failure-the-heart-is-a-monster1990’s alt-rockers Failure tend to rank high on headbangers’ lists of non-metal pleasures, due in no small part to dark, dissonant songwriting and sonic girth that could rival any doom band. Those qualities produced two excellent records, Magnified (1994) and Fantastic Planet (1996), followed by an opiate-fueled breakup in ’97. Principal members Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards toiled on separately, the former going solo and becoming a renowned producer while the latter formed Autolux. Meanwhile, a little bit of the Failure DNA lived on through newer bands, including A Perfect Circle, Cave In, and The Atlas Moth. The band themselves remained dormant, however, until returning to the stage at Maynard Keenan’s insistence in 2014. This was followed by the announcement of a PledgeMusic-funded album, eventually titled The Heart Is A Monster.

After opening with the cleverly-titled “Segue 4” (segues 1 thru 3 were on Fantastic Planet), the album properly kicks off with “Hot Traveler.” Built on a thumping bassline and a seasick, effect-laden guitar hook, this track embodies the Failure ethos without sounding like anything they’ve done before. Up next is “A.M. Amnesia,” sporting loud-quiet-loud dynamics that recall Andrews’ awesome, short-lived Year Of The Rabbit project. “Atom City Queen” veers between robotic QOTSA-esque grooves and off-kilter verses, embellished by a truly disgusting guitar riff. Returning drummer Kellii Scott hasn’t lost a step either, playing with slightly less bombast than in ’96 but with more varied and creative parts.

Failure 03At some point, it crosses my mind that these guys make much better music together than they did apart. In the absence of Edwards’ lyrical gifts, Andrews spent the ’00s writing lite-electronica songs about girls and relationships. Edwards’ work with Autolux was interesting but unfocused, and would’ve benefitted from someone like Andrews assuming a producer/songwriter role. Even Failure‘s signature weird-ass guitar style seems unattainable unless both of them are present.

“Mullholland Dr.” is a lurching, psychedelic ballad in the vein of fan favorite “The Nurse Who Loved Me,” and might even be the better song of the two. The bridge section of this one chokes me up, not due to any particularly emotional content, but just because it’s a brilliantly composed piece of music. Similarly, “Come Crashing” and “Snow Angel” unfold like small movies, revealing a sense of pacing and drama that even Fantastic Planet didn’t fully achieve. Even the more streamlined rockers like “The Focus” and “Fair Light Era” are powerfully visual.

No crowd-funded album would be complete without excessive fan service, though. The liner notes credit “additional guitar” to a certain Troy Van Leeuwen, who old-timers will recall as Failure‘s former touring guitarist before joining some obscure band called Queens Of The Stone Age. The album also contains new recordings of “Petting The Carpet” and “I Can See Houses,” which predate the band’s 1992 debut Comfort and remained unheard except for clips on the retrospective DVD Golden. Not surprisingly, these songs reek of the early 1990s, yet somehow fit into Monster‘s sequencing, with “Houses” placed last to bring the band’s career full circle.

Failure 02

My only grievance is that the “segue” tracks get waaaay out of hand, especially during the album’s second half. Of the album’s 18 tracks, 6 of them are of the short, transitional variety. This sort of thing was cute back in the ’90s, when bands strived to fill a 79-minute CD with as much content as possible. In 2015, you can be assured that anyone who’s not really high will simply skip these tracks.

To my amazement, The Heart Is A Monster not only exists, but is really fucking good. Andrews and Edwards are clearly at their best when working together, and their writing chemistry still yields powerful, fresh-sounding music after all this time. If you’re a fan, you’re probably listening to this album already. If you’re new to the Failure fold, this is a damn good place to work backwards from.


Rating: 4.0/5.0
Label: Failure Records/Pledge Music
Websites: FailureOfficial | Facebook.com/Failure
Release Dates:  Out Worldwide: 06.30.2015

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  • OzanCan

    The embedded song has washed away the rusts within my ears. A welcomed tune this morning indeed! If the whole album likes this, then it surely deserves a 4.0
    Thanx Mr. Fisting \m//

    • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

      You’re very welcome. Also, most of the album is better than the embedded track.
      (P.S. it’s “Dr.” Fisting to you).

      • OzanCan

        Uuuhm…it doesn’t say Dr in front of it.
        Oh well, the mental note…checked!! ;)

  • Lubo

    This is why I love your website.
    I knew and liked almost all bands mentioned in this review. But still somehow managed to avoid Failure. Something new again, and again excellent. Last time it was Horrendous and Sulphur Aeon, both of which I can’t stop listen to, and now it will be Failure. A big, sincere THANK YOU!

  • Luke_22

    I’m a big fan of 90s alt-rock, grunge etc, but for some reason never checked these dudes out. The embedded song sounds pretty cool though, so I’ll need to investigate further. Nice review.

  • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

    This is a damn good song, for sure. I wish they had more of them. That’s kind of what I meant by “unfocused.”

    • crookedbill

      The entirety of Future Perfect is pretty solid to my ears, like a sexy mixture of Sonic Youth and MBV. Their follow up Transit Transit was a definitely unfocused (aping Radiohead a bit too much).

      Anyhow, on THIAM, is it just me or is “Fair Light Era” mixed/mastered really poorly? The verses are too quiet, and the chorus sounds muffled and flat. That track should explode, but it sounds like somebody forgot about it during mixing and mastering. Tell me it’s just me.

      • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

        No, i noticed it too. The whole album seems to get quieter, mastering-wise, after that song.
        I also noticed that “The Focus” is almost completely reworked from the version they released a few months back — new lyrics, different structure, etc.

        • crookedbill

          Argh, I was expecting better from a self-produced and self-mixed album. “Mulholland Drive” sounds so damn gorgeous, then “Fair Light Era” (a pretty rockin’ track) just drops the ball sonically. Overall I’m pretty happy with the album though. I just hope we don’t have to wait another 19 years for the next one.

          • Vatnos

            Agreed, “Fair Light Era” as presented on the album is pretty much unlistenable for me. I don’t really think production is the issue. It’s just a bad song. It’s not like it’ll turn into “Pitiful” if it were mixed better. Now I think that could be the case with “The Focus”, which has some good ideas and could’ve been a better song with better engineering. But eh, couple duds do not kill an album. It’s a long album after all.

            A.M. Amnesia, Atom City Mother, Counterfeit Sky, Otherwhere, and I Can See Houses are absolutely great songs. Two of which are now among my favorite songs of all time.

            Hot Traveler, Petting the Carpet, and Mulholland Drive are good. I also find Segues 5, 8, and 9 enjoyable in their own right. Segue 9 probably could’ve had some other title. It’s a full length track, a bit of post-rock to close out the album.

        • BenMech

          Still not sure WHY The Focus was reworked, since the first version just GETS it.

      • Frederick Murre

        Not just you. Was listening through and having a blast but then Fair Light Era came on, and I was like ??? and had to start backing off on all the enhancements on my Chi-fi gear when the chorus came on. still not satisfactory, but whatevs. it rocks.

        • crookedbill

          It’s like getting a Ferrari, but it’s got a big unfixable dent in the hood. Just can’t stop thinking about it. HUGE pet peeve of mine when production/mix/master isn’t consistent across an album. Really surprising and disappointing considering Ken Andrews’ long time experience as a producer and mix engineer.

  • Whiskeyjack

    Wow! why have I not heard these before? awesome stuff! thanks for sharing!

  • Celaeno

    Oh man, I love it. For whatever reason, everything about this album just speaks to me. I am loving the music. Add to that an album title that is a just paragon of truth, and the song titles that hit me hard too. Wow. Dr. Fisting, as usual, your review was a pleasure to read. Thank you.

  • Óðinn

    Thanks Mr. Fisting. Great review.

  • Requiem

    Jesus, this is just… Really really fucking great. Absolutely adore this! m/