"I know we were doing something that people were having a hard time categorizing us, putting us in the grunge category. They knew it didn't stick, but they couldn’t really find anything else going on at the time that did fit.” Thus spoke Failure multi-instrumentalist Ken Andrews in a post-reunion interview, alluding to the fact that being ahead of your time doesn't always breed success.
During the course of their initial incarnation, the Los Angeles alternative rock pioneers spent half a decade dwelling in the substantial shadows cast by various nineties grunge leviathans and despite only clipping the edge of the genre that proved so dominant at the time suffered from the resulting confusion regarding their somewhat unique sound. Far from living up to their name however, Failure rose to formidable heights amongst fans worldwide, culminating in 1996's stunning space rock swansong Fantastic Planet an album that went on to become a cult classic, not to mention the significant influence it had on many of today's rock and metal heavyweights (take a bow Tool and Cave In). Sadly, with label troubles came commercial underperformance and coupled with personal issues the subsequent dissolution of a much underrated band.
The remarkable thing about The Heart Is a Monster is that it sounds entirely like a Failure album, yet in spite of the substantial gap between releases it bears no trace of age: the quirky melodies that shouldn't work but do; the richly layered, textured experimentations; the expansive soundscapes; all are present and accounted for, led all the while by Ken Andrews’ distinctive voice and a slick album dynamic that rarely wavers throughout.
Opening the album is Segue 4; the first of six interlude tracks that will have long-time fans slavering at the comprehension that Heart not only supersedes Fantastic Planet, but directly follows on from where the band left off nineteen years ago. The overall comparable sensation though is one of studiousness and a focus on instrumentation that marks this as a separate entity to its more chord-driven predecessor. Some of the strongest moments are led and dictated by Andrews' thundering bass guitar (Ken plays the majority of the bass on the album) which maintains its punch and conspicuous presence around the defining alternative rock stomp of Hot Traveler and the post-hardcore chill-out vibe of newly-recorded oldie Petting The Carpet.
Greg Edwards' guitar melodies are equally dominant, experimenting with various sounds and tones whilst exuding the band’s trademark dissonant melody. The hulking space rock anthem A.M. Amnesia is the sound of a band on top form as it swirls around a gigantic chorus and Kellii Scott's pounding percussion. It's not all as glisteningly catchy as this, but Failure's destination was never the ostentatious realm of cheap hooks and arena rock; the whimsical prog-pop of Come Crashing and the effects-laden Counterfeit Sky are both etched with the mark of exceptional songwriting.
The diversity within the album is notable, especially when considering its unwavering allegiance throughout to Failure's signature sound, conjuring everything from Type O Negative's lush gothic atmospherics (the sprawling climax of the spine-tingling Snow Angel) to Pink Floyd's otherworldly melodiousness (the David Lynch ode of Mulholland Dr.) and a slice of sleazy groove-rock that Queens of the Stone Age would be proud of (Atom City Queen).
As the mellow dreamscapes of I Can See Houses drip into the final segue, The Heart Is a Monster can henceforth be seen as nothing less than a stunning return to existence by a band who have never truly lost their form, and a genuinely welcome comeback from a trio of criminally overlooked innovators. This is no quick cash-in or momentary nostalgic circumstance it is the product of a band whose vision never wavered; a band who have returned to finish what they started. At eighteen tracks and over sixty minutes long, the one thing that Failure did bring with them from their former life is their competence in writing and delivering a true album in every sense of the word, and although perhaps not clipping the lofty apex of the practically-perfect-in-every-way Fantastic Planet, The Heart Is a Monster comes incredibly close.
Digital - 29th June
CD - 17th July
Vinyl - August 2015