Flyleaf’s Between the Stars Marks a New Beginning for an Established Band
Album Review Plus Live Pics of the Band Performing in Cambridge, MA!
By Alyce Hayes
Flyleaf has always been a band quite happy making music in their own personal genre. They spanned hard rock, alternative rock and metal, they made no secret of their Christian beliefs ~ which were actually the subject of many of their songs ~ and vocalist Lacey Sturm topped it all off with a scream that rivalled, and maybe even surpassed, the best in the business. Their music carried passion, beauty and an honest grit, a combination we don’t often hear ~ and when we do, it is not always the positive experience that listening to Flyleaf was. So when Lacey’s departure from the band was announced, there was significant ambivalence regarding her replacement, Kristen May. But with the recent release of the band’s new album, Between the Stars, May had a chance to prove herself.
From the start, the difference is noticeable. Although Kristen and Lacey seem to have similar vocal ranges, Kristen has a much cleaner tone and can summon a much more powerful delivery. Her ability to go from delicate to commanding is impressive as well, and her passion is unmistakeable. At times Kristen’s voice is reminiscent of Emily Haines of Metric, or Hayley Williams of Paramore, but she certainly has a style all her own. For those who are used to (and/or may prefer) Lacey’s often spiritual lyrics, be prepared for the content of this album to be a little more well-rounded. Although Kristen is a Christian, her lyrics span many subjects: in the track “Traitor” (a personal favorite of mine), she talks of betrayal, in “Platonic” she covers the subject of love, and in both “Home” and “Thread,” she offers words of hope.
As for how the newest member of Flyleaf has affected the rest of the band (Sameer Bhattacharya and Jared Hartmann on guitars, Pat Seals on bass and James Culpepper on drums), there’s been a distinct shift to the softer side of songwriting ~ not necessarily uncharted territory for Flyleaf, but rather a deeper exploration of places they’ve already been. Between the Stars has a lighter feeling to it than did previous albums; you’ll hear more pop in guitar progressions, a stronger piano presence, and more frequent synth effects. Before Lacey left the band, there was a definite darkness to the songs the group wrote together, and I can’t deny that I was always drawn to that style. I’ll miss the heavier sound, but it’s a relief and a testimony to the band’s talent (and realization that change is sometimes a new beginning) that they were able and willing to adapt their music to complement Kristen’s vocal strengths rather than force the new singer to become as close to a Lacey Sturm clone as possible.
There’s no doubt that Flyleaf has changed with the arrival of Kristen May. Some longtime fans who loved the band’s metal edge will be disappointed that it is not front and center in Between the Stars, but that does not in the least bit equate to the album being disappointing. It is different ~ an evolution ~ and may in fact gain the band and entire new following. If you take nothing else away from this album, you will, I hope, appreciate that it was truly a collaborative project with all band members completely dedicated to creating a quality record that would serve as an introduction to a new chapter in their musical journey. Admittedly, some of my favorite songs from Between the Stars are ones with the smallest trace of Flyleaf’s older style, but I had to, as will others who were “faithful” to the band we knew as Flyleaf, approach this album with the ears and open minds of a new listener. We can still love what was Lacey’s style, but we can’t dwell on its loss, and should instead applaud this incredibly talented group of musicians for gracefully embarking on their second beginning and showing all the signs of becoming a great new band that’s been around for years.