For those of you who have yet to experience The Joy Formidable, I recommend you take a quick listen to Whirring. Those who are familiar already know—and hopefully love—that song and are probably listening to it again anyway, because that moment 4 minutes and 30 seconds in is irresistible.
The song originally came out with their ’09 EP and then released later on their first full studio album, The Big Roar, one of my favorite complete albums of all time. Since then, they’ve put out two studio albums and a handful of collaborations and special issue tracks that are consistently great but never quite attained that same high for me that The Big Roar reached.
Enter their most recent album, Aaarth (based on the Welsh word for bear), released Friday, September 28. While I still put Roar above it, it’s harder for me to do so compared to their other albums, making it a strong second best.
The song writing on this album is superb, instrumentally, and the lyricism reflects a growing frustration that finally comes to a realization: only positivity will win out over hate and shortsightedness. Admittedly, it isn’t a world-shaking concept, but it comes across as sincere and ultimately hopeful in a time where hope is at best dim.
In addition to being somewhat reflective of the current political climate, the album is also their most experimental, featuring a wide range of tones and influences. All the songs feel powerful and moving in one way or another, even with vocalist and guitarist Ritzy Brian’s haunting, subdued style of singing.
“Y Bluen Eira,” the opening track, really sets the tone to expect something wholly unique—not only to the band but in the modern rock scene in general in this day and age. The song is sung entirely in Welsh, the namesake language of the band’s nationality. Brian’s purposefully droning vocals in this alien-sounding language over the heaviest instrumentals the band has produced make you feel like you’re listening to something forbidden or lost to history, almost like you’re hearing a druidic ritual being performed.
Following that is “The Wrong Side,” a more standard song for them about forgiving people who’ve been blinded and welcoming them back with love. The song, like many others on the album, includes a masterful mix of guitar wails with pounding drums and driving bass. It is complemented—and contrasted—by “Go Loving,” a much heavier song with a similar lyrical premise, though one that’s more damning and puts the onus on those quick to get swept up in sensationalism.
“Cicada (Land on Your Back)” returns the listener to that alien, nature-worshiping feeling of the opening track. This song begins slowly but quickly builds to an explosive head before fading out to the sound of a chirping cicada.
The softer songs, such as “All in All” and “Absence,” are just as strong as those already mentioned. Both feature vocals that feel utterly vulnerable and cut straight from Brian’s heart, with “All in All” including a perfectly entered guitar solo that whines in gust as Brian’s dusky vocals sigh out.
The album has running themes of love and nature throughout that often intersect, giving it a cohesive feel. It also uses the structuring and flow from one song to another better than any other album I’ve heard in quite a while. Each song’s book-ending complements the next, raising each track to new heights.
The Joy Formidable have proven their artful understanding and execution of bringing songs to a dramatic climax and crescendo time and time again on previous albums, and Aaarth shows this skill is theirs to keep for some time to come.
The album was recorded under their own label, Seradom Records, and is available for purchase in physical media, as well as digital licensing and streaming on most services. Check it out along with the rest of their discography and let us know what you think!