At long last, the hiatus has come to a close. Fightstar have released their first new album in six years – was it worth the wait, and is it worthy of their name? The promise of new material from a fondly remembered band is enticing enough that one can almost forget the overpowering fear of an inglorious reunion adding a shameful bookend to a storied back-catalogue. Mixed metaphors aside (catalogues don’t really need bookends, do they?), I’m very happy to inform you that Fightstar’s newest album represents nothing less than a Grand (re)Unification.
Having been fortunate enough to attend the ten-year anniversary gig that preceded this album, it was obvious that sparks were still flying between the band. During a particularly reverent moment midway through fan-favourite Mono, a cry of “we love you Fightstar!” planted a visible (and dare I say, bashful?) grin across the foursome. This is clearly a group for whom making music, bouncing ideas off each other and stepping up on stage is still a joy, not just a paycheque.
Behind the Devil’s Back deftly treads the line between being both a stylistic evolution of, and a loving tribute to, the riffs, screams, and melodies that have won Fightstar such acclaim over the years. Two acts emerged during their hiatus – the 80s-inspired synthwave duo Gunship, as well as two folk-rock albums from Charlie Simpson. The former has had a distinct influence on the group’s new direction. Indeed, it’s clear that Gunship’s styling are to this album what choral backing was to Be Human. From the dizzying electronic scales in the growling comeback track Animal, to the dream-like synth which permeates the haunting finisher Dive (a worthy addition to the band’s repertoire of glorious album closers), it appears that what the devil has behind his back is, in fact, a well-used synthesiser.
Overdrive is worthy of high praise, and is my personal favourite on the album. Its chorus conjures a sense of urgency and is built of riffs that will have you hankering for the open road. It’s also one of the most Gunship-influenced tracks from Behind the Devil’s Back, proving that this new direction has a lot of creative mileage left in it.
That being said, fear not post-hardcore/progressive-metal/alt-rock/continuity-enthusiasts, more traditional Fightstar-fare is on offer here too. The opener Sharp Tongue waves the banner for the group’s hallmark fusion of grit, power and melody. Titan and Sink with the Snakes are as heavy as you like, with Alex’s screaming verses in the latter being a highlight of the album. The Titan/Sink with the Snakes duo complement each other with finesse, charting a journey from seething resentment to a cathartic, dizzying release of anger. With Titan seamlessly transitioning into the latter, they could easily have been amalgamated into one thrashing, furious epic of a song.
Despite my effusiveness so far, this album isn’t flawless. While there may be fair reasons for it, this is the shortest album Fightstar have released so far. This leads to it feeling, as LUNKHEAD’s music editor Will Cross has pointed out, almost like an extended EP. I can’t help but agree, and while this EP-feel isn’t necessarily a bad thing, what can’t be denied is that Behind the Devil’s Back is in a complicated position – it not only heralds a reunion, but it’s trying to bring the faithful a fresh take on the sound they know and love while implementing some major stylistic changes. This culminates in an occasional tension, with certain songs suffering for being pulled in multiple directions. A notable example is the album’s title track: it’s a stomping, powerful tune until around the last third, when it seems unable to decide what pace and sound it’s aiming to be.
This album may represent a crossroad, but this is no cause for alarm: each road leads to a destination I cannot wait to set out towards. However Fightstar choose to develop their style from here on out, Behind the Devil’s Back is proof that they have emerged from their hiatus creatively rejuvenated. This album is full of both promising new ideas and pertinent reminders of why Fightstar can still sell out gigs within 30 minutes. Whether they choose to go further down the neon-lit path of synth or decide to recentre around their roots, the future for the erstwhile foursome is extremely bright. If someone could convince System of a Down to reform now too, that’d be just swell. So should you listen to this album? To quote Sink with the Snakes, “come and get it and bring all your friends!”
WORDS: BEN CLAYTON
Love Fightstar? Check out our review of The Wonder Years’ ‘No Closer to Heaven’.