Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Album Review: Letters From The Fire - Letters From The Fire

As a critic, I don't get everything right. I don't try to pretend I do, or hide mistakes when I do make them. I even went so far as to go from writing a luke-warm review of an album to naming it the best of its year. Stuff happens. That same sort of thing happened with Letters From The Fire, and their first album, "Worth The Pain". I had gotten it at the exact same time as another album that fit the same mold, and which ended up being my #2 album that year, which meant Letters From The Fire lived with that comparison in my mind. It was only once I got perspective, and I wasn't listening to them back-to-back all the time, that I realized "Worth The Pain" was a far better record than my already positive review had given it credit for. It was a great album, which I have since noted.

That makes their follow-up both exciting, but also nerve-wracking. For while experience can lead to improvements, the time off has also led to a change in singer, with Nina Bergman stepping in to fill the role. Any singer switch changes a band's identity, so what happens to Letters From The Fire?

We got out first taste when "Comfort You" was released. That song showed a shift in the band's sound, going from alternative rock of a slightly emo bent to a sound that is harder, more driven, and bursting with more attitude. It is a different approach, that is for sure, but the initial sample wasn't disappointing.

This version of the band still has the melodic chops that made their first album so appealing, but they are wrapped around songs that are more modern in their approach, with deep and heavy guitars, and more hints of electronics in the background. With all of the songs clocking in at well under four minutes, it means this tight record doesn't have any time or concern for exploration. Along with the new attitude, this record's full intent is to be a punch to the face.

In that respect, it works. The record is heavy, catchy, and bristling with the kind of rock and roll attitude that finds the right side of the balance that Five Finger Death Punch has turned into a shit catapult. Nina fits this version of the band better than Alexa would have, delivering her hooks with the polished perfection you would expect from an actress. She uses her voice to hit the right marks to emphasize the song's heart, whether that's the snarky anger on the heavier tracks, or the sweet sensitivity of the chorus on "Naked In The Rain". She knows what she needs to do, and she does it flawlessly.

In fact, for what the band is trying to do, this new album is damn good at it. My issue is that regardless of how much closer this sound gets them to mainstream success (I'm guessing a solid amount), it's not the direction I would have preferred to hear. While much of this album is fist-pumping fun, I miss the emotional heart that their first record had. Rocking out is great, but getting punched in the heart leaves an impact that lasts far longer than getting hit in the face. The band may have traded the immediate impact of being in tune with what the mainstream wants to play for the deeper impact the songs could have on the audience. At least that's how I feel.

There's a lot to like about this album, which is certainly good, and definitely enjoyable. The songs, especially the hooks, are as sharp as ever, but the occasional foray into more rap-ish cadences distracts from what should be powerful hard rock. I mean this as a compliment; Letters From The Fire has the talent to be more than that. The bones of another really good rock record are here, but there isn't enough focus on what the band does well to pay it off. I get wanting to try new things, and I know new blood means new ideas, but this album doesn't grow or expand on what they band did the first time around. This record is good, but I can hear great things that don't quite get to shine through.

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