Album Review: Fiddlehead, ‘Death Is Nothing to Us’

    Pat Flynn didn’t set out to make a trilogy of albums bound by grief. Born as an outlet to process the loss of his father, Fiddlehead’s future was from the start uncertain and built with modest expectations. Ever since their 2018 debut Springtime and Blind, the dual approach of pure intensity and philosophical thought has lent their brand of post-hardcore a unique emotional resonance, allowing them to lean into the more melodic and vulnerable side of their music on 2021’s magnificent Between the Richness. Their third record, Death Is Nothing to Us, is, on the surface, less cerebral and more ferocious – it may take its title from a poem by Roman philosopher Lucretius, but it’s not overt the way a recording of e. e. cummings reading ‘i carry your heart with me’ bookends its predecessor. Yet it feels like a nuanced and natural extension, even culmination, of the band’s growth: steeped in darkness yet radiant and viscerally human, cementing the impression they could keep making some of the most vital-sounding records in rock no matter what stage of life hits them.

    The feeling that ultimately washed over Between the Richness was one of acceptance, which the new album is determined to turn into a sense of defiance, complicated as it may be. Thematically, depression looms large over the record, but Flynn’s commitment to the hardcore formula not only prevents it from dragging but from letting its numbing force take over. On ‘Sleepyhead’, Flynn remarks on “life’s cold reality of endless suffering,” but the invigorating instrumental renders the idea of escaping into sleep as just that – an intrusive thought that can barely stretch the song past the two-minute mark. Just a few songs after admitting to only seeing dark, Flynn embodies the other side on ‘Sullenboy’, a similarly vibrant highlight in which he screams: “Yeah I got fire, I got light/ They’re three feet tall and smile bright/ Their day is young and their future’s wide/ And I’ll die before I don’t help them rise.” His penchant for “breathing dismal poems” may be part of his genetic code, but the song’s sneakily intricate structure and Flynn’s ardent delivery are so energetic they lift the weight off history and into the present.

    But just like Fiddlehead’s overall discography, the album doesn’t quite follow a linear or neatly triumphant progression. Many of its songs acknowledge the kind of lingering sadness that the stage of grief we call denial rarely leaves space for, and there’s room for it breathe here. ‘Sullenboy’ comes into contrast with ‘Queen of Limerick’, which deals with how smiling through every common struggle keeps that inner fire invisible until it can no longer be contained. “Look at me when I’m on fire,” Flynn demands, his quiet fervor echoed by the rest of the band as they swirl toward release. “I can’t smile,” he finally hollers, like it’s the only way to let it out.

    But there’s only so far “I” can take you – as much of a potent statement Death Is Nothing to Us is, the album is at its most transcendent when it zeroes in on that final word. ‘Loserman’ is essentially an exercise in burning off self-pity, overcoming defeatism by paying note to other people’s tragedies: a girl who lost her brother in a car crash, a baby boy whose father died five weeks before he was born. Flynn’s lyrics can only be so specific, but you don’t need to link or identify their source for the stories to feel real and powerful. He could flood the songs with literary, historical, and deeply personal references, take the 7-minutes-plus route, but that might take away from the thing he wants to preserve the most, so vital it appears once capitalized in the lyric sheet: the Feeling. And it couldn’t get bigger than that of togetherness, even in its most intimate form: “Well, if I’m gonna die then, I wanna die with you right by my side,” he sings on the chorus of ‘Fifteen to Infinity’, before switching “die” for “live.” “Hand in hand sitting on a park bench in every stage of life,” impossible as it may be, is the kind of image you wouldn’t trade the world for – and strong enough to actually carry you through it.

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    Pat Flynn didn't set out to make a trilogy of albums bound by grief. Born as an outlet to process the loss of his father, Fiddlehead's future was from the start uncertain and built with modest expectations. Ever since their 2018 debut Springtime and...Album Review: Fiddlehead, 'Death Is Nothing to Us'