Fiddlehead Boston, MA
Formed with the most modest of expectations, Fiddlehead has unexpectedly become one of the most vital groups in rock music. Their fervent audience responds to the urgency of their music, but also the intensely human exploration of loss that’s colored so much of the band’s output. Fiddlehead’s previous albums, 2018’s Springtime and Blind and 2021’s Between The Richness, dealt heavily with grief from different perspectives, and now their latest album, Death Is Nothing To Us, feels like a de facto culmination, drawing together many of the catalog’s through-lines sonically and lyrically. The album finds Fiddlehead so deeply delving into the pain, confusion, nuances, and contradictions of sadness–so willingly wrapping their arms around a concept as existentially baffling as death itself–that they’ve created an album that is truly life-affirming.
“I don’t want people to romanticize grief and depression, myself included,” vocalist Patrick Flynn explains. “But I wanted to write about the way loss can perpetuate this feeling of sadness in your life. I didn’t intend to make some kind of thematic trilogy but there is this connection to the first two records, and this album sort of rounds out some of the stages of grief that weren’t addressed previously–especially this feeling of stickiness that a depressive attitude can have.” This is the mental space where Death Is Nothing To Us exists, with Flynn observing the confounding allure of sorrow and the difficulty of holding onto so many conflicting internal and external hurts at once. He approaches this subject matter with a deftness and intensity that can only be matched by that of the music itself.
Since forming in 2014, Fiddlehead–Flynn, drummer Shawn Costa, guitarists Alex Henery and Alex Dow, and bassist Nick Hinsch–have been honing their unique sound, bringing together the energy of hardcore, the anthemic melodies of ‘90s alternative, the unbridled passion of Revolution Summer era emo. For Death Is Nothing To Us, the band again teamed with producer/engineer Chris Teti, and his punchy production captures the spark of Fiddlehead’s live show while doing justice to the massive guitars and undeniable catchiness that makes their music so immensely satisfying. The album’s concise 27 minutes sound like a natural extension of all of the band’s strengths, embracing the more melodic sensibilities of Between The Richness while maintaining the visceral bite of Springtime and Blind. “We knew we wanted to do something a little more aggressive sounding,” explains Henery. “That kind of stuff grounds the band. I think maybe people would have expected us to go cleaner with this LP but I see this as a real mix of the first two.”
The band’s agile sound, whether in their fiery attack or soaring choruses, is glued together by Flynn’s singular tuneful roar. From his seminal early band Have Heart, to Fiddlehead and his many projects in-between (Clear, Wolf Whistle, Free, Sweet Jesus…), the vocalist has earned a reputation as not only one of the most engaging performers in hardcore but also one of the genre’s most thoughtful lyricists. Here, on Death Is Nothing To Us, his lyrics cross into the rarified air where they could stand on their own, without the music. Across the album, Flynn seamlessly interweaves his ruminations on life, death, and all the joy and tragedy in between with references to Roman philosopher Lucretius; the author Jean Améry; other musicians like Bad Brains, Alex G, or Wire (doubling as a nod to the iconic Minor Threat cover of “12XU”); and even titles and lyrics from Fiddlehead’s own back catalog.
Yet Death Is Nothing To Us goes beyond simply touching on similar themes as Fiddlehead’s previous work. There’s a key distinction here–a sense of clarity, and perhaps even moreso, a sense of defiance. The title makes things clear: this is a statement, a line in the sand, and it’s not about one person, it’s about us. “I saw the title in this poem, ‘On The Nature of Things,’” Flynn explains. “It was rediscovered around The Renaissance, and it helped remind people more of the greatness of life and less about the sadness of death. It’s about not allowing death to rule over life.”
And fittingly, the album is bursting with life. The humanity across Death Is Nothing To Us is palpable in every note, and it’s the kind of art that observes pain with real honesty rather than prescribing a solution for it–and in doing so, inadvertently offers some sense of hopefulness. Mid-album standout “Sullenboy” highlights this dichotomy: on its first verse, Flynn plainly describes trying to muster the energy to fight off another day’s depression; on the second verse, he finds it in the light of his partner and their children, singing, “their day is young and their future’s wide / and I’ll die before I don’t help them rise.” On either side, the band provides one of the most tremendous choruses they’ve ever written, one brimming with vulnerability rather than empty platitudes (“I feel the fear / I can’t repair broken records of family trees / I feel the fear I will repeat”).
Elsewhere on “True Hardcore (II),” Flynn turns his attention to the subculture that’s given him so much, and that he’s given so much to in return. “I was always drawn to punk music because it seemed like it wasn’t this sage on the stage–it’s a weird community that exists without anyone really telling it what to do,” he explains. That world seems to both contrast and compliment Flynn’s daily life as a history teacher in Massachusetts: there’s no stage dives to be found, but the warmth he brings to hardcore still drives his work. “It’s kind of the perfect job to have for an artist’s life,” he says. “The amount of human experience you engage with…I’ve been doing it for over ten years, I’ve worked with over a thousand kids.”
That compassion exudes from “The Woes,” a key track where Flynn speaks directly to the listeners. “To the strange, stuck-in-bed, death-obsessed, Fiddleheads,” he bellows. “I can see you and me suffering silently / we’re visible and we’re seen when life is everything.” Flynn explains, “It acknowledges this paradox of personal suffering vs. communal suffering…you can never truly know the pain of another, but the outside world’s suffering doesn’t negate your own. And you can’t afford to ignore the suffering of others, either.” The song’s conviction exemplifies so much of what makes Fiddlehead a special band: taking these heady, unanswerable questions and wrestling with them in a very earthbound way, all wrapped up in the urgent power of a sub-three minute punk song.
The 12th and final track, “Going To Die,” concludes Death Is Nothing To Us with a rush of major chord riffs that break out of the speakers like a sharp beam of sunlight cracking out of thick clouds. Flynn pays tribute to the people in his life who have passed–family, friends, heroes–and says he’ll see them again. The loss is still there, and it’s not going anywhere, but he reminds himself that there’s still so much more to this life than fixating on the end of it. “See you on the other side / I know I will / But I don’t wanna die.”