Released: 2015, Ingrooves Music Group
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
By most measures, hard-to-peg trio Failure lived up – or, perhaps, down – to their name during a three-album run in the mid-'90s. Despite a modest buzz, and a good reputation among their contemporaries, Failure had a comparatively minimal amount of commercial impact with an alt/art/pop/rock/metal sound that was picture perfect for the time period – not to mention major label backing. When they split in 1997, following the monumental Fantastic Planet, they were little more than an afterthought, a band to be mourned by few.
Or so it seemed. Gone, they certainly were not for forgotten. The band's fan base actually grew – albeit modestly - in their absence, largely on the strength of Fantastic Planet, which had surprisingly long legs for an album didn't shift enough units to crack the Billboard chart upon its release. It was a “grower,” as they say, and the album's space-rock dynamics and grand sonic expanses continued to resonate long after Failure folded, and in circles one might not expect. In 2014, Fantastic Planet became a Decibel Magazine Hall of Fame inductee, joining works by the likes of Carcass, Cannibal Corpse, Obituary and Napalm Death.
Failure's return in 2014 with the Fantastic Planet lineup was greeted with far more enthusiasm than the band's first go-round, and a series of shows eventually yielded new music, in the form of The Heart Is A Monster, an album that – like similarly reunited Faith No More's recent Sol Invictus – makes for an amazingly logical follow-up to a predecessor that is now nearly 20 years old.
Indeed, it's introductory opening instrumental, “Segue 4,” carries forward what began on Fantastic Planet, which boasted “Segues” 1, 2 and 3. And like Fantastic Planet, The Heart Is A Monster is a sprawling affair, boasting 18 tracks – six of them “Segues” - and offering more of a post/alt-rock sound.
The metallic edges that were more prominent on Failure's first two albums – and which were echoed by the likewise awesome but under-appreciated Hum back in the day - are delivered here in emphatic, strategic bursts. The rousing riffs that power the choruses of “A.M. Amnesia” and the wondrous “Petting The Carpet,” the guitar screech of “Counterfeit Sky” and “Atom City Queen,” and the persistent grinding bass lines that come and go throughout provide most of the album's heft.
“Fair Light Era” and “The Focus” kick up the tempo and the muscle on the back half, but over the long haul The Heart Is A Monster is more deliberate, graceful and ethereal – getting almost Pink Floyd-like on “Mulholland Dr.” The songs veer from the lush guitars and pop-like catchiness of “Hot Traveler” and “Otherwhere” to the sparse, almost eerie “Come Crashing” where Ken Andrews' typically inviting vocals take a sinister tone as he wonders at its start, “Is there something stuck in your eye?”
With the “Segues” coming almost every other song as the album winds down, they don't seem to serve much purpose other than taking up space. The slow-build “I Can See Houses,” which quivers and quakes like a volcano about to erupt, would have been a suitably grand finale to The Heart Is A Monster. Instead, “Segue 9” closes things in an electronic fuzz that feels like music to a movie's end credits.
Yet given the almost cinematic air of The Heart Is A Monster, I guess we can begrudge Failure that one, even if others are certainly superfluous. And that there are a few too many short instrumentals is a fairly minor complaint for an otherwise fantastic – no pun intended - comeback album. The Heart Is A Monster not only is a welcome return for a band who deserved better the first time around, it should help boost their profile to new fans - and perhaps make a few old timers realize what they were missing in the first place.