It’s a classic English January evening, bitterly cold, windy and just generally miserable. So let’s hope that Funeral For A Friend can help brighten the crowd’s spirits for an hour or so. Arriving in Birmingham on the cusp of the release of their 7th LP, Chapter And Verse. They bring with them Southampton punks Creeper and Californian No Bragging Rights who bring their hardcore styles to a packed out Institute Library this evening.
I catch half of No Bragging Rights due to the state of Birmingham’s bus services, but I arrive to an already packed out Library which I wasn’t expecting, especially for the support band. Despite missing half the set, I was pretty impressed with what I saw. Though the music wasn’t really pushing boundaries in hardcore, it was enjoyable nonetheless. NBR (as their fans call them) clearly have quite a few fans in the room, as it gets pretty lively at some points during their set. Despite their music being pretty formulaic, with a mix of screamy/shouty vocals and clean vocals, mixed with heavy riffs and fast drumming, NBR seemed to stand out above an overpopulated genre at the moment. They bring in elements of older 90’s hardcore bands, and seemed to have avoided something which most melodic hardcore bands seems to do nowadays, make the verses heavy as hell yet make the chorus’ so clean and poppy that it just gets tiresome. NBR seem to be able to make even the cleanest of their vocals sound dirty and heavy which means that, despite being pretty generic they elevate themselves above a myriad of other bands.
Funeral For A Friend have been a band for almost 15 years, having originally been enormously successful of their first two albums ‘Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation’ and follow-up ‘Hours’. They have since gone on to release four albums, five if you’re counting ‘Chapter And Verse’ which will be out by the time you read this review. What I admire about Funeral For A Friend is that they never stick with one formula for writing music, each album is different from the next and although they tend to be a bit hit and miss, there is always at least a few stand-out songs from each album. Which tend to be the ones they play live, so no matter when you see FFAF they’re always good value and you’re pretty much guaranteed a strong set.
Starting off tonight’s set with ‘Pencil Pusher’, a song from the new album, is a brave choice. Especially considering it was only released a few days prior to tonight, so there is little time to for fans to digest it. It’s hard to say whether the choice paid off, people seemed to enjoy it yet; the song seemed so flat for me. Singer Matt Davies’ voice seems to be going way over his comfort zone, though I don’t think it is his great singing voice that people like about the band. I’m sure even the most hardcore FFAF fan will agree that his voice has never been the strongest. Matt admits after this song that they’re a little rusty, which is understandable I suppose, but considering that tickets for this show fell just shy of £20, you’d expect them to be close to top form. It isn’t until fourth song ‘Streetcar’ that the fans finally get to see some of the older material that they came for. The song may sound a bit dated compared to their newer stuff, but is still one of the strongest they have released and sounds fantastic tonight. Following up ‘Bend Your Arms To Look Like Wings’ with ‘Storytelling’ seems an inspired decision as it gets the crowd fully back on their side, despite a slow start. New Song ‘Stand By Me For The Millionth Time’ harks back to their punchy, melodic aggressive roots and sounds decent enough, but another new song ‘The Jade Tree Years Were My Best’ almost puts me to sleep, starting with possibly the simplest riff of their career so far, and doing nothing to grab the audience’s attention for the whole five minutes.
After coming out of the venue, my first thought was that Funeral For A Friend were very good. But after thinking about it a bit more, I think I may have been kidding myself, too caught up in my own nostalgic feelings for the band to notice things that were startlingly obvious throughout. Matt’s voice was poor the whole set, particularly on the newer songs. Guitarist Kris Coombs-Roberts has taken over screaming duties from departed drummer Ryan Richards and although he does well to scream and play some pretty complex riffs, his screams have nowhere near the intensity of Ryan. So songs such as ‘Front Row Seats To The End Of The World’ just don’t have the same punch as they once did.
FFAF were in no way a bad band tonight, but I just feel like they’re not the same band as they used to be. Though, I must add that hearing a whole room singing ‘Yet I’m nothing more, than a line in your book’ from the brilliant ‘Juneau’ will never get old.
Review: Francis Sebestjanowicz
Photographs: Steve Kilmister