Composed of members from Barn Burner, Dead Quiet, Heron and Brass, Fearbirds’ reputation precedes them. But unlike the members’ various related projects, Fearbirds use a far more direct and dirty approach to sludge and hardcore. With stripped-down effects and a dogged focus on the pure power of the riff, Fearbirds are an ode to classic Canadian heavy bands. Their debut album Aux Blood provides something familiar that’s been spiked with unsuspecting twists in rhythm and melody.
Upon first listen to Aux Blood, it’s abundantly clear that Fearbirds like to play with non-traditional time signatures. The band always seems to add an additional note, dotting them into songs like “Absolute Unit” or “Rotten Limbs”; The result is an uneasy feeling of anticipation that’s compounded by Guitarist Kevin Keegan’s riffs, playing behind the beat or mutated by some additional flare — it’s never quite clear where a song is headed.
Keegan’s chemistry with drummer Taylor Freund is immense, not only in the way they play off one another but in the counter rhythms they’re able to create. This symbiosis is best exhibited on “Down the Barrel,” where the interchanging rhythms and accents between the guitar and drums could make your head spin.
The best thing about Aux Blood is its heavy riff payoffs, the moments the band members choose to build up to. From “Down the Barrel” to “Space Heater,” there are plenty of dumb caveman riffs that’ll make you want to bang your head through the table. There are none better, however, than the breakdown at the end of “Gods Basement.” It’s the perfect example of a classic trope that never gets old: the riff, always and forever, sounds better and heavier when you bring it back slower.
A common difficulty for hardcore records is to create enough melodic moments to sustain the band for an entire full length. Although Fearbirds’ debut is full of crushing moments, there are just enough melodic passages to keep the album from becoming stagnant. The most memorable moment in this regard is the satisfyingly anthemic chorus on “Pulled Down the Hill by Dogs,” which is primed for a crowd sing along.
On first blush, Aux Blood appears to be a straightforward hardcore record. Give it some time and attention however, and it reveals the complicated currents roiling just below the surface.