Confession time: I never kept up with Lost. I remember seeing the first episode, feeling somewhat underwhelmed by the premise and never really thinking about it again — until my friend insisted I watch the final episode with him. For those of you who’ve seen the series, you can imagine how confused and disoriented I was. The disparate gap between the first and last episode of that series is so big, regardless of my feelings on either, I just had to see what happened in the middle. (And in case you’re wondering, it ended with a month-long binge watching of the entire series.)
Fifteen years ago, I listened to Infest, the major-label debut from Papa Roach. As a nu-metal kid, I gave it a chance. I really tried. I listened to it more than a few times, but it was rather unimpressive. Compared to the early Korn, Deftones and P.O.D. records, Papa Roach’s brand of third-generation rapcore and nu-metal felt uninspired. It felt crafted to sell, not to invoke emotion.
Much like after watching the first episode of Lost, I just kind of filed them away in my mind and didn’t pay attention to the rest of their career. Well, other than vocalist Jacoby Shaddix hosting MTV’s Scarred, which was essentially a gory, extreme sports version of Americas Funniest Home Videos. Huge fan.
With F.E.A.R. (Face Everything And Rise), Papa Roach’s eighth (!) full-length album, I’m left scratching my head. If I didn’t know this was the other bookend of a fifteen-year career, I’d assume it was a completely different band. Nearly everything familiar to me about Papa Roach is gone. Save for three verses (in “Gravity” and “Warriors”), the rapping is gone. The slightly-off-key, amateur melodic choruses are now shimmering anthems. The simple, guitar-bass-and-drums instrumentation I knew is now replaced with layers of atmospheric guitars, electronics and (absolutely) giant-sounding drums.
And, much to my surprise, it’s actually pretty good.
The band, living together for the duration of writing and recording F.E.A.R., and their musical pedigree is clear. These guys show how to write a focused album. At only ten tracks, every song feels more intentional. F.E.A.R. isn’t interested in any filler; there aren’t any instrumentals or spoken word poems or 30-second interludes.
Many rookie hard rock artists fall into this trap, trying to have “something for everyone” on their records. It leads to lazy ballads here, a mediocre heavy song there, the heavy-enough-but-not-too-much-for-the-masses single.
Not Papa Roach, and not here on F.E.A.R. It is definitely diverse, but it’s narrow-minded enough to feel carefully crafted. It feels like an actual album, not just a collection of songs.
Eight albums in, this isn’t really anything new to them or groundbreaking in nature. They are very effective at adapting to modern methods of songwriting, taking major cues from popular metalcore acts. From the heavy, djent riffing to the House-like synth arpeggios, much of F.E.A.R. wouldn’t sound out of place on an Of Mice and Men or Issues album. The major difference, however, is how long Papa Roach has had to perfect their craft. Papa Roach excels by showing the younger bands how it’s done.
Another interesting element of F.E.A.R. is the positive, uplifting nature of the lyrics. Songs like “Broken as Me,” “Gravity” (featuring Maria Brink from In this Moment) and “Warriors” reflect the vocalist’s well-publicized conversion experience last Easter. They’re a far cry from the desolate nature of Papa Roach 15 years ago. Staying open and vague enough lyrically, F.E.A.R. isn’t marking the moment that Papa Roach became a “Christian band,” but it does put a stake in the ground as the year of their monumental shift in message.
With F.E.A.R., Papa Roach has shown that you don’t have to be completely original to be inspired. Sure, by it’s very nature, this album is written for radio play. But unlike my initial feeling of their debut Infest, this album doesn’t feel like a band trying to capitalize on a trend. It feels genuine. It feels like they finally mean it. And based on my listening to the first-and-last albums in their discography, maybe it’s time for a binge-listen.