Rhode Island power-rock trio Fang Island burst through a brick wall in spring 2010 with their self-titled debut LP, a collection of life-affirming anthems that welcomed fearless fits of melodrama.While the lads’ sophomore LP, Major, seek to recreate that very magic, the band’s ascension is stymied at a height just below its true potential.
Perhaps the greatest misstep comes in the first half of the LP, “Make Me”. The bands proggy side routinely manifests as a slow build, taking smaller, less impactful sounds and slowly building up until it explodes like a piÃ±ata full of sweet grooves. “Make Me” has the first part of the equation down pat, taking a pseudo-calypso guitar and slowly amping it up while gently adding more and more vocals and supporting instrumentation. But when it’s finally ready to soar, there’s no grand delivery, nothing waiting to take the listener skyward. It’s just more noise until the entire experience ends with a whimper. By now, the band should have half-hearted pieces like this cut from their vocabulary; instead, its existence demonstrates that Fang Island is still working toward its true maturation.
On the upside, “Seek it Out” does everything right. Its the clearest lineage back to their Fang Island days, with the energy let loose by the razor-sharp metal guitar and mosh-pit-meets-campfire-sing-along vocals, lethal and all-consuming. They aim to rip out throats and warm hearts from note one, never letting the tidal wave of inspiration and noise cease until the last refrain, leaving the band repeating “I wanna seek it on and on into infinity. It’s a simple yet profound moment that joyfully reaches out into the great emotional unknown. Those sensations are some of the band’s strongest concoctions, cutting through genre pretenses and the confines of their various machinations to exist strictly as pure possibility.
The second half of Major is where Fang Island really hones and shapes said possibility into something significant. Three tracks in particular — “Dooney Rock”, “Regalia”, and “Chompers” — play out at as one grand movement, speaking literal volumes about who the band is when it’s truly in sync. Aside from some vocals in the beginning of “Regalia”, each cut is an instrumental, a positive decision by the band considering its occasional lyrical shortcomings.
The end of the arc, “Chompers”, takes the speed metal of “Dooney Rock” and shifts it into eleventh gear, straight into a realm of righteous fury. There’s less to celebrate, no grand declarations or emotional high points; it’s pretty much angst as gnarly licks. But where there is little substance or connective sentiment, there is a band who has finally risen above it all and found the most unfiltered moment of the entire LP, a primal scream of something basic and meaningful that blasts away bias and weaknesses to place themselves and the listener in a state of pure rock ‘n’ roll transcendence.
Together, all three cuts tell a moving story about the band, the album itself, and of the unstoppable power of true focus. It’s exhausting and fulfilling, and while Fang Island climbs through a share of embarrassments, they end on a genuine high point that may be powerful enough to outmaneuver the album’s earlier mistakes.
The natural question: What’s the difference between the two halves? What does the latter portion of Major have over the first to make it more intrinsically valuable? In a word: Fun (or lack thereof). The first half is obsessed with the band’s self-perpetuated trappings of party-rock: noise, aggression, and speed, all for the sake of making the biggest and loudest splash. When they worry less about being bombastic and outwardly joyous — when they make less of a conscious effort to construct fun– it’s only then that their obsessions manifest as important and evocative constructs. Sure, fun is what drives parties, but it’s the recognition of life outside those good times that’s truly valuable. With Major, Fang Island has slowly begun to learn that lesson, and if it can expand upon that in subsequent releases, then its true potential is limitless.
Essential Tracks: “Seek it Out”, “Chompers”