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Holding Their Own
Posted September 13, 2014
By MaryNikkel_NRT, Staff Reviewer

The 2012 release of Flyleaf's New Horizons was largely eclipsed by the startling news of iconic lead singer Lacey Sturm's departure, a development that left fans uncertain about the future. As one of the most successful crossover hard rock acts of the past decade (their self-titled 2005 debut is certified platinum), transition to a new lead singer was a treacherous path for the band to navigate, requiring them to win over their fanbase all over again.

That new lead singer is Kristen May, a powerhouse singer/songwriter who formerly fronted disbanded act Vedera. Despite Lacey Sturm's warm, heartfelt endorsement of her successor and the way Kristen immediately began proving her powerful voice on stages with Flyleaf across the country, many fans continued to remain skeptical or, in the worst cases, outright hostile. The studio debut album for the new line-up, Between the Stars, should definitively prove the criticism ungrounded.

Lead single "Set Me On Fire" has already given fans a taste of the harder side the album has to offer, with raw guitar riffs and keen vocals. Guitarists Sameer Bhattacharya and Jared Hartmann are on point throughout the album, providing chugging, gritty guitar riffs that ground songs such as "Traitor" and "Well of Lies" firmly to Flyleaf's established sound.

Some songs however venture into more pop-inspired territory, with more mellow vocal tones and subdued instrumentation. Melancholy pop-rock-leaning "Blue Roses" and hopeful "Home" exemplify this style. "City Kids," an album highlight exploring nostalgia and the bittersweet blend of loss and gratitude accompanying adulthood, also leans towards the pop end of the spectrum, although some raw screams carrying the transitions between chorus and verses help it retain a distinctly Flyleaf vibe.

Lyrically there is a definite shift in this new era of Flyleaf, with the intensely spiritual, cerebral lyrics of Memento Mori and New Horizons giving way to more concrete themes and storytelling with spirituality serving as an undercurrent. "Platonic" explores navigating the murky waters of undefined relationships. "Sober Serenade," another album highlight, addresses an addict, expressing with heartache the occasional necessity of disentangling yourself from the self-destructive spirals of our loved ones.

Although faith themes are expressed with more subtlety than the band's past two albums, they are definitely present. "Head Under Water" declares the need to step beyond the words that have shamed us. Kristen May sings words that echo the truth God speaks to each of us: "Will you let them tell you who you are? / My love is deeper than the stars / and you are bigger than the scars that you feel at night."

It is strongly to the band's credit that they don't use this album as a platform simply to vent the angst that could easily be born from the challenges of their transition. However, it may be that struggle in part that validates songs such as "Marionette," a track which expresses refusal to become a puppet of others' expectations.

Closing Thoughts:
The first comment I've seen from many upon hearing Between the Stars or the live recordings released previously is some variation of "Kristen's not Lacey." That is clearly a factual statement, but rather than being a hindrance to the band, it is actually an opportunity. Kristen May displays beautiful artistic and personal integrity in choosing to be herself rather than attempting to be Lacey 2.0, and the result is an incarnation of Flyleaf that is certainly different but equally powerful.

Given that I am one of thousands of young adults for whom Flyleaf's debut was a definitive part of my teen years, and given that I have loved each release since, I certainly went into this album with deep curiosity. With Between the Stars, Flyleaf blew past my expectations on the first track, momentum which only continued to build through the remainder of the project.

Not only has Flyleaf proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this new incarnation can hold its own; they have also made what is easily one of the best albums of their career. Between the Stars hosts raw, down-to-earth yet emotionally rich lyrics alongside thundering guitar-driven instrumentation that maintains the best of Flyleaf's past while forging ahead into their future. This easily lands near the top of the year's list of must-have rock releases.

Song to Download Now:
"Set Me On Fire" (Get it on iTunes here.)

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