A Harder, Faster Record for a Harder, Faster Classroom
Funeral for a Friend came to my attention in 2008, when I was checking out some screamo boy-bands in an auto-generated playlist on the Internet. I can’t imagine a better defense of the virtues of the digital music age than the fact that five years later I am still listening to Memory and Humanity. I committed my hard-earned money to that record based entirely on the strength of that brief encounter. It was a surprising record to me for a couple of reasons. First, it nailed all of what I would call the popularity prerequisites: a group of handsome young European boys screaming out in rage over well-produced, speedy guitar riffage. Secondly, those riffs underlined soaring, sweet, drippy melodic hooks—the sort that make teenagers raise their fists in the air and rage against their homework or explode with inward loathing after they failed yet again to attract the affections of a classmate. Somewhere tonight this record is the soundtrack for a boy sitting alone in his room staring at a photo he snapped of someone looking the other way. A candle drips upon his desk as he drips angst—both of them smoldering in the orangey glow of melancholy—despite fully functional track-lighting. Clearly there’s a lot to be angry about. Don’t even get me started on acne. But having being permanently exorcised from that scene by virtue of my age, I was still able to recognize a curiously underappreciated pop-metal album—a very, very good one.
Conduit tries to hit a little harder. Though I’ve seen the word hardcore thrown around with respect to the band, I hesitate to use it. It’s only hard in the same way that ice cream is—sometimes—and even then, it’s pretty sweet. But the guitars buzz with enough overdrive to stiffen the horns of even the most skeptical metal heads and Pat Lundy’s solid drumming, despite taking second place in the mix, is relentless and scattershot enough to crash its way to the surface routinely.
“High Castles” begins with the grip of a heavy guitar riff but very quickly breaks apart into complex patterns of drums and arrangements. No part of any song on the album seems to hold the band’s attention-deficit focus for longer than a verse or two, when they’re off to another equally brutal delivery. “Spine”, which opens the record with the cascading ring of multiple layers of melodic guitar, eventually gives way to a more snarling metal riff pattern. It’s exactly this sort of start-and-stop nature that gives the whole thing a feeling of relentless urgency. It’s enough to let you get by lyrics like, “You’re strong enough to kill for what you love!”—the last word of which is screamed with an inappropriately placed scorn as though love itself were the problem, not the killing. Or how about “Our words are weapons! Fist by fist”? Incidentally, it’s also my understanding that love is a battlefield.
Matthew Davies-Kreye is blessed with an arguably fortuitous combination of high pitch and vocal rasp which allows him to move freely between two dimensions—genuine emotional crisis and “Twitter is down again—BURN. THE. WORLD!” With the exception of the choruses themselves, there isn’t a verse on this record that isn’t screamed out at one of the three-to-four tones in Matthew’s arsenal of adolescent anguish. Where he does drop down for a moment on “Travelled,” he actually starts to sound off-key—or maybe just unfamiliar. Don’t worry, though—it only lasts a single verse.
If you haven’t guessed by now, there is only one voice we’re able to take seriously and it’s the melodic one—the pot of gold to be found in each of these three-minute black rainbows. “Best Friends and Hospital Beds” is the most rewarding of all of them, which is undoubtedly why it was released as their first single.
All eleven of the songs ring in at just under thirty minutes, which means you don’t get much bang for your buck. I’ve seen longer EPs. But it doesn’t feel like a lesser record, and fans of the band won’t be disappointed with 30 minutes of beefy riffage. If you came in as I did in 2008 on what might have been their most eclectic and defining record, you might find this a little less appealing simply for its lack of emphasis on the melody and dialed up screamo.