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The Worldonfire – …Sail the Rough Sea [Album]

Posted in Album, Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 15, 2010 by David Hall

Originally published at Sonic Dice, August 2009.

Essex-based five-piece The Worldonfire – a hop, skip and a lawsuit away from Alexisonfire in moniker – release their second album Sail the Rough Sea on indie label Dead Planet Records. They have what seems to be a fairly American sound, possibly because frontman Dave Walsh’s high-pitched vocals sound like those of Fall Out Boy. Consequently, influences from bands such as Taking Back Sunday are clear, whilst their seldom-abrasive style also shares similarities with pop punk acts, most particularly The Academy Is. But don’t let that put you off. They simultaneously possess the post-hardcore styling of heavier – and to be honest, more interesting – British bands like the now-defunct Reuben and Yourcodenameis:milo. Since Sail the Rough Sea takes in a bit of everything from emo to post hardcore, it can probably be awkwardly classed in that interminably indistinct iTunes genre of ‘Alternative & Punk’.

Baby We’ve Been Shot Down is an excellent opener, building slowly through a raspy chord progression and clean guitar stabs with the tantalising promise of a chorus. It ducks out of this however, opting for a stronger and more urgent verse before letting rip with an anthemic Fall Out Boy-like chorus. Feet Firmly on the Ground follows upon its heels, effortlessly trumping The Academy Is at their strongest moments. It’s confidently written, with lots of space to the sparse guitar arrangement until a busy, trebly chorus and a choppy post-chorus rush in. If anything the track is somewhat missing a heavy edge but its midrange sound is uptempo and interesting, touching face with all of The Worldonfire’s clear influences, Yourcodenameis:milo most obviously. Although the riff at the song’s conclusion is excellent, the producer could’ve done a better job in retaining the higher notes’ clarity amongst the other instruments. If criticism can be levelled at anybody on Sail the Rough Sea, the prime candidate is surely the man behind the console rather than the band in front. No Choice, No Chance features some breathless and frantic riffing, yet none of it particularly bites because the sound is so indefinite. It’s simply a bit of a beige guitar tone the band have opted for, neither truly jangly (Biffy Clyro-style) nor particularly heavy.

Channelling Biffy more successfully is the penultimate track When Time is All You Have Left, all faltering rhythms and sudden walls of noise. Whilst the stop-start opening riff is excellent, the feeling is gained it would’ve been best left just as that – an opening riff. It disappointingly also serves as the verse’s progression, Walsh joining in with stuttering lyrics; possibly it would’ve better served the song as a counterpoint to a less-choppy verse. It’s all very Biffy Clyro anyways, the pre-chorus riff reminiscent of My Recovery Injection, as is the song’s transition from condensed clean guitar to sizzling distortion as Walsh comes out to play for a genuinely huge chorus. Again the cymbals level the land entirely; intricacies in the guitar parts are more hinted at rather than genuinely have an effect. Meliora Spero is notable as a change of pace – with an intro that sounds like Porcelina of the Vast Oceans or Rhinoceros by The Smashing Pumpkins – but is a bit slushily optimistic. The bridge is probably the best part of the track, with call-and-response guitars descending into a distortion-strewn tempest as Walsh’s swashbuckling vocals vault in to the rescue. You’ll also find Walsh’s voice resembling Funeral for a Friend’s Matt Davies at times, particularly on All for More’s long notes. If you enjoy a higher-pitched male vocal then you’ll probably admire his work; if not, he may grate by the end of the album. Lose Sometimes provides the lyrical and vocal highlight, the line “You’ve gotta lose sometimes, don’t you?” repeatedly croaked into refreshingly empty space with a picked guitar accompanying. The track doesn’t feel needlessly lengthy even at nearly seven minutes, which also rings true for the rest of the album. Enough happens often enough to keep the attention and make indulgence seem a pretty rare occurrence. Lose Sometimes’ extended feedback outro may be a bit over the top, but wholly forgivable.

Drummer Joe Lazarus is simultaneously one of the best and most limiting aspects of The Worldonfire as a band. He’s clearly of the Travis Barker school of drumming, all snappy and offbeat fills that are reminiscent of Blink-182’s self-titled era of Feeling This or Always. Lazarus is on particularly excellent form on Feet Firmly on the Ground, his skittish hi-hats and rapid bass pedal dabs complimenting its pop punkish tone well. However too much of a good thing can be detrimental, and so it proves with The Worldonfire’s hectic drum sound. Best of Me’s drums frantically vie for attention, smothering the guitars somewhat with incredibly loud cymbal sounds. By just over halfway on Meliora Spero’s more serene intro, Lazarus can’t resist staying silent for any longer and the drums clatter in. The guitar lick could easily have held its own for a good while longer without rhythm accompaniment. Well-played though they are, the drums are near-unceasing, and clog every corner of Sail the Rough Sea.

As previously mentioned, the problems with Sail the Rough Sea are by and large down to the production rather than material. It’s pretty muddy, and doesn’t really give anything except Dave Walsh’s vocals room to shine. The rhythm guitar in particular simply collapses in on itself and more often than not fug is all you get. Best of Me displays this lack of studio finesse, with the high end not given enough clarity and the rhythm guitar’s distortion simply washing over everything when things get noisy. Chunkier bass would’ve helped out, but in the bridge the guitars fail to fully achieve the chiming sound they reach for, the section not really standing out from the succeeding return to massive noise. When the chords are more clearly defined, such as Lose Sometimes’ crashing single strums, the tracks sound much brighter and stronger. The drums on Any Day Now are huge and smothering, making the tuneless, chugging guitars sound indistinct and distant. However it also displays more prominent bass work, the rhythm section-favouring mix just about saves a disappointing guitar sound. The guitars eventually get their act together, initially just coming through louder before finding a riff that suits their low-ratio gear.

To sum up the production, when the riffs have clarity and Walsh is given room to stomp about, as on the title track, Sail the Rough Sea soars. Whereas if Walsh has to duke it out in the mid-range with his band (Any Day Now and No Choice, No Chance), it proves to be a battle against distortion he can never hope to win. Whilst The Worldonfire co-produce the album, producer credits are divided up track-by-track between Mike Vennart (of British underground stalwarts Oceansize) and Anthony Chapman. And in a pinch, Vennart’s tracks are marginally superior; he seems to have captured a spark that Chapman overlooked slightly. If The Worldonfire get to know their way around a studio, and rope in a savvy producer for their next release, they could really go places.

7 out of 10.

Sonic Dice score: 4 out of 6

Feet Firmly on the Ground on Spotify
The Worldonfire at their driving and rhythmic best, bristling with ideas and the textures that some other tracks seem to forgo.

Dead Planet Records
The Worldonfire on Myspace