FACT has a habit of coming out of nowhere every few months, usually with a pile of new material and a tour or two to announce, but they were really aiming for the stars this time around. This year marks the band’s fifteenth anniversary, and for the past couple of months, they have been teasing Facebook and Youtube followers the world over with gradually emerging puzzles. Each member’s part of new songs such as ‘drag’ was uploaded separately, giving them four, five or even six days of agonizing waiting before the track was complete. At last, on March 5th, the new album WITNESS dropped, and I for one could not wait a moment longer to hear what the band has been up to since their last album almost two years ago.

‘new element’ sets the album on its way with an atmospheric introduction, which quickly lapses into shouted vocals and typically vicious drumming. There is new brutality to many of the vocals on this album, but the choruses always return listeners to Hiro’s emotional melodies and ridiculously catchy English lyrics. However, the high point of this first track is the breakdown, with voices speaking from all directions, before a dramatic climax as the instruments reunite. ‘drag’ continues the pattern, with ear-bleedingly powerful vocals and seamless transitions throughout. Following swiftly onwards, the title track is too repetitive to begin but soon picks up with some digital elements invading the basic instrumental- albeit subtly, so FACT’s sound retains its originality. The breakdown allows for some touching guitar and an emotional build to the close.

These first few tracks depict FACT playing it a bit safe, but the album next becomes increasingly diverse and experimental, starting from the madness of ‘ape’. Adam, usually on guitar, provides a large part of the fun verses and bridges, with Hiro taking over for another hard-hitting chorus. The guitar riff is one of the most memorable, with short solo bass moments creating big contrasts, keeping the listener constantly on their toes. It’s a disappointment not to hear ‘disclosure’ somewhere around here, as it was the first of FACT’s anniversary puzzles, and arguably the best for experimentation with their heavier style. However, in its place, we get the beautiful, heartrending ‘miles away’, the first of the ballads. The echoing guitar of the opening pairs with fast yet gentle drums that flow into the strongest verse and chorus combination on WITNESS. The chorus especially, with its memorable and stirring lyrics, is a standout moment.

Tracks like ‘I hope I’m wrong’ and ‘veil’ echo earlier work with unusual rhythmic changes, but push the boundaries. Heavier riffs invade from nowhere, while demanding vocals provide a wider range of sound. That said, the recognizable structures sometimes make the tracks predictable- there simply isn’t as much impact as we heard from BURUNDANGA (2012). ‘devil’s work’ is a chaotic blend of hardcore and softer vocals, giving its message plainly in recorded extracts- “you’re not free, you’re a slave!”, while ‘2-1’ is the musical interlude for this album, continuing and augmenting the mayhem to near-breaking point. It is therefore just as varied as you would expect, but seems to blur into an ambiguous haze, rather than organized chaos.

FACT finally reign themselves back in for the second ballad, ‘circling’. Hiro’s beautiful opening vocals with the acoustic guitar paves the way for a strikingly soothing track. It takes a while to hit its peak, but I can ascertain it’s worth the wait. And as for the finale? FACT has proven in the past that they clearly understand the most important factors of a concluding track, and ‘termination’ ticks all of the boxes. A big-impact introduction, exciting, fast verses, a chorus with lyrics full of hope and simultaneous attitude? It’s all there and executed perfectly. The sudden drop halfway through makes way for a theatrical, slower middle eight that runs over the listener in waves of sound and emotion, and the ensuing breakdown teases us until a truly stunning final section.

On the one hand, there are some genuinely innovative and memorable tracks on WITNESS, with my top two recommendations before ‘miles away’ and ‘termination’, but on the other hand, I have to note that overall the album lacks the power of BURUNDANGA. I wouldn’t stray so far as saying that in their fifteenth year FACT has hit their peak though- if anything, they are pushing their music in new directions and trying new things (we can even see their faces clearly now!). I would definitely advise keeping tabs on the band in the coming months, as they make their way around Japan, and back to the UK on tour with Memphis May Fire. Undoubtedly, it won’t be long before they surprise us again with their next round of consistently high-quality, fist-pumping rock.

Words by Lauren du Plessis

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