Conduit succeeds in capturing echoes of that glory, but FFAF is not the band it was in 2003. Down to two original members, the album keeps FFAF’s heart beating, but the difficulty of making Conduit wafts like cigarette smoke through the cracks, especially once the fourth track, “Best Friends and Hospital Beds” flies past. There’s irony in the first verse lyrics, “Went to a mirror, don’t recognize myself anymore,” and Matthew Davies-Kreye sings them as an obvious comment on the changes that he, the band and the world have experienced since the days Funeral for a Friend was Kerrang’s Best Newcomer.
The relatively sparse sound on Conduit emphasizes a return to rawness and helps to roughen up the corners of underlying pop elements that FFAF has exploited in the past. Though the band is slotted in the post-hardcore emo filing cabinet, there’s only enough of those trappings in the first five songs, from “Spine” through “Nails,” to keep the fans from grumbling while the band goes for the charts. Conduit hit the top 20 U.K. hit list immediately after last week’s release in Europe.
A cascade of melancholy and angst washes over the 11 songs crammed into Conduit’s scant 29 minute running time. It feels as brief as a self-conscious glance in a mirror. “Death Comes to Us All” wrestles with regret while stoking the emo embers a bit, until it breaks down into a Richard Boucher bass solo, builds again and returns Davies-Kreye more riled up then when he left before the break. Only a short angry spell spins the song out to its sudden end. Conduit is fade-out free, with every song ending in a terse goodbye.
Melody carries the entire album along its emotionally charged way as its speeds by every song like blurred station platforms in a dusky commute homeward. Several listens separate the listener from the initial impression that Conduit suffers from sameness once the first four songs blast past. It’s not dense with multiple levels of meaning like an Esoteric album, but it does an up-close inspection of the same question that the earliest bluesmen explored, why does life have to be so sad?
“Nails” has FFAF performing at their musical best. The guitar lines are sturdy while the melodic line tucks in beautifully under the sharp but simple top lines. As through all the songs, the rhythm tracks are economical and sit with proper posture in their fold back chairs. The drums and bass are under-mixed as is typical for the vocal-heavy genre, yet compromises are required in modern squished-like-a-cheese-panini recording techniques.
Conduit isn’t so much about pristine production, but rather about emotionalism and a hard to hide hurt. Ultimately Conduit’s final track, “High Castles,” lashes out with the half-answer that the confused and wounded inevitably turn to. “Our words are weapons, fist by fist…they are our shield.” Funeral for a Friend’s Conduit is an angry shout in the night tailored for those who like their despondency in catchy bite-size pieces three minutes long.
(released February 5, 2013 by The End Records)