“Sunbreather” Review

The Basics

Portland, Oregon natives Fallstar are back with their fourth studio album titled Sunbreather. Released on February 12, 2021, Sunbreather marks Fallstar’s second release with Facedown Records since their eight year label hiatus. (Their previous album, Future Golden Age, was self-produced and independently released six years ago.) Fallstar’s current line up includes brothers Chris Ratzlaff on vocals and Bryan Ratzlaff on guitar, Cody Carrier on bass, and Morgan Weisz on drums. This line up might seem familiar because the Ratzlaff brothers and Carrier also make up the alt-rock band, Northlander, which is signed to Facedown Records, as well. Though both bands share the same members, Fallstar has a distinctively different sonic impression from Northlander.

Fallstar’s fresh take on metalcore draws from several different sources, ranging from their punk and hardcore roots to pop and rap. However, don’t think for a second that the album gets lost within all of its influences. Rather, these elements add flavor and distinction to a sometimes cliched genre. Their captivating and thought provoking songwriting compounds their authenticity as a band. From their cheeky song titles to their pertinent lyrics, Fallstar has no shortage of imagination. They’re also not afraid to speak their minds and get political. They never run short of sincerity, intimately sharing about their own struggles with depression and vocally slamming racial injustice. Sunbreather is unorthodox in its musical approach, inventive in its delivery, and earnest in its message. 

The Sound

Sunbreather suffers no lack of creativity and experimentation. For those metalcore-heads out there, there’s plenty of detuned guitars, screams, and breakdowns to get excited about. But what makes Fallstar special is their combination of diverse elements. From the very first track the listener can tell that this is not a normal metalcore album. The first track, “Chroma,” blasts off with an in-your-face West Coast hip-hop vibe before crushing guitar riffs shoot the testosterone levels through the roof. At the same time, “Chroma” still feels fun and cheeky, never taking itself too seriously and allowing their various influences to manifest naturally instead of forcing them to coexist.

The best example of their creative combination of elements is in the track “Get Me out (Ice Agents).” The song begins with a sweet, little moment where they help two little children record a line of the song’s lyrics. Following the kid’s voices, a funky beat overlaid with hopping piano chords plays through the opening section before a mellow, EDM-like synth lowers the dynamics for just a moment. Crushing guitars pop off the first verse while never losing the groove. A catchy yet energetic chorus keeps the momentum up until the bridge throws in a heavy breakdown for good measure. Though this one song features all kinds of ups and downs and strays from the typical song pattern, it still feels natural and purposeful. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun.

Other recognizable tracks are the radio-friendly “Waiting” and the unrelenting “The Prism Glass”–by far the most brutal song on the album. However, what impresses me most about Sunbreather is the vocal performance. Chris does a bang-up job in every scenario. His multi-faceted voice does all of the singing, rapping, and screaming, ranging from raspy, high screams to deep lows. At times Chris’ vocals remind me of For Today’s Mattie Montgomery. His voice can sound nice and polished or raw and aching, always perfectly complementing the tone and themes in each song. 

The Message

From the onset, it’s clear that Sunbreather is an album meant to discuss large and meaningful topics. From racism to depression, they let loose a lyrical storm, not afraid to get vulnerable with the subject matter, yet staying firmly rooted in hope. Though all of the songs are topically relevant and worth exploring further, tracks like “Ssri Feel Better Already,” “When Justice Cracks the Sky,” and “King Lazer” carry the most potent themes, in my opinion.

“Ssri Feel Better Already” is a deeply personal song as it talks about Chris’ own dealings with depression and how SSRI medication saved his life. On the meaning of the track, Chris stated, “This song is about humanity’s will to live despite hopeless circumstances, and how those of us who struggle with depression lose that will” [1]. Chris also expresses his thankfulness for modern medicine and how medications such as SSRI has helped himself and others like him live fulfilling lives. The lyrics depict tragedies throughout human history and how humanity’s desire for survival has carried it through.

The following track, “When Justice Cracks the Sky,” lays barren the sickening racism that still permeates modern America. It’s an incredibly powerful song and houses some of the most weighty lyrics on the whole album. The second verse reads: “Daily, knee on the neck and taunting, “Breathe! Breathe!” / Legion wears the skin of a mortal / Subjugate by design / Propagate denial / Ten thousand demons vile oppose the saints.” The word “Legion” is a reference to the story of the demoniac, found in the books of Mark and Luke in the Bible. The allusion represents how humanity can let their inner demons rule their actions and bring about acts of violence and destruction. In the face of that dark picture, Fallstar remains optimistic, urging their listeners to take responsibility for their own lives and lead the call for justice.

“King Lazer” comes from another personal experience Chris went through. Being a local Portland resident, he experienced the protests against racial discrimination and police violence firsthand and how the crowd was gassed by police. When writing the song, Chris said, “…we parallel the struggle for racial equality and the struggle of the Christ in this song. ‘The power lives inside the blood, not in the nails’ is referring to the drive of the people over instruments and systems of control” [2]. Obviously political in its message, “King Lazer” promotes positive change and justice in modern America and in no uncertain terms. The theme of hope in the midst of chaos and injustice carries on throughout the rest of the album. Sunbreather never leaves the listener in a place of despair.

My Final Thoughts

Previous to Sunbreather, I had never heard of Fallstar. I’m a fan of Facedown Records so when I saw that they released a new record with a pink album cover I was intrigued. At first I was attracted by their music and image. Their fusion of rap, punk, and metal reminded me of P.O.D. and Fallstar’s band image/branding is kind of fun. I mean, what other metalcore band do you know that mentions unicorn blood in their lyrics or has a track titled “King Lazer?” 

As I dug deeper into the lyrics and read them alongside the music, I gained a whole new perspective on Sunbreather. Their willingness to touch on heated topics with honesty and passion drew me in and their faith through it all made me stay. They talk about heavy topics but their charm and humor create a sense of hope and goodness. On top of that, their songwriting is phenomenal. The juxtaposition of light and dark in “The Prism Glass” and the contrasting images of water and sand in the title track “Sunbreather” are absolutely beautiful. There’s not a song that I dislike on this album. However, my favorite track has to be “The Meaning in the Monster.” I nearly cried when I listened to it with the lyrics in front of me for the first time. I haven’t been that emotionally provoked by music in a long while.

I’m so glad that I stumbled across Fallstar and their record Sunbreather. I’ll be a fan forever now and I hope you will be too.

Links

To listen to Sunbreather or purchase Fallstar merch: https://orcd.co/fallstar 

For their website on Facedown Records: https://facedownrecords.com/family/fallstar/

References

  1. https://www.indievisionmusic.com/news/fallstar-return-with-intense-and-personal-new-song/
  2. http://mauce.nl/site/fallstar-releases-new-single-king-lazer/

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