Saturday, March 10, 2012

Deny It All They Want, Flyleaf Is Dark, Decent Christian Metal.

The Good: Some decent lyrics, Interesting metal sound, Some decent vocals
The Bad: Derivative sound, SHORT, Some terrible vocals.
The Basics: With a weak "recommend" (because there is a superior version with more goodies), Flyleaf establishes itself as a darker Christian rock band.

Lately, I forced myself to clear out my cache of other c.d.s. I have recently encountered a few new (to me) bands and having reviewed the self-titled album by Addison Road (reviewed here!), I find the only thing left on my desk are two near-identical c.d.s from Flyleaf, both called Flyleaf. It seems reasonable for me to start with the shorter of the two discs, so I find myself listening to Flyleaf.

Flyleaf was actually recommended to me by one of my pagan friends and I find some irony there. She seemed entranced with the sound and feel of Flyleaf and compared tracks on Flyleaf to the music of Evanescence on Fallen. The irony here is that my friend was right, but she is all into pagan pride and speaks vocally about how bothered she is by the way Christians get their message out into the marketplace while there is no equivalent movement or venue for pagan music. I didn't have the heart to tell her that Flyleaf is clearly a Christian metal, Christian rock band. The members of Flyleaf are strangely split on this openly admitting to their Christianity and that it has an effect on their work, yet denying that they are "Christian Rock" because their Christianity permeates all aspects of their life, so they are just Christians doing what they do, as opposed to Christians making rock music. I say what makes them Christian rock are the references to praying and Jesus, like on "So I Thought." If you're going to be loud and proud, the least you should do is admit you are being loud and proud!

That said, Flyleaf consists of only eleven songs comprising just over half an hour of music (33:37). My ultimate recommendation is a VERY soft "recommend." The reason for this is ridiculously simple, the limited edition version of Flyleaf is longer and has some acoustic versions of some of the same songs as well as an additional DVD that makes it a better overall value. I always say hold out for the version with more bells and whistles. Still, there is enough artistry on this version of Flyleaf to recommend and appreciate.

First, all of the songs are written or co-written by members of the band and every song is credited as something of a collaborative effort, which is admirable for any band made up of young people. Lacey Mosley provides all of the lead vocals, which is good because she is one of the people who is credited as a writer on each of the songs. The four men of Flyleaf play the instruments for the music they wrote. However, the limit of their creative control end there as the album was produced by an outside producer.

The way in which the outside producer is most problematic is in the vocals. Mosley's vocals are all heavily produced, so most of the tracks, like "Sorrow" (quite noticeably) make it difficult to tell how much is actually Mosley's natural voice. Beyond that, she seems obsessed with fitting into the metal image and on "Sorrow" and the opening lines of "I'm So Sick," she simply shrieks, which is not a good sound. Similarly, she is shrill on "I'm Sorry" in a way that is not at all analogous to Evanescence. Still, on things like the refrain to "I'm So Sick" and "All Around Me," the listener hears the potential in her voice that makes us believe she has great pipes.

Unfortunately, producer Howard Besson frequently produces the instrumentals over the vocals, so one has to strain to hear the muted, yelling vocals. This would be less problematic if Flyleaf were playing something truly original. Here the comparison to Evanescence holds, at least when one considers the enormously popular song "Bring Me To Life." On that song, on the radio, there were guest guitarists who gave the band a real gothic metal sound. That sound is pretty much the constant rock/metal sound of Flyleaf. The problem here is that it is entirely predictable and pedestrian; it is the trademark sound of a guitar, bass, drum band. And in the case of Flyleaf, there are two guitars thrashing and strumming on songs like "All Around Me."

That said, what separates Flyleaf from other albums and other artists are the lyrics. It is hard to deny the power of many of their lines. Perhaps the reason so many listeners mistake them for something other than a Christian band is that some cannot conceive of a Christian metal band (oh, it's so much of a broader world out there!). Flyleaf might confuse some with their thrashing guitars and darker sound and plaintive wailing presentation of their lyrics. And unlike some bands, their lyrics are not upbeat, perky Christian lyrics. Instead, this is the closest one might come to Christian goth with lines like "How many will die / I will die / I, I will say yes / Do you believe in God / Written on the bullet / Say yes to pull the trigger / Do you believe in God / Written on the bullet / And Cassie pulled the trigger" ("Cassie"). Admittedly, these are songs that carry both a sense of faith and a sense of conflict with life and society.

Still, the lyrics actually have a deep sense of poetics to many of them. Even when their sound is not one of hope, their lyrics often are. In traditional Christian rock fashion, there is often a message of redemption in the poetics, as there are on "Breathe Today." On that, Mosley sings "Logic forces me to believe in this, / And I have learned to see, / And I can only say what I've seen and heard, / And only you can choose, / And every choice you make will effect you, / Suit your own self. / You can breathe today" ("Breathe Today"). There is a sense of accomplishment and belief in the subtext and Mosley and her co-writers phrase it in an interesting way.

But at the end of the day, it is hard to argue that Flyleaf is anything other than a metal-sounding Christian rock album. It is, however, one of the more original ones and on songs like "So I Thought," there are actually some beautiful poetics "All your twisted thoughts free flow / To everlasting memories / Show soul / Kiss the stars with me / And dread the wait for / Stupid calls returning us to life / We say to those who are in love / It can't be true 'cause we're too young / I know that's true because / So long I was / So in love with you . . ." before it gets into the obvious exhortations like "And all these twisted thoughts I see / Jesus there in between." Flyleaf may deny they are Christian rockers, but their lyrics say otherwise.

This is, however, no reason to be prejudiced against them; Flyleaf rocks on Flyleaf and it is a worthwhile c.d. for anyone who likes gothic sounding metal and who can handle a pretty overt Christian message of redemption and faith. For those tired of its perky, more subtle equivalent, this makes for a welcome change and one finds themselves wishing for more. Fortunately, there is (on a slightly better incarnation of the album!).

The best track is "All Around Me," the low point is the less memorable "Red Sam."

For other groups that rock, please visit my reviews of:
Tear The World Down - We Are The Fallen
Highest Hopes: The Best Of Nightwish - Nightwish
World Clique - Deee-Lite


For other music reviews, please visit my Music Review Index Page for a complete listing of all the music reviews I have written!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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