Novelists FR – Déjà Vu


What happened to Novelists FR? They started life as an exciting progressive metalcore band and became a regular fixture at the UK Techfest. Their influence can be heard all over the European metalcore scene, and they can even take some of the blame for the wave of bands that copy their style (Imminence, The Oklahoma Kid, Eyes Wide Open). Déjà Vu is the group’s fourth LP and first with new singer, Tobias Rische, yet it’s also a decisive shift towards pop. Have the iconoclasts become too iconoclastic?

Those of you that detest the anodyne nu metal of Linkin Park and the pop disruption of Bring Me the Horizon will find little to satiate your appetite here. Opener, ‘Smoke Signals’, starts with a stunning piece of shredding rock guitar from the Steve Vai school but soon turns into a piece of gyrating TikTok pop with the predictable channels of guitar distortion and big choruses that hunger for inclusion on a viral Spotify playlist. ‘Heretic’ has no shortage of pulverising drop-tuned riffing at its core, but it sounds like they received the invitation to write the lead single for Mission Impossible two decades too late. The R&B influence on the verse parts is intolerable. This music is like an Asda ready meal – the taste is adequate for the low price, but it gives you too few calories to do the job.

Of course, artists need to experiment and incorporate new influences to evolve, but Novelists FR make the mistake of dropping Periphery for Polyphia on Déjà Vu. Didn’t this band used to have a texture of Tesseract in their arsenal? Not anymore. Instead, they insert annoying dubstep synth loops into their choruses (see ‘Made by Design’) and optimistic pop melodies to blunt their heavy guitars (see ‘The Answer’). Fortunately, the band’s progressive roots mean they include five instrumental interludes among the twelve tracks on the album, many of which show a good ear for creating a pensive mood. Track two (‘Mae’) is an interesting place to position an ethereal keyboard melody with an electronic drumbeat; the effulgent shoegaze contemplation of ‘Colas’ would not be out of place on a Lush or Slowdive record. Could it be that Novelists FR have too many ideas to satisfy the creative impulses of their band members?

And yet Déjà Vu is strange for being a listenable album. You can play this on repeat and tap your foot, or you can curse the French quintet for being so catchy and hard to ignore. ‘Terrorist’ reminds you what nu metal became when it flirted with industrial, yet the clenched jaw emotion of the guitar solo will leave you in a state of subordination. If only they didn’t spoil it with their bleeding-heart self-pity and boy band chorus refrains…

Novelists FR are not a lost cause yet, but one hopes they return to a heavier and darker mood on their next record. This is a polarising effort that will disappoint the prog metal fanbase.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 23/09/2022

Record Label: Out of Line Music

Standout tracks: Smoke Signals, Made by Design, Lost Cause

Suggested Further Listening: Resolve – Between Me and the Machine (2021), Pridelands – Light Bends (2022), Imminence – Heaven in Hiding (2021)