It took me a long time to review Behind The Devil’s Back because I was so busy listening to it. Over and over and over again. I was going to force an angle from which to critique it; talk about the state of British rock music, how at present conventional rock seems pretty unfashionable, bar a few acts and artists. I’m going to shy away from that though. Reasoning and justifications will only detract from a record that’s more than capable of speaking for itself.
Opening track ‘Sharp Tongues’ is a veritable feast of bouncy, djenty guitar-percussion combos. Front man Charlie Simpson displays everything his significant vocal chords are capable of and we also see the beginning of the inclusion of the band’s newfound penchant for retro computer game synth noise (see side project GUNSHIP from guitarist Alex Westaway and bassist Dan Haigh), where previous albums tended to opt for pretty sounding string parts. The synths will come to define Behind The Devil’s Back, making for an altogether broodier sounding record. Used to accentuate Omar Abidi’s drums, heavy, thumping synths are satisfying and successful throughout.
This album revels in discord, of which title track ‘Behind The Devil’s Back’ is a prime example, switching from melodic choruses to heavy, thumping synth-backed breakdowns without warning. It can’t help but bring a smile to your face, and you can tell the band had fun making it. On top of that, there’s barely a straightforward vocal on the whole thing; everything’s been layered and harmonised, deftly flicking between major and minor keys. Together, this all makes for an intricate and visceral listening experience.
Kerrang have called this Fightstar’s ‘heaviest offering to date’. It certainly is that, but BTDB demonstrates all kinds of influences, including the impressive and delicate pop sensibilities demonstrated throughout Simpson’s career and Fightstar’s back catalogue. ‘Overdrive’ has an absurdly poppy chorus, legitimised solely by its playful djenty interludes, and that’s not a criticism! It’s delightfully fun and self-aware, lightening an album which conceived by another band, might have suffered from taking itself too seriously.
Onward, and ‘More Human Than Human’ has a great retro sound to it. It’s a good song, despite (or perhaps thanks to) the cavernous reverb applied to everything. It gives us a real taste of what feels a fuller vocal style from Westaway than was present on previous albums. It’s interesting, and good to hear him take the lead, but his voice still feels most effective when used to contrast Simpson’s gravelly tones with cleanliness and clarity.
Lead single ‘Animal’ remains a high point of the album; well rounded and exemplary of Fightstar at the height of their powers. Anyway, I won’t bang on about it here, I wrote it a review all of its own.
Fightstar have always dabbled in the ‘properly heavy’, including moments of thrash and aggression which not only round out their albums but prove the band’s versatility. Grand Unification had ‘Build An Army’, One Day Son… ‘Deathcar’ and ‘Tannhäuser Gate’ and Be Human had ‘Damocles’. Behind The Devil’s Back is a heavier album altogether, so it only makes sense that ‘Sink With The Snakes’ is a fast-paced moment of out-and-out lunacy with, you guessed it, a cheery melodic chorus. It’s been mentioned on social media that BTDB is heavier than Bring Me The Horizon’s newest album. It’s also heavier than recent material from heavy metal heavyweights Trivium. If there was anyone still questioning Simpson’s legitimacy as a serious rock vocalist, this ought to finally shut them up.
The album draws to a close with ‘Dive’. It’s soft and airy and slower paced than most of the record, but hold on for the last minute and the closing refrain that you could listen to on a loop for hours.
Fightstar are one of a very few UK bands who were making exciting music in 2006 and are still making exciting music. In Behind The Devil’s Back they’ve created a consummate rock record sitting comfortably at the heavier end of Post-Hardcore, yet which achieves a catchy, poppy listenability. This ludicrous, grin-inducing excellence deserves to sit Fightstar comfortably at the forefront of British rock music; we can only hope it gets the recognition it deserves.