Faith, Hope, Love, is the title of Erik Larson's new solo offering, but whether the prolific guitarist (and on this record, singer, drummer, and bass player as well) has managed to find these things remains less certain. FHL spills over with equal measures of sorrow, frustration, and pointed anger. By the end, the notion hits home that the resolution of such feelings cannot be achieved in an hour's journey, but that in the course of listening to a record of this depth, thinking about something so heavy begins to be just a little easier. Whether railing against the so-called journalism of wartime America or musing on the loss of anonymity and the ability to relate to people that comes with success, Larson always delivers his message with beautiful simplicity and acumen.
This is not to say that Larson has penned a sensitive singer songwriter album this go round, although a cover of Elliot Smith's "Say Yes" adds a period to FHL (or is it a question mark?) Quite the contrary, for Larson, FHL represents a detour taken along the way down a side street of his musical identity. Whether that road forks sharply or runs parallel to his other endeavors remains to be seen, but regardless, Larson never takes a foot off of the gas to make that turn.
With Faith, Hope, Love, Erik Larson has crafted a much more cohesive album than his first solo effort, The Resounding. Not so much that the songs all sound alike, but they have more obviously hitched the same train of thought. While the album is not as immediately engaging as its predecessor, patience pays off big time with FHL, and with each listen the detail and power of the songs leeches to the surface.
Songs like "Smile" and "By My Hands" still pack big time hooks though, and the choruses with have those tunes stuck in the brain for days. As a whole, however, it's a much heavier affair throughout. Some comparisons have placed this album closer to Larson's regular gig, Alabama Thunderpussy, but leaving it at that doesn't really do FHL justice. This release combines the hardcore punk roots of Avail (for whom Larson manned the drums during the 90's) with ATP's early metal and doom leanings and ratchets the whole thing up a couple of notches. "Bleeding Fire" and "Bloodshot" are straight ahead, head first into the wall type songs and are heavier than most anything ATP has cranked out in years. Tempo, sequencing, and production are all top notch here as well, Larson has an excellent ear for where to put songs in relation to each other for maximum effect. After the heavy interlude beginning with the two aforementioned songs, "Bar Song" drops in nicely with its nuanced acoustic guitar and much lighter melody. It's no ballad, but it gives the listener a chance to catch a breath.
"Germ" represents another direction entirely. The poetic, dirge-like song rumbles on but never feels slow or out of place. Similarly, "My Inner Injustice" milks a slower pace and mixes in some interesting tribal-sounding drums that leave one wondering what's coming next. One knock on Larson may be his singing voice which is somewhat limited, but from which he squeezes everything he can. In fact, the one performance on the record from by anyone but Larson himself is from ATP singer John Weills on "Smile". Ultimately, his voice works for the album and for the album to work the way it does, no one else would have been able to sing these songs. Larson's obvious personal investment in the music, the lyrics, and in FHL as a whole is the mortar that keeps this ton of bricks together and lets it stack up to the monolith it is.
FHL represents the rare album that isn't just a bunch of cookie cutter songs cribbed from some sort of prevailing trend, but rather exists as a truly original work of heavy music. Larson clearly bursts with creativity, just take a look at the plethora of bands with which he is involved. For him to be able to use a solo career as an outlet for music this good is proof positive that he'll be around for as long he wants to be. I, for one, hope that is an awfully long time. You will not hear another record like this, so listen to this one.