Flyleaf, the Texan hard rock / alternative metal act, after a three year sabbatical for childbirth and such the like, finally returned in 2012 with their new album "New Horizons". This was the follow up to their 2005 eponymously named platinum album "Flyleaf" and their 2009 silver album "Memento Mori" (translates as "be mindful of death"). Shortly before the album was released it was revealed that lead singer Lacy Sturm was calling it quits due to "wanting to follow a new path" and was replaced by Kristen May, so this album will be last chance saloon to hear anything new by Sturm and Flyleaf combined. The usual suspects from the previous albums however remained with Sameer Bhattacharya (lead guitar), Jared Hartmann (rhythm guitar), Pat Seals (bass, backing vocals) and James Culpepper (drums, percussion) all returning for this latest outing. Based upon their previous albums, the style of the band is very much melodic yet angsty, heavily influenced with Christian themes, yet the band refuse to be labelled as a Christian band. So, the real questions are will this third album live up to the intensity of the first two, and given the time away will there be any significant evolutionary changes in style or will they simply pick up from where they left off?
==New Horizons (2012)==
"New Horizons" was produced by Howard Benson who has worked with the band before which is always a good sign for continuity, as well as such other bands as Papa Roach, My Chemical Romance, Motorhead, Sepultura to name a few. The album is arguably a little short at 11 tracks and 36:24, but it is extended to 40:20 with a bonus iTunes track "Mama". So, without further ado, on to the review. Ooh, poetry. The opening track "Fire Fire" as its namesake suggests is a blazing start to the album and certainly indicates the band still has as much intensity as they've always had. A simmering string led opening with a feeling of resigned despondency erupts into a volcanic chorus with angry vocals from the rock stylings of Lacy Sturm and moody, grungy guitars with anthemic chants of "Fire, fire fire! Fire from the tongues of liars" creating a rather wrathful buzz about the song. Lyrically, this seems to be a volatile story of a tumultuous relationship - "You're ashamed of where you're from, crying 'cause your father's drunk" and all in all is a pretty powerful song.
"Green Heart" goes one step further and is simply a barrage of rage from start to finish with some relentlessly epic and heavy guitars and Sturm putting in a straining and fraught vocal performance to great effect. Easily the heaviest track on the album it still maintains a surprisingly melodic edge and both musically and lyrically is pleasingly dark with a hint of religious and political connotations to tell a slightly more abstract tale. "Let's lose it all. Buy something beautiful. What next will you sell? Peace while you sleep?". Similarly, "Freedom" makes use of grungy, heavy guitars and biting vocals, but is not quite as intense with a bit more ebb and flow throughout to make for a bumpy ride. The contrast between the more mellow passages versus the howling chorus serves up a great balance and again the message in this one is a tad abstract with the lyrics seemingly at odds with the heated quality to the music - "Bleeding dry the promise of worth knowing you were meant for this thirst. Drink it in slowly while life puts a heart in you weaving new blankets of words".
"Call You Out" - their second single is another grungy, shouty, angry kind of song and once again Lacy Sturm is in fine vitriolic voice to really connect with the music, which despite the dark, growling edge to it, once again still maintains a certain melody to it, even if you do have to listen a bit harder to pick it out. Lyrically, this song fits perfectly to the music in what again is another wonderfully constructed song (perhaps however with a tiny bit of danger of it becoming a bit formulaic...) - "I know this language of yours - I used to speak it so well. A fire meant to be pure is now the fire of Hell". But Flyleaf show in this album what a multifaceted band they are and with "New Horizons", their first single to be released, in comparison they are positively upbeat. With Indie guitars and an up-tempo beat this feels very different to the aforementioned anger-fests. Lacy Sturm shows off the gentler side to her vocals with some particularly emotional passages, but still maintains her rocky edge. Lyrically this is almost a song of hope (in their own slightly dark way) - "Life floods in with a conquest. Life floods in with a new quest. Here's a voice for the voiceless and a song for the soulless" - but this is a very catchy song and one of the more memorable off this album.
Bridging a gap between the ballads and the up-tempo tracks on this album are a couple of medium tempo tunes. First up is "Bury Your Heart" which has mildly heavy guitars and is a fairly non-fluctuating song by never really letting go especially with a fairly restrained vocal performance from Sturm in what appears to be an attack on materialism, greed and blood money - "Tonight we'll need our souls and not that...gold, gold, bones, bones and all that worthless gold, gold, bones, bones". This one feels like they're trying to make a bold social commentary and adds another dimension to the album. "Stand" in much the same vein is a fairly mellow, but not overly fluctuating song, unveiling a beautiful melody with pretty medium tempo middle passages and chorus, as well as a venture into dual vocals with the I can only assume Pat Seals taking a more vocally active role. The edge is still there, especially with Sturm's vocals, but again this song remains restrained. A hint of religious influences potentially lurk in the lyrics - "Stand, face the world with open hands and tears and these tired body's spirit perseveres remembering these wounds will heal. You are not alone in this". Both nice songs, but not overly memorable.
The remaining tracks are of a much slower tempo, ballads if you will, and have a much more emotional vibe to them which balances the accounts of this album nicely. "Saving Grace" has a sweet melody and is a very touching song, enhanced by highly expressive vocals mixed in with soulful and gentle guitars. There is also just a touch of tragedy juxtaposed with the joy - "Pleading cause we prayed for peace tonight. Bleeding cause you knew the fight was right. Take my hand, we're almost home. We can see the fire glow". With again a very slow tempo, "Cage on the Ground" is another beautiful piece, but dampened slightly by, at least as I interpret it, the lyrics portraying a story of the pressures and fickleness of fame and being laid emotionally bare for all to see, which for me doesn't particularly allow for an emotional connection to the song - "Welcome to the machine it's a currency generator and then it's a guillotine, a mirror held up to your own behaviour".
"Great Love" is probably the first real love song on the album, but true to the nature of the band it is naturally an epic one, tinged with a hint of sadness with a rather dramatic undulation of emotions throughout - "I'm facing what you won't tonight. The dawn is breaking, my body's shaking. Great love setting the world on fire". Sturm is particularly affecting in the quieter interludes with vocals quivering with emotion backed up by some beautiful guitars, and equally powerful in the effusive chorus. There are also some excellent solo guitar riffs which really give this song a boost and add an extra emotional dimension. The closing song on the album is a fantastic way to bow out. "Broken Wings" is a truly heartfelt tune, sad for the first half with an affecting melody and a desperately pleading quality to the amazing vocals from Sturm before reaching an early crescendo of uncontrolled emotion with a faster more energetic pace and some excellent guitar riffs that really make for a dramatic finish - "So close your eyes but don't dream too deep and please pass me some memories, and when I fall you're underneath. A thousand broken hearts carried by a thousand broken wings".
If you do purchase the album via iTunes then you will get the bonus track "Mama" which I can recommend doing as it is a really sweet song but also quite sad with a very slow tempo and some incredibly tuneful guitars although perhaps it might feel a touch out of place on the album. This one feels quite personal and honest - "Sing your song mama, sing it out loud. Desperately singing, you're beautiful now" - whilst the rest of the album has perhaps seemed a little more impersonal to a certain extent with most of the songs being quite abstract in their lyrical meaning and as I mentioned before not necessarily all that easy to emotionally connect with. Overall, I really do enjoy this album, but I find it perhaps a little bit safe by being slightly detached and a little too polished and what I was really looking for, as I had found in their first two albums, was an all-consuming song that was haunting in some way and that just stayed with you, and I just didn't feel it with any of these songs. They were all well-constructed, beautifully sung and catchy songs but combined they made a very good but not stunning album, but a cracking effort nonetheless. I think fans will still enjoy this album as the band's true essence remains intact, as well as fans of the alternative metal genre but don't expect to be blown away.
1. Fire Fire - 9/10
2. New Horizons - 8/10
3. Call You Out - 8/10
4. Cage on the Ground - 8/10
5. Great Love - 8/10
6. Bury Your Heart - 7/10
7. Freedom - 8/10
8. Saving Grace - 8/10
9. Stand - 7/10
10. Green Heart - 9/10
11. Broken Wings - 9/10
12. Mama - 8/10