In 2011, I Set My Friends on Fire released Astral Rejection – a sweet, grating fusion of crunkcore, extreme metal and emo-pop. It continued what the band pioneered on their 2008 debut to largely negative reviews.
What’s not as well known is that there was an original version of Astral Rejection. Epitaph Records shelved it in 2010. But now, the label has decided to release the original duo’s vision for the album on March 29.
An un-mastered version of the album was actually leaked and can be streamed on YouTube. Not every song on here is an outright banger, but more than a few are. It can certainly be said that none of the tracks on here are even close to as challenging for those unaccustomed to the world of white belt as anything off the band’s other releases.
ISMFOF originally consisted of vocalist Matt Mehana and guitarist/composer Nabil Moo, who formed the project in Miami, Florida. The duo came to prominence with their “screamo” cover of Soulja Boy’s ‘Crank That’. Since then, ISMFOF has had a couple of releases, but it’s their first two full albums – You Can’t Spell Slaughter without Laughter and Astral Rejection – that have received the most attention.
You Can’t Spell Slaughter… is the only official release Moo is featured on and is widely considered to be the band’s most popular, influential work. Moo left the band under then-mysterious circumstances around 2010 while Mehana kept the project going with a rotating cast of new band members, co-writers and touring musicians.
What’s awesome about the original Astral Rejection is the near-complete absence of the gimmicks that define the rest of the band’s work. There’s no auto-tune, the synths are tastefully reserved while compositionally effective and Matt’s screams accent rather than define the album’s vocal approach.
Furthermore, the addition of Chris Lent on drums, a multi-instrumentalist known for his keyboard work with From First to Last and his time drumming with The Color of Violence, added a layer of rhythmic texture and complexity entirely absent on You Can’t Spell Slaughter…
‘Narcisticismfof’, the third track, is a relatively slow-rolling piece featuring noodly post-hardcore guitars, glitzy power chords and funky, synth-driven, hardcore-inflected atmospheric sections. The track is entirely devoid of unclean vocals until the end. That’s when Mehana flies into one of the unhinged breakdowns any of the band’s longtime fans would have been anxiously waiting for.
‘Cantaloupe and the Antelope’, which comes two tracks later, is a sweet, poppy song featuring the intricacy and breadth of Moo’s compositional abilities. It floats effortlessly between slow, bass-heavy clean passages and more shimmery, energetic pop sections. It’s another track that almost sheds the band’s once fiendish dependence on grindcore wails. When Mehana’s screams do pop up, they function in a sort of hype man capacity.
The album’s kicker, ‘Zenith Anniversary Stab’, is an eclectic track which masterfully fluctuates between the band’s traditional chaotic sound and darker, more thought-provoking soundscapes. At some spots it feels a little lacking in energy, but it belies the direction Moo and Mehana were taking the electronic elements of their sound in well.
You Can’t Spell Slaughter Without Laughter, their 2008 debut, was polarizing. Critics panned it. Still, the band garnered a loyal fan base and anticipation for the next album was high.
In 2011, the official Astral Rejection came out and rocketed to number nine on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers chart. It had some cool tracks like ‘Astral Rejection’, ‘Life Hertz’ and ‘It Comes Naturally’, but it lacked the project’s initial compositional spark.
Furthermore, while the group’s debut toed the line between parody and artistic statement with finesse and caution, Astral Rejection seemed mostly like a half-assed joke with a few legitimately good tracks sprinkled in.
Moo had mysteriously left the band around 2010. Although Mehana attributed this to vague personal reasons at the time, we now know that the stress around having the original Astral Rejection shelved created tension between the two founding members and led Moo away from music.
That’s really too bad, because the original Astral Rejection was an exceptionally strong post-hardcore record.
These guys weren’t only ones crossing genre boundaries in the vicinity of mainstream post-hardcore, but ISMFOF was unique in its overtly experimental focus. The band was much more akin to The Color of Violence or Horse the Band than it was to Bring Me the Horizon or I See Stars.
The improvements in Moo’s guitar work between You Can Spell Slaughter… and the original Astral Rejection are notable. It’s not like he turned into Eddie van Halen, but the quality and thoughtfulness of the riffs and chord progressions blow both You Can’t Spell Slaughter… and the officially-released Astral Rejection out of the water.
Furthermore, there were some clear instances of pop genius on You Can Spell Slaughter…which can be found to an even greater extent on the original Astral Rejection and to a much lower degree on the official release. Nobody else has ever come close to juxtaposing a breakdown with a hook as effectively as Matt and Nabil did.
There was a lot of potential here – especially as the duo brought in Chris Lent on the drums and other members associated with established groups like From First to Last, The Color of Violence and The Human Abstract.
It’s a shame Epitaph didn’t let that play out in 2010, but it’s awesome they’re finally going to give the original Astral Rejection the official release it deserves.
Stream it on Spotify when it drops this Friday.