June 17th marked a full decade since From Autumn To Ashes put out their final release as a band. Looking back at said release in retrospect now is honestly depressing. As this sorely underrated band’s last offering as a unified group was actually their live CD, ‘Live at Looney Tunes’ (released via Vagrant Records). For those who don’t know, Looney Tunes is a record store in West Babylon, New York that would sometimes play host to live shows. From Autumn To Ashes played such a gig in January 2008, and you can find live footage from the day in question still online. And man, it’s kinda miserable to watch it now ten years later down the track.
The crowd present is keen, yes, but there’s no room to move around or do anything except awkwardly stand there. The band is doing the best they can with what they’ve got, and the place just looks dead in terms of energy. Unlike the group’s raw, energetic and infinitely larger Rock Am Ring set from back in 2007, these smaller gigs were not the kind of shows From Autumn To Ashes should’ve playing by this point. Given their strong output, it was such a shame they didn’t blow up better off the back of great records like 2003’s ‘The Fiction We Live‘ or my personal favourite, 2007’s ‘Holding A Wolf By Its Ears‘ – one of my most cherished albums of all-time.
A week before this live release dropped in 2008, the band suddenly announced they were taking an “indefinite hiatus.” Frontman Francis Mark commented on this break, saying that it just felt like From Autumn To Ashes‘ time was up:
“At this point I feel that we have accomplished everything we could have hoped for with FATA. It doesn’t feel much like a break up. Just feels like the end. It’s complete. I would say that we are going on indefinite hiatus because the term breakup suggests a more negative circumstance. There have been no quarrels between band members. It is also not a question of fan support because we are lucky to have some of the most loyal and impassioned friends a band could ask for. Thank you again for the overwhelming support of our last album.”
It wasn’t quite the end, though. Francis and guitarist Rob Lauritson started the short-lived Warship, with Mark also forming Tidal Arms later, whereas lead guitarist Brian Deneeve and Emanuel singer Matthew Breen together created the even shorter-lived Summer Law. Jeff Gretz returned to drumming for his old band Zao. Brian also formed a new band called Get Involved; a bit of a 2000’s “super-group” consisting of Thursday’s Tucker Rule and former Glassjaw guitarist, Todd Weinstock.
These other projects aside, From Autumn To Ashes (FATA) did eventually return. Their Twitter account revived in October 2014, with a posted picture of their debut album, 2001’s ‘Too Bad You’re Beautiful‘. Later in November 2014, they posted a rather telling lyric from ‘Kansas City 90210‘ – “If I wanted to make a comeback would kids receive me?/Unemployment, I’ve been ruined by young hands clapping.” Then in late November, 2014 FATA reunited at Amnesia Rockfest in June 2015.
However, there was a hiccup in the band’s return in July, 2015, with Francis being charged in Michigan with “maintaining a drug house”. Which he later clarified in a public statement, saying: “I turned myself in and was not arrested. The alleged drug house in question was merely a medicinal marijuana facility. I speak not only for myself but on behalf of From Autumn To Ashes that we will make up the dates as soon as we possibly can. Thank you for the years of support and see you soon.“)
Ever since then, however, there’s been a few live shows. Yet their latest social media posts end in 2017, with nothing else coming out about shows or new releases. And that’s pretty much it for FATA. They’re a band that probably won’t be as well-remembered as the years tick on by. Well, not if I can fuckin’ help it!
“Stare into my eyes/Rake your nails across my skin/I know the reason embers of you scatter as you breathe”
After forming in 2000 under the name Who’s to Blame (FATA is a way better acronym than WTB, anyway), the line-up included Francis Mark (clean vocals, drums), screamer and frontman Benjamin Perri, lead guitarist Stephen Salvio, bassist, Mike Pilato and rhythm guitarist Scott Gross. Described as “melody and lushness meets brutality” by Allmusic.com’s Alex Henderson, the group released their debut LP, the angsty and unrefined ‘Too Bad You’re Beautiful‘ within a year come 2001. Under the dress of relationships ending bittersweetly is the outfit that this record wears hard throughout. ‘Chloroform Perfume‘ doesn’t get anymore poetic about the ending of relationships with Francis’s emotional clean singing delivery. And the sampled intro of ‘Take Her To The Music Store‘ also quotes season four of Dawson’s Creek for extra teenage love-gone-awry brownie points.
‘Too Bad You’re Beautiful’ is an imperfect snapshot of the band’s earlier years. Those heavier, almost-out-of-place guitar chugs where you can tell they were listening to the hardcore of the time; those thrashier sections and Orange County metalcore breakdowns; the raw screaming that’s all over the damn place – it’s pretty messy. But it all kinda works. In songs like ‘The Royal Crown vs. Blue Duchess’ and ‘Capeside Rock‘, you can see the hallmarks of not only other post-hardcore peers like Glassjaw, Thursday, American Nightmare, and pg.99 at the time (and later on, Atreyu, to be fair), but also where From Autumn To Ashes would go next. It’s a rough listen, for sure, but it’s a start and it’s the beginning that From Autumn To Ashes needed. For a lot of people – myself included – listening to this album now in 2018 is just one big flashback session, for better and for worse.
This debut was also produced and engineered by some totally unknown guy at the time by the name of Adam Dutkiewicz. (Adam also provided additional guitar and vocals on ‘Reflections‘ and ‘Short Stories with Tragic Endings‘; even adding some double bass on the latter track too). Yeah nah, it’s not like we’ve all never heard of his name since, right? On top of that, there’s some added female vocals from One True Thing’s Melanie Wills on ‘Short Stories with Tragic Endings‘ to contrast Benjamin’s harsh screams, and Mike’s sister, Victoria Pilato, lends some slow, moving violins to the same song. Oh, and if you thought that bands like Perth’s Saviour were the first to mix dynamic melodic hardcore with female singing then I’m gonna need you to sit down for a second.
“I’m not wishing anymore, I’m not writing songs for you/I sleep better in the dark, I’m not doing this for you.”
It’s from here that FATA really tighten up their ship’s bulwark; a strong push in each of their sound’s directional extremes, heavy or otherwise. What with their solid second album ‘The Fiction We Live’ landing in 2003 and being a more aggressive, more well-rounded release. Ain’t no one gonna dispute that, less their 2000’s scene music credibility be forever revoked. Tracks like fan-fave ‘The After Dinner Payback’ is proof of that quality and also why a lot of these songs became live set staples since release. Including songs like fellow single ‘Milligram Smile‘, the bleak-as-hell ‘No Trivia‘, the beautiful heart-ache of ‘Autumns Monologue‘, and mid-album gem, ‘The Second Wrong Makes You Feel Right‘.
The Garth Richardson produced album (It Dies Today, Atreyu, Sick Of It All, Shihad) features a more prominent role from Francis and his clean singing. What with four songs here having zero screaming: ‘No Trivia‘, ‘Autumns Monologue‘, the chilling acoustic piece of ‘The Fiction We Live‘, (‘Autumns Monologue‘ is actually an extended re-working of this title track, featuring another collaboration from Melanie Wills), and closer ‘I’m the Best at Ruining My Life‘. Self-deprecation and self-loathing was definitely a running trend for FATA, if you couldn’t already tell. Yet what this sophomore album nails is a greater degree of profound poignancy than their debut LP, rather than laughable and somewhat cringey teenage-angst. All hinting at the group’s immense song-writing that they’d strike upon just two albums later, but we’ll get to that soon enough.
15 years ago, and now in retrospect, you could see FATA toiling away beneath the popular surface of alternative/heavy, underground music with this album; just existing below the bubbling surface but not quite breaking through. During this time, you can plot out how a lot of their peers started to pass them by.
In this same year of 2003, Thrice would explode in popularity with the sensational ‘The Artist In The Ambulance’; Fall Out Boy were destined to be the next big thing with their pop-punk powerhouse, ‘Take This To Your Grave’; and while their weakest record, Brand New’s first outing ‘Your Favourite Weapon’ was the start of something huge. Even in 2002 before the release of ‘The Fiction We Live‘, we saw Taking Back Sunday’s classic emo-rock cornerstone ‘Tell All Your Friends’ drop; The Used released one of the best debuts of that era; Glassjaw unleashed one of the best records of all goddamn time with ‘Worship & Tribute’; and future scene-heroes My Chemical Romance were just a random alternative rock band on the New Jersey block, armed with some album called ‘I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love’. (‘Headfirst For Halos‘ has got to be one of the best MCR songs). Even a year after FATA’s second effort, Hawthorne Heights were writing the anthems for Warped Tour youth with songs like ‘Ohio Is For Lovers‘; the kind of wider impact that FATA never quite hit.
Of course, as clearly outlined from the material of ‘The Fiction We Live‘ and it charting to Billboard’s #73 at the time, the band were on the up. But it’s after this release that things go somewhat sour for FATA in terms of output.
“Abandon Your Best Friends./It’s Demanding/And Filled With Detriment.”
2005’s ‘Abandon Your Friends’ is undoubtedly the black sheep of the band’s discography, and it gets a lot of hate, despite it being their highest charting album (#58 on Billboard). I’ve met a lot of FATA fans over the years and I’ve literally never heard someone say it was their favourite release. My own anecdotal evidence aside, this lends doubly to the online realm. Mainly because it was the band trying something different for their sound, being a little bit more experimental and injecting more melody into it. Yet it didn’t quite work out that well; for both critics and fans alike. It may have sold decently but it didn’t leave as much of an impact in the long run other than being the odd one out of their four records.
While it’s not the best album, I do think this release gets unfair treated for it’s subdued and apathetic alternative rock leanings; perhaps best embodied by ‘Long To Go‘. ‘Abandon Your Friends’ showed a softer, more intimate side to From Autumn To Ashes, as seen by the closing title track’s stripped back instrumentals and its hard-on for piano (tracked by guitarist Brian Deneeve who replaced Scott Gross after ‘The Fiction We Live‘). Sure, songs like ‘Where Do You Draw The Line‘ and ‘Short for Show‘ were still the heavy metalcore From Autumn To Ashes people knew and loved but the songwriting just wasn’t there. Most of these 12 tracks just didn’t “pop” like past material, regardless of style. While a melancholic release, it’s not an overly memorable listen either. It was a step forward in some ways, but it also took two steps backwards in others places.
Most importantly, this third record showed a heavily increased focus on Francis’s singing parts. He’d always been a solid drummer but now his vocals enveloped FATA’s sound even more so. As the band would later confirm, this was because screamer Benjamin Perri hadn’t contributed all that much lyrically or vocally as he had on previous efforts, with his apparent discontent for being in the band supposedly growing larger around this time. Which also explains why this record’s lyrics have a different tone and pacing to them than older FATA albums, all coinciding with Francis’s role jump from drummer/co-singer right up to drummer/frontman. This, as it turns out, is where the band really hits their stride.
“Dead meat against your broken bones/Thrown in a ditch to die alone.”
2007’s fourth LP, ‘Holding A Wolf By The Ears’, is just that: the sheer frustration and the rage that comes with being held back. Whether it’s by old friends, ex-lovers, former business partners, society, the grind of daily life, your bandmates, or even yourself and your own doubts; the effect is all the same. And this a central idea that breathes into every second of what is the band’s greatest LP. Seriously, the dive in quality with ‘Abandon All Your Friends‘ to the surge upwards for the dizzying peak of ‘Holding A Wolf By The Ears‘ is insane. Shit, even the album’s B-sides – ‘Hang The Mason’, ‘What Good Is My Virtue’ and ‘Y2K‘ – were good too!
Following the teaser March release of the ‘These Speakers Don’t Always Tell the Truth‘ EP, this record dropped in April of 2007, and it without a doubt shows off FATA’s greatest songwriting skills. It displays their strongest and most consistent musicianship; their most memorable choruses; their hookiest riffs; and their most vehement musical delivery of pain, hatred, bitterness, and poignancy too. It’s a career high-light built from the band learning from the successes, failures, and experimentation of the three albums that had come before it. ‘Holding A Wolf By The Ears’ really is their highest accomplishment; getting right down to brass tacks about what the band’s sound is and what it could be.
When I say that ‘Holding A Wolf…’ is “raw”, I don’t mean like the dated sound quality of ‘Too Bad You’re Beautiful’. I mean that Brian McTernan’s engineering and production is raw; authentically capturing the band at that point in time to the absolute fullest extent. When I say that this record is “aggressive”, I don’t mean that it merely sounds pissed-off or angry; I imply that it is downright violent and standoffish; like a bloodthirsty wolf constantly stalking its prey and closing in for the kill. When I say that this 11-track record is consistent and void of filler, I’m dead serious: it doesn’t get any fuckin’ tighter than this in terms of awesome track-listing flow. This really was FATA turning things up to 11 in terms of song structure, lyricism, anger, and instrumental proficiency, but then remaining at that impressive yet exhaustive height for the entire run-time.
‘Holding A Wolf…‘ was the first FATA album without Benjamin Perri, and to be brutally honest, they didn’t need him. Francis outshines his former bandmate superbly in the vocal department; remaining as their leading man ever since. Despite playing all of the drums and any programming required too, the new frontman at the time doesn’t sound spread thin at all. As a drummer myself, I feel that him writing and performing the drum parts also lent nicely to how he’d push the songs in the right direction vocally too. His rabid snarls and vicious, slightly higher-pitched screaming is just so frenzied here that it gifted the band’s music with a whole new serrated edge to strike with. Yet his clean vocals were as smooth and as real as ever too – catchy melodies, infectious hooks and all. You got the classic FATA clean-heavy/light-dark vocal dynamic from just one guy on this LP with Francis’s honest, powerful vocal performances.
‘Holding A Wolf…‘ perhaps borrows part of it’s title (or the idea, at least) from a 1820 Thomas Jefferson quote discussing slavery and the Missouri question, which reads: “But, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other“. (Which may also explain why a monologue is used to close out ‘A Goat In Sheep’s Rosemary‘ about what America was really built upon in terms of values). This whole record is more or less Francis’s manifesto about societal ills, political dissent, American history, modern nihilism, and his own personal progress matched with the world’s larger changes and issues. Which is that’s what makes it so goddamn gripping to listen to and peel away at.
There’s plenty of anti-wealth lyrics, as seen with “Poverty builds character and spoils breed arrogance/rather consort with the low and decadent” from ‘Daylight Slaving’. There are themes of political dehumanization with “Innocent victims/They don’t exist, who told you this?/Outfit the nation with a blindfold/And a crucifix” on the chamber-ready ‘Everything I Need’. Another big thing for Francis as the lyricist also seems to be the importance of history and the curing of ignorance, as seen with “If it were not for this Extensive bug collection/I would know not what I’ve found/This world would still be flat, Mary would be a virgin/And I would still be sleeping sound” from the penultimate ‘A Goat In Sheep’s Rosemary‘.
But beyond the politics of the album, there are more personal tellings to be found too. There’s feelings of loneliness and being lost in one’s life-views as stated on the darker ‘Delusions of Grandeur‘; “I need a meaning I can get behind/To be alone is to be alive/A better message to subscribe to/To be alone is to be alive“, as well as how “comfort is getting too expensive“. There’s this need for both acceptance and escape during the open-diary ‘Recounts And Recollections‘, with this lyrical gem: “You’ll never want what you get/But failing is just as sweet as success/I’ve tried them both and have no preference/So open your eyelid, scan the horizon/Pick a direction and/Don’t stop driving.” And there’s metaphors of being some lowly worker in a larger corporate entity and being a faceless soul in a relationship. As defined by “I am only what you made me/Now I am a reflection of your wealth/And if you think, you think you hate me now/You only hate yourself” on the vitroilic banger of ‘Sensory Deprivation Adventure‘.
“To all the pioneers driven by suspicion/The old world is gone and/We keep wishing for a new frontier/To sink our teeth in”
Beyond all of that, the actual performances and songs here are great too. The nihilistic sentiments and assaulting instrumentals of gate-crashing opener ‘Deth Kult Social Club‘ is a lesson intensity and then some. Newish bassist, Josh Newton, provides killer and brooding bass riffs on the brisk funeral procession of ‘Travel’ propel the track along at lightning speed. Whereas his more subtle licks during the breaks of ‘Deth Kult Social Club‘ give him more nuance. The guitar interplay and riff-output between Brian Deneeve and Rob Lauritson on the unrelenting and urgent ‘Daylight Slaving’ is a standout moment; a big part of what makes that song so damned good. The pair’s harmonies during ‘On The Offensive‘ are so slick, and the melodic metal lead work during ‘Love It Or Left It‘ gives the track great new energy.
Of all FATA’s metalcore/hardcore formula and light-heavy dynamics, one of the best examples of such songwriting is easily ‘Sensory Deprivation Adventure‘. The massive contrasting gap between the sparse, twinkling guitars and percussive bridge section and the song’s chaotic verses is just fucking huge. ‘Underpass Tutorial‘ embraces the band’s busy and swirling rhythms and guitar riffs, ensuring that the record’s late game events don’t fall flat in the slightest. And Jesus Christ, that spine-chilling bridge in ‘Pioneers‘ where Francis eerily sings over kick-snare patterns and distant guitars, “And those who resisted, were dragged out from their homes/this necklace was fashioned out of their teeth and bones”? Fuck, I hum that back to myself more frequently than I can ever recall!
Look, to be crass, I would honestly give up my left nut to see From Autumn To Ashes live. Or, at the very least, to tell Francis in person about the massive positive impact that his band’s final studio album and his lyrics here have had on my life. ‘Holding A Wolf By The Ears‘ just one of those timeless albums for me.
I honestly feel that you can hear the final musical act of desperation within ‘Holding A Wolf By The Ears’. That you can almost sense in these 11 songs that the band wouldn’t be around much longer. As it sadly turns out, they weren’t, with the band breaking up 14 months later in June 2008. There are a handful of records I think you can find a very similar tone of finality in. Refused’s ‘The Shape Of Punk To Come’ (1998) instantly comes to mind; a record so hell-bent on the protection of authentic artistic expression that it downright imploded the band. At The Drive-In’s seminal ‘Relationship Of Command’ (2001) is right up there as well; such wild and crazy energy is hard to pin down for long, let alone recapture time and time again in the moment. On a more recent and far closer local front, I think you can also hear this in the air of Sierra’s last release, the ‘Reality Redefined’ EP (2014), as well.
So, with all this in mind here’s to what could’ve been for New York’s From Autumn To Ashes. Maybe in another li,fe more people would’ve caught onto it and the band would’ve been something so much larger; hopefully destined for better greatness.