2021 marks a decade since the best and most explosive Funeral For A Friend record, ‘Welcome Home Armageddon!’
Released on March 14th through Distiller Records in the U.K. and via Good Fight Music over in the U.S., I have no idea why ‘Welcome Home Armageddon!‘ isn’t spoken of with the same reverence as ‘Casually Dressed & Deep In Conversation‘ (2003) or even ‘Hours‘ (2005). For this is Funeral For A Friend’s best record; like a relevant, direct sequel to those first two much-loved albums. I will forever die on this hill, over and over again, day in and day out, like a famous-less, post-hardcore Bill Murray.
Want sharp lyrical honesty, emotional performances, Matthew Davies-Kreye’s singing and drummer Ryan Richards‘ screaming dynamic, super-charged choruses, and their blending of metal riffage, hardcore passages, and huge melodic hooks? You want basically ALL the things that make up the DNA of Funeral For A Friend’s sound during their beloved 2000s era? Then ‘Welcome Home Armageddon!‘ should be your go-to release of theirs if you cannot get enough of their earlier works. It’s the most “them” album; a genuine show-stopping release. Featuring the strongest track-flow of any of their albums, their most consistent songwriting, the punchiest production they had up until ‘Conduit‘ (2013) courtesy of engineer/producer Romesh Dodangoda, zero filler, and an end-of-the-world theme that was topical as we moved closer towards that supposed Mayan doomsday in 2012. There’s not a single skippable track present.
‘Welcome Home Armaggedon!‘ arrived after a weird period for the Welsh group. Not that the rocky ‘Tales Don’t Tell Themselves‘ (2007) or the decent ‘Memory & Humanity (2008) are bad records – they both have their moments – but they definitely don’t hit the same way as their infinitely more popular and successful predecessors did. So this fifth album was a return to form in every sense of the over-used phrase, but it was honest. You believed each lyric and riff off this bad boy. Hell, everything from this album’s sessions, including ‘Serpents In Solitude‘, was golden. Even the B-sides were good! It was FFAF sounding reinvigorated, renewed, almost like a new band.
‘Welcome Home Armageddon!‘ features the sickest one-two punch of any FFAF record: the serene 44-second guitar opening movement, ‘This Side Of Brightness,’ immediately followed up by the cascading melodic hardcore of ‘Old Hymns.’ ‘This Side Of Brightness‘ (also the name of a wonderful Thursday song) is one of the rare times I’ve liked an album using such a short introduction. You see this used in rock and metalcore a lot these days, but without any rhyme or reason, these tiny interludes that don’t benefit the songs that follow them. But on ‘Welcome Home Armageddon!‘, it’s a great opening set-up, like a finger hovering over the big red button, before being slammed down as the remaining tracks make up the rushing, radiated heatwave. Driven along by Ryan’s landslide fills and punk beats, and Kris Coombs-Roberts‘ awesome alternate-picking technique, ‘Old Hymns‘ is one of the coolest FFAF tracks pre their hardcore turnaround that followed this outing (as ‘High Castles‘ later indicated), and it’s a very nostalgic track. Though not only because it’s now ten years old and is being written about in a retrospective article, but genuinely through Matthew’s remorseful lyrics in the chorus: ‘I used to mean something to you, but now I’m tired and I’m alone.”
Thematically, ‘Front Row Seats To The End Of The World,’ the album’s third song (and this album’s first taste of Ryan’s screaming) fits into the doom-sayer vibe of ‘Welcome Home Armageddon!‘ nicely with that title. Yet it carries a personal end rather than a full-blown apocalypse. That being the potential end of the band itself leading up to this 2011 LP: tough conversations, family commitments, fights, disagreements. That inner turmoil comes out in Matthew’s self-aware chorus lines about suffering from writer’s block: “I tried to write something meaningful, but I feel I’ve lost my stride. Can’t think of anything witty or flattering tonight.” Which is why its music video, compiled of live touring footage, is poignant: the band survived their own annihilation and endured. A metaphor you could liken to the (perhaps misguided) faith in humanity’s survival that this record tackles.
‘Sixteen‘ is this riff-bending, upbeat and hooky post-hardcore track that sounds like an uncovered relic from the ‘Hours‘ days. It’s a great example of how these guys often connected the musical tone to the theme of their songs. ‘Sixteen‘ is a spunky, melodic punk track about the convictions held in our youths, feeling “young and defenceless” against the world, and the unstoppable passing of time. About how we end up “crumpled” and “discarded” like old magazines. Like the best FFAF songs, it’s sad in its tone but is so resonant and fist-punching in its powerful delivery.
FFAF’s intersecting points of hardcore, metal and punk rear their colossal heads on burning cuts like ‘Aftertaste,’ the volcanic ‘Broken Foundation‘ and the weapons-grade melodic hardcore of ‘Damned If You Do, Dead If You Don’t.’ These are the fastest, punkiest songs of this era in their career, and they’re so goddamn exciting to this day to indulge in. By contrast, on the gloomier ‘Medicated‘, one of the most melancholic tracks of Funeral’s entire career barring ‘1%‘ and ‘Drive‘, we see new bassist Richard Boucher really getting to shine on a dynamic song about mental health and being “glorified spectators” to the mess around ourselves. One that contrasts the lighter, poppier ‘Owls (Are Watching)‘ a few songs earlier; a heartfelt track discussing the impermanence of humans and how the world will outlast us, viewed through the eyes of the fauna that watch us pass by “like ships in the night.”
Residing as the album’s longest piece, we have the titular apocalypse at the front door, one that was originally written on an acoustic guitar. And you can hear that origin when a new clean guitar figure arrives after the three-minute mark, sounding like a continuation of what ‘This Side Of Brightness‘ did in the album’s opening minute. It arrives in time with a dynamic instrumental from the other members, a score that softly moves under Matthew’s telling lyrics of “All these mistakes I have made” and “So I try and I try, to cover up every little lie I told“, repeating multiple times as humming melodies and vocal harmonies create an acapella-like, subtle end. Everything preceding this final section is the initial mushroom cloud blast, but that finale is the quiet, cold and still aftermath.
As is made clear by these lyrics, and by Rianne Rowlands‘ cartoonish Nuclear Family artwork, ‘Welcome Home Armageddon!‘ is all about embracing the end.
“A friend of mine was mentioning how he felt that the best thing for the planet was for the human race to just drop dead and at times I can see and understand his way of thinking but a big part of me has this (probably) misguided faith in humanity to kind of steer the ship in the right direction for a change. So Welcome Home Armageddon is the idea of patiently waiting for the end to arrive at your doorstep and give you a nice big hug.” – Matthew on the album’s title.
For me, this works on a macro level – looking at where the world was at during the time of recording and writing, and the draining mindset felt by so many – but also on the micro-level of the band themselves. What with the group pushing past any potential break-ups and this also being Ryan’s last release with Funeral; he joined on the ‘Four Ways To Scream Your Name‘ EP back in 2003.
In the refrain of ‘Broken Foundation,’ Matthew belts out “Broken foundation, buried underneath all the smiles, to make the emptiness complete.” Because it’s an album of generational bruises and societal emptiness as depression takes root, something that’s only grown more prevalent and uglier over the last decade. ‘Damned If You Do, Dead If You Don’t‘ is about people’s obsession with destruction and inaction, and ‘Man Alive‘ is about the soul-crippling process of gruelling 9-5’s over the course of a lifetime until a breaking point is reached. ‘Spinning Over The Island‘ about forfeiting over control and never learning from our mistakes. Mistakes being a core part of the eponymous song; how we hide from them, ignore them, make excuses and try to get away with these little white fibs. Whether it’s a single individual or a government body, the message is clear: we directly or inadvertently enact our own ends.
Now, on a lighter note, who’s dick do I have to suck in order to get this thing on streaming services!?