When And So I Watch You From Afar released their third album All Hail Bright Futures a couple of years ago, it was a dramatic musical shift that brought along with it the usual and expected amount of conflict among the band’s fanbase. In one camp were the people who saw the album’s unapologetically bright, peppy, and sugary melodies and themes as a surprising and welcome change from the usual fare of doom and gloom often present in both metal and instrumental rock/metal. All Hail Bright Futures wasn’t afraid to be in-your-face levels of gleeful, employing bouncy rhythms, chanting, and instruments not normally found in such music (flute and melodica, anyone?).
It was an approach executed so well though that it was very difficult to not be entranced by it even in spite of some things the band lost in their prior work in the process. Those in the second camp, however, mourned the loss of the more aggressive and technically-focused edge of the band’s prior releases, and criticized the album as too simplified and poppy. All Hail Bright Futures certainly left the band bigger than ever, but the question leading up to their follow-up to that, Heirs, was if they would build upon that success by doubling down on that formula, returning back to their musical roots, or by flipping the script again and doing something completely different once more. Heirs suggests that the band have decided to do all three at once, and the result is a very good album that mostly succeeds in threading the needle of past, current, and future.
Based on the three singles released prior to the album’s release alone (“Run Home,” “Wasps,” and “Redesigned a Million Times”) it certainly seemed like the band were preparing us for All Hail Bright Futures, Part II (2Futures2Bright). “Run Home” in particular feels like the spiritual successor to “Big Thinks Do Remarkable” with its frantic runs and simplistic chanting (“run home” instead of “the sun is in our eyes”). The other two follow similar patterns and sentiments, and along with second track “These Secret Kings I Know” (which, along with “Redesigned a Million Times,” are perhaps the most lyrics-focused tracks the band have released thus far), the first third or so of Heirs feels incredibly locked into the precedent set by All Hail Bright Futures, for better or worse. All four tracks are more than solid and build upon the success of their predecessors, but there’s also a slight sense of redundancy to them that runs the risk of making Heirs feel all too familiar and, as the track suggests, “redesigned” many times before.
Thankfully the rest of the album after that first string of tracks breaks off into several different directions, including some sounds more reminiscent of their self-titled and Gangs days. As soon as “People Not Sleeping” comes in with its punchy hits, winding melody, and aggressive refrains, Heirs takes on an entirely new life. Its brilliant mixture of energy, complexity, and nuance (the almost underwater-sounding plucking solo around the track’s midpoint is an unexpected treat) is a sensibility that carries through much of the album’s latter half. “A Beacon, A Compass, An Anchor” is a slow-burner of a track that spends most of its lengthy runtime building off of a drum-anchored groove, calling to mind some of the great work of math/dance-rock hybrid Battles. As the second half of the track gives way to the sort of frenetic riffs we’ve become accustomed to, as well as the brilliant incorporation of harmonized vocals floating over the top, there’s a sense that the group have really honed in on a unique sound that incorporates the many facets they’ve explored in the past six or so years.
Nothing exemplifies this as well as the brief “Animal Ghosts” does though. In under 3 minutes the band swell to gargantuan heights off the back of a killer riff and a perfectly simplistic and epic chorus that is near-impossible not to sing along to. Throw in some trumpet and you’ve got an instant classic. Album climax “Heirs” ties up the different parts of the album deftly enough but also proves to be far more sonically dense and interesting than its counterparts at the end of All Hail Bright Futures, something that can be said for much of the second half of the album. Listening to Heirs on a track-by-track basis, it’s easy to feel that the work presented here is often more compelling and melodically, rhythmically, and structurally dynamic than much of their previous work—in particular All Hail Bright Futures, which occasionally felt like tracks were more in service of an overarching album concept than as tracks on their own.
The strength of that concept and package is exactly where Heirs feels the weakest however. In trying to bridge the gap between so many different parts of their sound, the album can’t help but feel a bit fractured and almost underwhelming at times. It takes repeated listens for several songs to truly reveal themselves, and as an album it never quite coalesces into a fully cohesive thing. As a collection of tracks though, Heirs is hugely impressive and reveals a depth and dynamism that had recently at times felt a bit suppressed. The future still remains very bright for this Belfast quartet, and this album serves as a reminder of how far they’ve already come.
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And So I Watch You From Afar’s Heirs gets…