Album Review: Driven Fear – Freethinker

Album Review: Driven Fear – Freethinker

Band: Driven Fear
Album: Freethinker
Genre: Hardcore/Hardcore punk
Date of Release: 26/02/2016
Location: Gold Coast, Australia
Reviewer: Benjamin Muir
For Fans Of: Comeback Kid, Polar Bear Club, Defeater

Track Listing:
1. Falling Awake 4:39
2. Fireball 3:40
3. Crisis 3:49
4. Dancing with Daffodils 4:03
5. In Care Of Pt. 2 4:27
6. Built to Fire 3:26
7. A Bright Flash 3:28
8. The Red Hill 3:36
9. Hold on You 3:59
10. Stumble 1:32
11. Reach 3:00
12. The Feedback Loop 5:28

Driven Fear are a band who would have been very easy to categorise a few years ago, but in this year I have real trouble pinning them down with a term specific enough. Ten years ago or more, you would have simply called this hardcore or even post-hardcore. There were a lot of bands in a similar vein. Nowadays, there aren’t so many. It’s definitely hardcore, but not in the way that the beatdown/mosh/modern hardcore kids would probably recognise – but they’re not doing the Turnstile thing either. They do, however emphasise the punk suffix of hardcore and while they’re at it, recall fond musical memories of the last decade, rather than the one before that. So, more circle pits and less downtempo. Will definitely sit well with the purists. Driven Fear reside sonically somewhere in between Defeater, Comeback Kid and Polar Bear Club – with the occasional echo of the less dissonant parts of early Frank Carter-era Gallows in the heavier sections.

I like all of these acts enough individually, so there’s no reason why I shouldn’t enjoy a pastiche of all of them in the course of a single album. It’s not bad. I’m not knocking it, but there was something missing. It didn’t set the right receptors off in my brain. I’m going to have a hard time reconciling this with my objective appreciation of music, because everything but the very fact I’m not says I should be enjoying this. Before I’m crucified, as this band have been around a long time and have a decent-sized fanbase – I’m not writing off the whole album because it didn’t blow my socks off from start to finish. There are a few absolute bangers on here.

‘Dancing With Daffodils’ strikes me as the absolute highest point of the album. This song really hooked me more than any other because unlike the majority of the album, there is nothing that sounds exactly like it out there. Driven Fear really come into their own here. The instrumentation has some truly unexpected discordances and changes to texture and structure that are almost progressive, and there is not one dull moment. However, at about 3:12 we encounter some really thin-sounding lead guitar work, which brings me to my first complaint. The production and mix is not as crisp as I would expect from a band of this age, and this is particularly evident in lead sections across a lot of the tracks. You can absolutely hear every instrument – it’s just missing that layer of polish. It all comes together well enough, but you can hear it when there are sections that only feature an additional track for a few bars, for instance. It’s only a sporadic occurrence but it throws the listener off guard, and not necessarily in a pleasant way. That being said, the multiple guitar lines that do work together bar those occasionally out of place lines make a nice interplay between power chords and lead and octave lines. The guitar harmonies, dynamics and writing in general are to be praised. The drummer appears to have some chops, but unfortunately a lot of the more fiddly cymbals are lost in the mix.

Driven Fear’s vocalist has some impressive stamina about him. ‘A Bright Flash’ is an impressive performance which highlights this quite nicely. There is no hint of breathlessness or lack of fitness to be heard – every line is delivered with an impressive power. I was less keen, however, on more melodic and major-toned tracks on the album. ‘The Red Hill’, for instance, is a Polar Bear Club track. Driven Fear have a much wider dynamic than PBC, but this track sounds so much like something they would turn out that I simply can’t appreciate it without comparison. As I said before, Driven Fear are at their strongest when they sound like nothing else out there, and I just could not dig that track in spite of it being one of the better ones in terms of production.

I wouldn’t say Driven Fear are a derivative band, as they’re as old as many of the bands they sound like – I will give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they evolved in sync with rather than because of certain popular sub-genre movements within the broader range of post-hardcore. I will credit Driven Fear for the fact that there are certainly no Australian bands I know of who sound anything similar to them, but there was very little this album brought to the table that hadn’t been executed before, and in a lot of cases, more memorably. Driven Fear can certainly play their instruments and write, but they would definitely benefit from more meticulous production and a clearer sonic direction. They are solid technical musicians, and if they played to this more, I feel like they could have made a more impressionable album. There were moments of brilliance in the writing that were lost amongst the murky production and somewhat tired musical palate. Or perhaps I’m entirely missing the point and Driven Fear are in fact attempting to spearhead a revival in a certain sound from the last decade – but if they are, I think they may be doing it prematurely because the audience is still somewhat hungover from the last onslaught of similar sounding acts. For an album titled Freethinker, there seems to be less in the way of free or original thought going on than there should be, and that’s a shame because the band are demonstrably decent musicians and writers.

Vocals: 8/10
Lyrics: 6/10
Guitar: 7/10
Bass: 6/10
Percussion: 6/10
Songwriting: 5/10
Production: 4/10
Personal Enjoyment: 4/10
Overall IPHYB Rating: 6.5/10

Standout Tracks: ‘Dancing With Daffodils’, ‘A Bright Flash’

Album Review: Driven Fear – Freethinker
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