 'Leaving Everything Behind,' is frontman Jordan Spiers' vocals. His natural singing style is a yelpy-edged howl not a million miles removed from Billy Talent's Benjamin Kowalewicz. It sounds like he's wrenching every last word from painful depths, which is most definitely a good thing. It makes for compelling listening, especially when Spiers is backed up by sweeping guitars, laced with swirling, dizzying riffs, which, inevitably on 'Leaving Everything Behind,' he is.
However, Spiers has a habit of switching to a quivering, hesitant mumble, which means album opener 'The Edge Of The World (Prelude)' will occasionally have your teeth on edge. It's also a niggling annoyance on previous single 'Home, Run (1997).' This epic stomp has moments of sweeping, cinematic intensity, but it puts a serious foot wrong with a bridge section of lullaby chimes and Spiers' falsetto-edged vocal trembling. An otherwise strong song, 'Home Run (1997)' will have you wishing they'd snipped out that bridge section, and left it on the cutting room floor.
But, by far the worst offender when it comes to lilting, overly cautious vocals, is 'Electricity.' Although subtle touches of synths create a cavernous and chilling soundscape, Spiers' vocals really grate, and the music is so basic and trudging that it resembles Snow Patrol on one of their more listless, album-only tracks. Thankfully, lyrically 'Electricity' spills over into the distinctly livelier follow-up track 'I Will Not Change.' With a little more force behind Spiers' voice, the lullaby-like lyrics that were barely audible on 'Electricity' reveal themselves to be oddly beautiful here. An album highlight.
Another reoccurring problem with this album, is that Spiers' vocals are set too low in the mix. This first becomes apparent on the brash, emotionally-charged blare of second track 'The Harmony.' However, in this instance there's more than enough razor-sharp guitar lines and heady melodies, to ensure 'The Harmony' still makes that all-important connection with the listener.
If you struggled to decipher what Spiers was caterwauling about in 'The Harmony,' than prepare to strain even harder to make out the lyrics to 'A Place Before The End.' If you give this track your undivided attention, Spiers' voice, grappling through luxurious layers of jangling drums, arcing riffs and spine-tingling synths, is compelling. If you don't, then all you hear is a distant yelp half-hidden beneath a wash of rich musical accompaniment. 'A Place Before The End' is movie-soundtrack music at its finest, it just lacks a coherent vocal to spearhead all that free-wheeling emotion.
'Like Elephants' also lacks that final, aggressive vocal thrust, as slabs of guitar once again blur Spiers' voice and makes it a challenge to decipher what the song's actually about. However, it employs a neat trick that Flood Of Red use time and time again, and that's creating a gap between the vocals and the music. When Spiers' vocals unfurl with slow grace across a backdrop of rushing guitars, it emphasises the wrenching, painful quality of his voice. This technique is at its most effective on 'Hope Street,' as Spiers' slow-and-steady vocals glide across a surge of riffs and busy synths. It's a slightly surreal and disorientating contrast, but 'Hope Street' and 'Like Elephants' are all the more memorable for it. An introduction of twinkly chords and woozy drum-rolls, and a rumbling piano interlude, also helps give 'Like Elephants' its own character, and prevents it from sounding like just another blast of big, starry noise, a la 90% of this album.
'Losing All Balance In Fells Point' would be the aforementioned blast of big, starry noise, if it wasn't given some extra oomph thanks to a marching drum line and Spiers' vocals being re-positioned so they sit slightly higher in the mix. You may think you've had your fill of oh-so-earnest rock ballads by the time you get to 'Losing All Balance In Fells Point,' but it has that extra spark that'll catch your attention. Just.
Flood Of Red do edge out of their comfort zone, with a trio of pop-punk flavoured takes on the heartfelt, stadium-ballad genre: 'The Heartless And The Loving,' 'Paper Lungs' and 'I Am The Speechless.'
'Paper Lungs' is the liveliest of the trio. The drums have an extra spring in their step, the riffs are shorter, with quirky angles, and it even has a scattering of synths that emphasise those jigging guitar lines. Spiers also tries out a crowd-pleasing "whoa-oh-oh!" holler, making this a burst of youthful energy.
Synths, stop-start guitars and drums that bound along enthusiastically, also make an appearance on the bubbly chorus of 'I Am The Speechless.' The opposite is true of 'The Heartless And The Loving,' which has dense, riff-heavy, arena-sized choruses and funkier verses of pop-punk drumbeats and fluttering chords, a combination that has something of a You Me At Six slant to it. These glimmers of pop-punk exuberance are nothing we haven't seen before, but they help distinguish these three songs, on an album that does have a tendency to sound samey.
'Little Lovers' is a frustrating song on an already-frustrating album, as the verse and the chorus are both accomplished, but they don't sit comfortably together. The verse is underpinned by a furiously pulsing chord that'll have you on the edge of your seat, convinced that 'Little Lovers' is building towards some dramatic high. It isn't, as those verses play out at the same promising-but-never-delivering level, before pitching straight into a foot-stamping, roof-raising chorus that's grafted-on drama, rather than a culmination of the verse's amassing energy. Thankfully, the bridge section goes someway towards redeeming 'Little Lovers,' evolving naturally from an eerie, cavernous soundscape, to a piano-led refrain and finally into a black-hearted march.
'Leaving Everything Behind' signs off with an extended and highly dramatised version of album-opener 'The End Of The World (Prelude).' With apocalyptical drum-booms, crashing riffs and rousing melodies aplenty, it brings this album to a fittingly fraught conclusion.
Taken on their own, each song on 'Leaving Everything Behind' is heady, arena-aspiring rock, crammed with earnest sentiments and aching vocals. However, when placed on a tracklisting with thirteen similar songs, you very quickly grow numb to their power, and it all blurs into one. Maybe 'Leaving Everything Behind' would pack more of a punch, if it wasn't so long.
Ultimately, what it's lacking in is variety, making this an album that's best experienced in short doses. Anything longer, and 'Leaving Everything Behind' begins to bore.