HOPESFALL- Arbiter

Hopesfall were one of the better bands to emerge from the mid-2000s post-hardcore gold rush. They possessed the requisite style and sound to ascend with the scene but always had something… more. Their grungy, shifting riffs were reminiscent of Hum or The Smashing Pumpkins rather than just another metal band and their abstract, Deftonsian lyrics seemed to look anywhere but at the same introvert emotions some of their peers obsessed over. But despite all that, they faded away. Unsustainable member turnover, record label quarrels, and a big push at arguably the wrong time (Their third full-length, ‘A Types’, was the record that had marketing and music videos, but the two albums either side of it are Hopesfall’s finest hours) meant the band quietly dissolved, not with a bang but with a whimper. A damn shame.

Over a decade since their last outing though, the North Carolina band are back. And within seconds of opener ‘Faint Object Camera’ roaring into life, it’s clear they’ve returned with their signature sound fully intact. Guitars are dense, drums driving, and, for the most part, Jay Forrest’s voice, both his rough screams and soaring clean vocals, haven’t aged a day.

‘H.A Wallace Space Academy’ is lush, brawny and beautiful, Forrest howling about space and fog and fire while sheets of noise warp and bend around him, ‘C.S. Lucky One’ is a pop song by post-hardcore standards, massively melodic, and if ‘I Catapult’ doesn’t make you want to throw your arms wide open while staring at the stars, you’re not listening loud enough. Perhaps the biggest thrills though, are not immediate. Even the most direct Hopesfall songs have layers but there’s something going on every single second here. There’s the whole 100 seconds of ‘Aphelion’ that (just like the soulful ‘I Can Do This on an Island’ from last album ‘Magnetic North’) aches to be expanded on, the chiming guitar sounds in ‘H.A. Wallace…’, the distorted vocals acting as another instrument at the end of ‘To Bloom’, and so, so much more. Dedicated listeners will still be discovering new elements here when Hopesfall release their next record, even if that takes another ten years.

‘Arbiter’ isn’t perfect. Some of the lyrics cross the line from abstract to anaemic (“There’s something up there, something out there, up there, somewhere” pulls a laughable handbrake up on ‘Bradley Fighting Vehicle’), and if the verses of ‘Tunguska’ seem to ask a little too much of Forrest he sounds plain bad in places in ‘Drowning Potential’. Of course, it could have been flawless and it still wouldn’t shove Hopesfall over the top. This is a dense, challenging record. It’s destined to garner passionate praise, sure, but from a relatively small set of people. Probably people that still have a Hopesfall hoodie buried in the back of their wardrobe somewhere too.

Not a perfect return then but even after being away for ten years, Hopesfall manage to spryly walk the line between brains and brawn, melody and muscle, the nostalgic and the new. It’s so good to have them back. A damn joy.

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