12 Jun 2021 - Gene
Alternative, Experimental, Cinematic, Progressive, Post-Rock | Post.Recordings | Release date: 22 Jul 2021
Offering up the past to stoke the rebelious fires of better times to come
Toward Better Things… a budding tree-nymph, regenerating, starting anew. The promise of new hope and sunlight through strife. Ad Meliora sees the return of Black Flak and The Nightmare Fighters with a reinvigorated new direction, yet still darkly groovy, epic, experimental.
The 1945 Randall Jarrell poem, from which BFNF derives its name, describes the individual as fodder for the Great and Terrible Machine. Of being ripped from the peace of eternal sleep into a world of strife – enemies amongst and inside all of us – the need to fight, and the blink of battered hope between two dark, unthinkable eternities.
Seems imminently relatable yet deviously obscure, the likes of which GY!BE might take inspiration, but in BFNF’s hands it increasingly takes on a mode less of helpless lament and more a call to arms. And this time, they had some more to say and vocal samples simply would not suffice.
2017’s Once We Knew The World Well was the first to take up these themes. Recorded as a trio, the album took off on their idea of ”experimental storytelling;” it was a cinematic post rock concept debut focused on war and the history of human conflict, it was full of soaring post-rock, memorable hooks, and a lot of old broadcast samples and radio feedback.
Following up in 2019 with It’s Only Permanent, BFNF added a permanent drummer and moved ever so slightly away from the sample-heavy sound of the debut but maintained and polished up the groove. This record seemed to shift perspectives inward, as the band began moving toward a more individual sound pattern, balancing similar historical themes with those of personal significance – themes of depression, anhedonia, the will to fight ever pulsing in one’s ears – and drawing a connection between the ills of the world and the demons in one’s own mind.
With every release the band has grown in number and outlook. This time, the lineup adopts multi-instrumentalist Kate Hoffmeister, whose vocals help shape the distinctly new aesthetic going forward, as well as solidifying – also with her guitar and keys – Black Flak’s spiritual lineage to bands like Mogwai, Explosions In The Sky, Red Sparrowes, and now others.
The need to say more – or more directly – brings to the new record an Alt-Rock approach on top of the previous sound. The album is set out in chapters. The prologue blooms dreamily into the pounding of drums, the sustain of solemnly picked guitar, then…madness. The production, dynamics, the layering of guitar passages, and every timbre is just perfect. The cheeky first chapter ”Why Do You Live So Hard” leads with the rhythm section, the forward percussion and juicy bass. The guitar follows and builds. The surprising female cleans of the next few tracks, so heartfelt, sincere. The strong, simple poetry of the outstanding 3rd chapter, ”Fall Before You Wake,” courtesy of guest Sarah Lloyd, rings out like a fearful incantation. Some post-punk guitar treatments follow, some slight prog sections and more tight, memorable hooks. All layers coming together behind the rhythm, seperating for emphasis of detail; and again the forlorn voice intoning behind post-rock guitar pedal yawns and sweeps. The album continues in this manner, the vocals playfully trading strength with the leads, as it goes along. Then you have these instrumental interludes, like the 5th chapter, ”Fourty-Four Sunsets,” a gorgeously tactile abstraction resetting the mood at about halfway. That leads into chapter 6, “I’ve Grown, I’m Growing, I’m Still Unknowing,” with some of the most earnest and pretty vocals as well as cocophonous guitars on the album. The 7th Chapter, the title track, is again another grand piano-led instrumental, into ”Chapter 8: Let’s Not Waste New Tears On Yesterday,” to bring it all together in epic fashion and out through the epilogue, with its sprightly glimmers of the band’s early works.
Ad Meliora not only sets Black Flak And The Nigthmare Fighters on a fascinating new tragectory, but synthesises a careful potpourri of influences that shatters expectations on this one. Black Flak is back stronger now with this really impressive release. They have the basis for some seriously excellent rock that crosses the experimental and art rock line into accessible, eminently relatable territory that rings with youthful ardor for the future!