Track By Track: Papa Roach – F.E.A.R.

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After toying with punk, metal and even glam, Papa Roach have come a long way since they steamrolled onto the scene in 1997 as a rap-metal outfit. F.E.A.R. (an acronym of lead single Face Everything And Rise) gives them a chance to revisit their roots, and throw in some earnest balladry along the way.

Face Everything and Rise

The eponymous second single from F.E.A.R. gets the album off to a storming start with a heavy helping of distorted vocals that hark back to the band’s early days. Defiance is the message here, with Jacoby Shaddix’s impassioned cries that he’ll “face everything and rise / never gonna quit until I die.” He’s a frontman known for injecting emotion into even the most aggressive of songs, and Face Everything And Rise sets the tone for what he previously described as a ‘spiritual’ album.

Skeletons

The riff is back – having experimented with noisy, lo-fi punk on 2006’s The Paramour Sessions before making a slightly cringeworthy foray into glam-rock on the 2009 release Metamorphosis, Papa Roach seem to have found a happy medium between the two. Shaddix is still in a reflective mood as he implores that he’ll “show you my skeleton” – it’s angsty and dark with a stomping rhythm and driving melody that keeps it safely out of sob-story territory.

Broken As Me

The most recent single, Broken As Me delves into heavier territory with double-tracked, distorted guitars and some fancy double-pedal work that brings like the likes of Avenged Sevenfold to mind. Shaddix leaves his melancholy self behind and lets rip the raw anger that no doubt fuels his more introspective tracks, and his screams on the chorus give way to sampled vocals – a welcome revisiting of their late-‘90s industrial roots after years of toying with different genres, to various degrees of success.

Falling Apart

Shaddix has never made a secret of the fact that he counts pop music as an influence, saying in a previous interview that Papa Roach are a band that try to “walk the line between metal, hardcore… and pop, and we do our best at trying to make it cool.” Falling Apart is that token helping of pop. It’s still heavy, but the anthemic chorus takes centre stage. The vocal melody veers in opposite directions to the riff, making this one of F.E.A.R.’s most tuneful offerings, but it might not cut the ice for fans of Roach’s more aggressive sound.

Love Me Till It Hurts

After listening to the first three tracks of F.E.A.R., it would make sense to expect a record packed full of gritty riffs and distorted samples that pay homage to Infest, but as always, Papa Roach are full of surprises. Love Me Till It Hurts is a bona-fide ballad, showing off Shaddix’s lyrical dexterity when dealing with emotion. Some would say poetic, others would say schmaltzy, but it’s got the heartfelt honesty of Meteora-era Linkin Park and another big dose of melody.

Never Have To Say Goodbye

For a record that’s nostalgic in places, it makes sense to drop in some electronica. A soft, sampled intro gives way to another slowie, again inviting comparisons to Meteora. It’s not one of the record’s stand-out tracks – it’s fitting with the mid-album lull but lacks the melodic exploration of the previous two tracks, and becomes a bit repetitive. Still, it feels disingenuous to sniff at a track that’s an homage to a departed loved one, and Shaddix hits the mark lyrically again with his unbridled angst. Grab a tissue.

Gravity

Rap hasn’t been a significant part of Papa Roach’s sound for over ten years, and Shaddix has previously declared that he “[doesn’t] feel like rapping… I’m over that.” He must have had a swift change of heart for Gravity’s verses. It’s a far more subdued affair to anything heard on Infest or lovehatetragedy; at one point, Shaddix sings the chorus over an acoustic guitar. The result is a track that’s a hip-hop-tinged thing of beauty, but it’ll be a polarising moment for those who wanted more of the frenetic bounce seen on 2012’s The Connection.

War Over Me

The pace picks up again with War Over Me, with some earnest hard rock in the chorus. It’s a welcome assault on the ears after the relative quiet of the previous two tracks, but it’s still a vehicle for the album’s strong lyrical poignancy. The guitars drop out as Shaddix sings “I have a purpose…” before launching into the impassioned chorus, and it’s a damn sight better than the synth-string intro would suggest.

Devil

Devil is let down slightly by the verses, which, considering Shaddix is capable of making big, hairy men cry with his words, sounds a bit contrived. The chorus is a different story, though – Shaddix screams his disappointment at being let down – “Now I know who you are / who the devil is” – over a sea of noise. He could well be venting about the demise of the relationship, and the stonker of a chorus almost makes up for the undercooked lyrics throughout the rest of the track, which sound like they were cobbled together in a hurry.

Warriors

As the album’s first single, Warriors was a strong choice, with its rhythmic battle cry and dance-tinged synth stabs. It isn’t, however, representative of the album in any way. It’ll delight fans of Papa Roach’s harder, faster stuff, but there’s none of their mid-career punk dabblings to be had here – Warriors is another nod to the band’s rap-metal roots, with urgent, half-spoken verses and lots of distortion. It’s a welcome burst of energy that perhaps would have been more impactful earlier in the album when it really needed some balls.

Hope For The Hopeless

It seems Papa Roach were saving the heavier offerings for the tail-end of the album; Hope For The Hopeless is a Bullet For My Valentine-recalling, riff-heavy stormer. Melodically it won’t stick around in your head too long, and although the chorus goes for passion, it’s somewhere between ‘laboured’ and ‘Nickelback’ on the gratuitous emotion scale. Like Warriors, it would possibly have served better as a mid-album break from the balladry.

Fear Hate Love

A promising intro gives way to what could be one of the album’s strongest tracks – talk about saving the best until last. Everything is crammed into Fear Hate Love; a balls-out metal riff, early Hetfield-esque vocal delivery, gang vocals, synths, an abrasive, punk-tinged verse… It almost serves as a round-up of all of Papa Roach’s incarnations so far, and gives the band a chance to show off everything they can do in under four minutes. Do they get a prize for that?

Read our the full review from Metal Hammer issue 266 and our interview with Jacoby about the album.

F.E.A.R. is released on 26th January via Eleven Seven Music