It’s easy to think nu-metal is dead, the days of baseball cap wearing young men rapping away with turntables and thick guitars chugging away in the background seem so far away now in a world of progressive metal bands and blackgaze solo-projects, but Fame on Fire don’t just carry the spirit of the genre with them in “Welcome to the Chaos” they rejuvenate and reinvent it, splicing in thoroughly modern and diverse elements that create and album that whilst far from complex, manages to toe the line between nostalgia and freshness and create a listen that is immensely satisfying.
Following a slightly pointless intro track that bands seem to love to throw in these days, the first real track of “Welcome to the Chaos” which bares the same name as the album explodes into life, with a thick and almost djenty guitar performing a dirty riff that actually wouldn’t sound of place in a dubstep song, things quickly calm and one of the first real highlights of the album becomes immediately apparent, the Chester Bennington-esque vocals of Bryan Kuznitz. They’re pitch perfect, ever so slightly harsh and importantly, they’re emotionally expressive enough to add a layer of meaning to proceedings that make the message of the tracks feel heartfelt. The self-titled track is a great introduction to the bands sound with its largely poppy choruses, electronic music inspired tension building sections and it’s hardcore inspired breakdowns, complete with occasional harsh vocals.
Happily, the energy is largely kept going in the next song, “Ketamine” which is an anthemic and honest reflection on addiction as a response to insomnia and poor mental health, the lyrics are solid and I really enjoy the hyper-contemporary sound with the run along guitars and digital flairs that adorn the composition. It’s unmistakably rooted in a genre that died 10 years ago, but it’s presented in such a fresh way that it feels super cutting edge and I can absolutely see songs like this being something with huge widespread appeal, which is perhaps why the band chose this song as one of “Welcome to the Chaos’s” singles.
Occasionally as a reviewer, when an album like this lands on your proverbial desk, and you do the obligatory 15-20 mins of initial research, it’s easy to roll your eyes and have immediately low expectations. “Oh good, radio-oriented metal music, bet this won’t be derivative and devoid of risks” you find yourself thinking, and as much as I try to enter all reviews with a clear mind, I’m only human. How stupid it was to be human here though, there’s plenty of creative risks present in Fame On Fire’s music, the sound is profoundly distinctive and the quality of the compositions immediately displays the genuine passion and thought that soaks every second of the albums runtime. It’s good to be forced to eat humble pie sometimes by an album, and seldom has it tasted so good.
Next up is “Cut Throat” which is a vitriol spewing, venom spitting, rage soaked track that is guaranteed to get you riled up and leave your dry wall fearing for its life. It’s genuinely harsh even if it’s simple and that harshness is presented addictively and in a way that doesn’t go over the top and consequentially feel trite or unfocused. It’s probably the best part of the album and the song I felt the most engaged with personally, which is saying something on an album that I would more generally describe as “engaging” anyway.
The somewhat cringily named “Emo Shit” charges forth as the fourth entry on “Welcome to the Chaos” featuring upcoming rapper Kody Lavigne and being a smidge poppier than the previous songs on the album. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a poppier approach though, especially when it lends some listenability and flair to proceedings. It actually has some resemblance to later Linkin Park work, which could prove somewhat divisive but, in my opinion, works well here.
A feature of “Welcome to the Chaos” well worth noting is just how well done the production is. Often times, radio friendly rock and metal music can be overproduced, devoid of grit and frequently ends up being something that drives away more grizzled and harshness seeking fans of hard music. Thankfully here though, the production decisions are spot on. By and large, the mix is not too loud, instruments sit where they should and they sound fresh and crisp, but there’s also prominent distortion on the guitars and an element of unaltered rawness to the percussion that supports the stormy riffs and the despondent or angry nature of the record in a manner that is so crucial to the perceived metal and -core credentials of the album. It’s not just a great technique for drawing in a broader spectrum of listeners, but it’s also something that is invaluable in highlighting the bands wish to come across as genuine and to do something a bit different in a genre that oftentimes all blurs together into a big grey blob of low in the mix guitars and clichéd lyrics.
Now firmly in the midst of the center of what “Welcome to the Chaos” has to offer, track number six, “Lost in Doubt” starts with a mood pop-esque vocal melody, layering up with a thick bass and eventually evolving into a Weezer style college rock section. The chorus is nothing special here, it’s intensely poppy but it’s pleasant. I would perhaps have to pick this as an example of a song on the record that falls a little bit short of the high standard that exists in other parts of it. It’s fairly inoffensive though it’s just not really something you can say an awful lot about, it sort of breezes by without notice, which is also somewhat in part due to it’s rather short two-and-a-half-minute runtime. If in and of itself it has little to mark it out, it is at least within the context of the album a provider of some degree of sonic variety.
Fortunately, this phenomenon isn’t as a present in “Robbery.” This particular track is quite punky in it’s build up before becoming a fully-fledged nu-metal track in the chorus. The genre blend here is impeccable, it isn’t jarring nor do the individual sections feel derivative. “Robbery” is a welcome display of the punk influences the band likes to mention so much in its press pack, and whilst I would say that “Robbery” is not a punk song through and through, the Hardcore Punk elements are clearly audible here.
I suspect the band won’t be overly happy with the nu-metal label I keep throwing at them here, and I totally understand why. For ages it was a dirty word, something that you labelled a band with because you felt in some way they were dishonest or seeking money, something that boiled the creative efforts of a band down to an unflattering frat boy image. On the other hand though, I am using it here because I think this is the sort of album that reclaims the positive legacy it left. The thing is that nu-metal opened the door for so many people to get into harsher and more extreme music. I remember pulling up a chair from the kitchen into my dad’s study as a young lad and listening to Evanescence as I would watch him play EVE Online, I remember car journeys that were marked distinctly by me and my little brother singing away to Linkin Park’s “Meteora”. Nu-metal opened the door to harsher sounds for me, and Fame on Fire are doing exactly the same thing for a whole new generation of listeners here with their accessible yet still raw and harsh music. It’s so important to give people a way into the harsher genres. That’s not to say this album doesn’t have appeal in its own right beyond being a transitional piece of music, it’s outright good anyway. Not everything has to be tremolo picked darkness from a place that doesn’t see sunlight for three months of a year.
Track number 8, “Signs” steps the intensity right back up again. I particularly enjoy the hardcore style backing guitar with it’s bitty and sharp short notes sticking out over the somewhat noisy and sludgy main body of the song. I wouldn’t say “Signs” was the best song on the album, but it’s a serviceable affair and in fairness, this is pretty deep into the album and unless the style is rapidly changing, the individual effect of songs largely gives way more to considerations of what the do in the wider sense of the album.
Happily, the next song up, “Plastic Heart” is one of the coolest tracks on the album. There’s actually a genuine trap verse, 2022 has brought us trap metal and I am absolutely here for it. Lyrically, the song touches on someone realizing that a partner is actually super shallow and that they don’t really care about the protagonist at all. It’s not a new lyrical theme for a song by any means but it’s done well and is relatively compelling. Overall, “Plastic Heart” is one of the best songs on “Welcome to the Chaos” and I suspect will be the song the album is most remembered for.
“Welcome to the Chaos” is quite a short album at just under 40 minutes of runtime, and yet it feels longer in a way. I think the relatively unique sound of each individual track and the high energy approach most of them bring to the table creates a sort of effect whereby proceedings feel very epic and detailed. This is a great thing to have in an album, it means it can be easily consumed in one sitting without requiring compromises in one’s daily schedule, you can play it whilst waiting somewhere for something, on a daily commute or when you find yourself with 40 minutes to kill in a day, and yet feel enriched and satiated by the listening experience. I love a long form album but it’s not lost on me that when albums as short as this are so compelling that longer albums do become a bit of a hard sell.
The pop centric sensibilities return with track number 10, “Rotting Away.” This track in particular probably represents the best deployment of this particular caveat of “Fame on Fire’s” sound. The catchy melodic opening eventually gives way to a breakdown that contains guttural harsh vocals, heavy thick guitars and anguished lyrical refrains and this hybridization of approaches perfectly represents what the album and band are all about.
Following this up, we have the romantic and wholesome “Back Then” which perhaps leans a little more than other songs into the nostalgia of the bands sound by making a song which would appear itself to be thematically based around the nostalgia of a previous relationship. It’s a good pairing and it works well enough to keep what is compositionally one of the less interesting songs on the album fresh and engaging. I think I probably would prefer a harsher song at this point in “Welcome to the Chaos” though and perhaps it is to the detriment to the album that songs like this are where they are within it.
Approaching the last two songs of the album is disappointing, it’s always a good sign when you don’t want an album to end, occasionally this can manifest itself as a feeling that things are not coming to a conclusive end, but I wouldn’t label “Welcome to the Chaos” with this. I would instead suggest that it lends itself to doing what good art should do and that’s leave you wanting more from the artist. It’s safe to say that from the first 11 tracks alone I am very interested to see what the future holds for the band. This is their sophomore effort and does exactly what a sophomore effort should do, branch out and tackle a bigger scope whilst staying true to itself and showing a compelling core sound.
Launching the final stage of the album is “Jaded” which is fairly standard fair for the album, perhaps itself could be accused of being ever so slightly jaded. It does feel like at this point the bands sound perhaps needs a bit of a switch up, but it’s not boring or poor quality, just lacking the impact of the opening and middle phase of the album. This being said, the crunchy guitars are used to great anthemic effect throughout the song and the vocal performance is nailed on in particular.
Tying everything together is the well-judged album closer, “Dead or Alive.” Pretty much everything included in the album bar rapping and harsh vocals is present here, you’ve got the Mood Pop segments, the trap beat inspired mellow passages and the stormy, coarse guitar laden Nu-Metal choruses. “Dead or Alive” brings things to a conclusive and tidy end, even if it is middle of the road in terms of song quality on the album.
I don’t think I could listen to Fame on Fire’s “Welcome to the Chaos” every day, or perhaps even every week – my general tastes have become too extreme for it. However, I do see myself coming back to this when I just need something engaging but approachable. Moreover, I see many many budding metal fans latching onto this fantastic little album and it becoming a springboard for their future listening adventures, which instantly makes this album worthy of a high overall score to me. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, elitists will scoff at its radio friendly pretentions, those absolutely addicted to melody and who run at the slightest harsh vocal will find the album likely too harsh and abrasive, but there is a colossal (and growing) middle ground of listeners for whom this album could hardly be much better.
Order “Welcome To The Chaos” here.
Released By: Hopeless Records
Release Date: July 22nd 2022
Genre: Metalcore | Nu-Metal
- Bryan Kuznitz / Vocals
- Blake Saul / Guitars
- Alex Roman / Drums, Percussion
- Paul Spiru / Bass
“Welcome to the Chaos” Track-listing:
- Welcome to the Chaos
- Cut Throat
- Emo Shit
- Lost in Doubt
- Plastic Heaty
- Rotting Away
- Back Then
- Dead or Alive
Compelling, innovative and sure to be a springboard for many heavy music fans going into the future, “Welcome to Chaos” has a lot to offer most listeners. It is not a perfect record, occasionally being too poppy for its own good, and suffering from slightly inconsistent song quality, but for the most part, this is an enjoyable and excellently put together album which shows exceedingly high thresholds of potential for Fame on Fire