It began as soon as it was announced. Purists. Moaners. People with nothing better to do and a screen of anonymity to hide behind. “Nuclear blast have sold out…”. “Filter aren’t real metal…” Blah blah blah. God, it’s so dull – seriously, you have nothing better to worry about than if Nuclear Blast, a perpetually reliable and energetic label I might add, sign a band you don’t like? To quote the perennially unloved Alien 3, ‘rumour control – here are the facts’: Filter have rocked as hard as many a metal band for over ten years. Filter released one of the best hard rock albums of the nineties in ‘title of record’. Filter address social issues with an intelligence that most bands fail to match and Filter have yet to release a bad record. OK, they have a melodic side to them, but then so do many a power metal band and anyway, even Filter’s most melodic songs house a lyrical bite that demonstrate the fierce intelligence working behind the radio-friendly hooks. Of course, there are always those who are going to be alienated by success, and with ‘take a picture’ (a perfectly lovely song), Filter certainly bothered the charts for a while, but that was almost ten years ago. Some people just hold a grudge I guess.
So, rant over with, is the new album any good? Well, thankfully changing label has not altered the core Filter sound at all. The band can simply reach a wider audience and if ever a band deserved to be played loud and often it is Filter. The first single, ‘the inevitable relapse’, is also the first track on the album and unless you’ve been living in a cave somewhere you’ll already have heard it. Heavy, bass-led and still augmented by technology it’s a strong, memorable track with a powerful hook and enough space to simply remind the listener of the power of Richard Patrick’s amazing voice which shifts from a whisper to a roar at a moment’s notice, while the guitars rage and spit in the background. As usual, the production is astonishingly clear, showing up each detail in perfect clarity and the guitars sound like they’re trying to cave your head in. So far, so metal, ‘drug boy’ has a MASSIVE central riff backed up by simple but dangerously effective drums that hit like an artillery shell. Richard strains at the vocal leash in a way that he hasn’t quite managed since ‘title…’ and the chorus is a thing of soaring, sonic wonder – a trick that Filter pull off with a deft touch that shows their experience in this sort of thing. ‘Absentee father’ continues the run of heavy songs with a punishing riff that may be simple in terms of technicality but which still delivers the sort of satisfying gut punch of power that always made Filter such a favourite on rock club dance floors. It’s like the first time you heard ‘welcome to the folds’ mammoth riff and just as satisfying. ‘No love’ harnesses the monumental drum sound with a thunderous opening and then the band churn out yet another grinding, industrial riff before Richard breaks in with a melodic verse line that offers more light and shade than the other tracks while the personal nature of the lyrics makes for cathartic listening even while they’re cleverly written so as not to be overtly depressing.
Of course, while Filter are masters of the hefty riff, they’ve always had a good ear for a tune and ‘fades like a photograph (dead angel)’ is a lovely song that is part ‘take a picture’, part Depeche Mode. With a greater emphasis on vocal harmonies it’s a beautiful track which is likely to be torn to shreds by any metal-heads in the vicinity looking for ammunition. Tough – it’s got a great chorus and if the lyrics are a little less inspired than elsewhere, the Porcupine Tree-esque flourishes are a welcome break from the robust rock found elsewhere on the disc. Not that such a moment of calm could last – particularly with Richard on this sort of form and ‘down with me’ kicks off with the sort of riff that could bend steel. ‘Catch a falling knife’ is everything that <ahem> Linkin Park wish they were. Heavy, imbued with a pop edge and lyrically engaging, this is the real deal and so much better than the band I was compelled to mention (but won’t again, I promise) and would make a great single. The title track, however, leaves the pop behind to deliver a sharp, brutal shock to the system thanks to a huge, grinding riff and a dark, brooding verse. It’s one of the best tracks on the album and worth hearing if you’re in any doubt as to whether this might be for you. ‘Clouds’ is equally impressive, and guaranteed to be a fan favourite live thanks to a sing-a-long chorus (despite the heavy riffs) and beautifully sung verse. ‘No entry’ is the perfect closer – a lengthy, memorable and beautiful track that is both heavy and melodic at the same time while leaving you wanting only to play the whole thing from the start one more time.
Filter have released four albums to date. While ‘short bus’ showed great signs of promise it bowed to the infinitely superior and near perfect ‘title of record’. That run was continued with ‘the amalgumut’, which was a heavy, brilliant record that took the sonic blueprint of its predecessor and expanded upon it without significantly altering the template. Following a brief split, ‘anthems for the damned’ was a hesitant return to form that offered plenty, but nothing so much as a glimpse of what the band could do given appropriate backing. Bravely ignoring the ignorant nay-sayers, Nuclear Blast recognised the potential and the result is ‘the trouble with angels’, a bold, beautiful, savage record that is socially aware, lyrically intelligent and sonically huge. Filter are back with a vengeance and now we in the UK just have to hope for live dates soon to cement this victory. A wonderful record with no clear flaws, ‘the trouble with angels’ is an essential purchase.