Fierce Creatures – Catacomb Party Record Label: Paper Garden Records
Release Date: September 11, 2012
When you celebrate the release of your debut album with a musical party for thousands of people, you make it pretty clear that you’ve got the interests of your fans at heart. That’s exactly what indie-rock band Fierce Creatures did with their debut album Catacomb Party, holding an event in Fresno for all to enjoy; they ended up drawing over two thousand to the festivities. So it’s no surprise that with all the people power that the band enjoys, their debut release has quite a lot to say about people. Though the music is washed in mystery and spooks and the lyrics speak in a cryptic language that’s more textural than substantive, insight is insight, and Catacomb Party is, front and foremost, a very good album about what humans want, worry about, and fight for. On top of all of that, it’s also one of the most haunting, immersive listens of the summer.
“Ask For Lightning”, track numero uno, is a masterfully crafted opener and a serviceable guide to Fierce Creatures 101: a few synth notes enter the frame before they’re blown away by a grand canvas of thundering drums, gorgeously layered harmonies on the vocals, and strings of electronics. (The band rarely strays from the palette of instruments introduced on the opener but make the most use of each and every one.) The track swells majestically before the drums rise from background detail and take over the track, pushing it into more upbeat territory before things wind back down. “Babbity Abbot” is a fine choice for a follow-up, gentle but driving with the bass brought front and center and a rapidfire vocal turn from vocalist Mathr DeLeon, who delivers lines like “Now we all get down / To the rhythm of an old mechanical hound / They all wanna be found in the shadow of our dawn,” with crushing urgency. Though the song’s themes are chilling, the music is immediately inviting, as comfortable as a campfire on a brisk autumn night, and that the band can explore darker parts of the imagination without sinking into clichéd despair is an intriguing decision.
What’s nice is that the band never reduces dark and light to a dichotomy: the briskly paced love anthem “Lover’s Vice” is a deceptively complex tale on the topic. Toms pound like heartbeats across an electronic soundscape, hints of Hellogoodbye hiding in the simultaneously delicate and weighted melodies, while DeLeon delves into wondering about the future, cursing the one special person who pierced his armor and made him care as he confesses “I can say to you honestly / Before we were paired / I did not believe in love / Or life out in the universe above.” The resolution is never as simple as romance or heartbreak, and the confusion only gets worse in the second verse, as he ponders, “All you’ve ensnared and devoured, returned to me / How fitting, how fair that our fate is the telling of misfortune in skies above.” Love is never a binary of existing/not existing but is explored thoroughly just to see if it’s worth pursuing, and Fierce Creatures wring a surprising amount of depth to the question both in their lyrics and in those beautifully loud toms, thumping throughout the framework of the track. (They’re just as effective on “For The World Is Hollow”, which explores a different struggle: the struggle to connect. The disembodied voices pleading “Tell me you will” over the end of the track will haunt the corners of your brain long after the song has ended.)
Oftentimes, the album feels like a constant fight between euphoria and misery, as “Body For The Grave” recounts the struggles to escape from sadness over a nimble slice of indie-rock washed in ocean waves. Only the desperate yelps among the peace belie the angst under the beautifully colored surface. It’s almost a relief when things finally get a bit happier on the title track, smack dab in the middle of the album. “Catacomb Party” features the catchiest guitar riff on the album and pairs it with the bounciest drum beat to be found on this album. The tone is light, but unlike the tempered joy of the tracks preceding it, it’s unabashedly bright here as DeLeon talks about painting walls, drinking stolen wine, and hanging lights on strings before he asks his audience, “Won’t you come with me?”, a proposition that the crunchy guitar and swelling chorals make hard to resist.
Texture, in fact, is key to the sound of Fierce Creatures, and it pays off in both their songwriting and their production. From the surf rock influences lingering around “These Parts” in the light guitar licks and the snappy percussion to the melodic moaning and pained cries on the sinister “Once I Wasn’t”, a story that positions connection as a painfully rare experience, there are all kinds of interesting touches here that provide both an amiable polish to the band’s often rough compositions and betray the characters who deliver them—wounded, petty, angry, insecure, and ultimately human. It’s a shame that some tracks rely a bit too heavily on texture, like the moody but forgettable “These Parts”, but for the most part, this is a fascinating world to get lost in.
Of course, eventually you find your way back home, but at least finale “We Know It Knows” provides some closure, both sonically and thematically. The longest track on the album, it almost evokes Muse in its symphonic transitions from passage to passage, switching moods and focuses at the drop of a hat. Interestingly, though it is one of the heaviest tracks on the album, it also features some of the most intricate details to be found here, layering distant bleeps and bloops to distant planets into seductive crooning (and later, gang vocals) and those bombastic toms which at this point should be recognized as a foundation to Fierce Creatures’ sound. For those characters introduced throughout the album’s cryptic narrative, the lyrics point to bittersweet but hopeful endings: “Over the field we all carried on / Let it go / Over the field we all carried on / Oh, it knows” DeLeon cries, a repertoire of voices carrying his words as empowering, anthemic statements. It’s a fitting closer for a band that constantly seems to be riding the line between day and night.
Whether you’re attending Catacomb Party for the music, the band, or the food, Fierce Creatures will welcome you in. Maybe in the end, that openness what appeals so much about this release: in a musical environment that is beginning to splinter apart rather than melt together, a world in which those who cry for the eradication of the “phonies”, the “posers” overshadow everybody else, a world in which what you wear at a concert will make or break you in the eyes of other fans, here’s a band that simply doesn’t care about those things, who only wants people to come around and huddle around the campfire. Funny how Catacomb Party is so elusive, so slippery, and so cryptic on the first listen, yet it’s one of the most welcoming places you’ll find to sink in, relax, and make some new friends this summer. To everybody: Fierce Creatures is here to stay, and they say welcome. Make sure you RSVP.