Saturday, February 16, 2013

Better With The Acoustic Tracks And DVD, Flyleaf Is Worth The Listen!

The Good: Some decent lyrics, Interesting metal sound, Some decent vocals, Acoustic tracks, DVD!
The Bad: Derivative sound, Still short, Some terrible vocals.
The Basics: With the additional tracks and a bonus DVD, Flyleaf's limited version of Flyleaf is actually less limited and appeals to a broader audience than just Christian metalheads.

Not long ago, I found myself kicking through a pile of c.d.s that had been stacked upon my desk and I was deeply amused to discover I had two discs that seemed identical. They were both by the band Flyleaf and entitled (as if taking a cue from Seal) Flyleaf. It did not take me long to realize that one was the standard version of the album and the other was an enhanced release of the album which included the original album plus an additional five tracks, which were songs that had been on the album re-recorded as acoustic versions. That original Flyleaf album recieved a very soft "recommend" from me here! Anyone who is thinking of letting this Christian metal band into their collection should get this, the two-disc version, if not for the DVD, then for the acoustic content. This proves all of the things that the original version only hinted at, which is that with the proper producing, lead singer Lacey Mosley actually has an impressive voice.

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 (reviewed here!). 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, the enhanced Flyleaf consists of sixteen tracks clocking out at 48:47. Despite my dislike of the repetition (almost half the enhanced album is the same music performed better than the original) on the album, Flyleaf in its enhanced form gets a much more enthusiastic recommendation than the paltry original version. Still, there was still so much more space the band could have used . . . The DVD is a nice touch as well and that does help enhance the value of this album.

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 acoustic tracks are co-produced by Flyleaf and that is nice to see.

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. Only on the acoustic tracks, like the acoustic version of "Red Sam" does the listener hear that Mosley actually has a pretty incredible voice. Co-producing the tracks allows the band to sublimate the instrumentals and give Mosley her just due.

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." On the acoustic tracks, the instrumentals are softer and presented in more melodic ways, clearly defying the metal tradition that the produced part of the album portrays.

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 "This fire rising through my being / Burning I'm not used to seeing you / I'm alive, I'm alive / I can feel you all around me / Thickening the air I'm breathing / Holding on to what I'm feeling / Savoring this heart that's healing" ("All Around Me"). 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 "There For You." On that, Mosley sings "You're always a true friend / I don't deserve you / 'Cause I'm not there for you / Please forgive me again / I wanna be there for you / Someone you can come to / Runs deeper than my bones / I wanna be there for you" ("There For You"). 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.

The DVD that comes with this enhanced version has the acoustic versions that are performed on the main disc performed visually, which is somewhat pointless. Still, for fans of the band there are music videos for "I'm So Sick," "Fully Alive," and "All Around Me" and they are much more visually interesting. The DVD is a nice touch for anyone who likes the band and that type of bonus is bound to increase the value for those considering the group.

And there is a lot to enjoy on Flyleaf. They might be derivative, but they picked good, interesting sources to emulate and there is something to be said for that!

The best track is the acoustic version of "I'm So Sick," the low point is the less memorable "Red Sam."

For other, similar, musical artists, please visit my reviews of:
Addison Road - Addison Road
No Name Face - Lifehouse
Memento Mori - Flyleaf


Check out how this album stacks up against others I have reviewed by visiting my Music Review Index Page for a comparative listing!

© 2013, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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