Unless you’re a purist for a physical release, by now you’d have ‘met’ Make Them Suffer‘s album, How To Survive A Funeral. Given that the Perth band introduced their fourth studio album with songs like “Erase Me” and “Soul Decay”, hype has been suitably high, all the way through to its digital release last Friday via Greyscale Records. Better late than never, we explore How To Survive A Funeral track-by-track in this review.
“Step One” is a foreboding and cold start to the album, with echoing guitar stretching out across the song’s dark landscape. The eerie sense of ‘something’s coming’ doesn’t go away, and a defiant roar of “Speak from your heart” seems to officially kick off How To Survive A Funeral. Sharpened long-held tones and melodic riffs soon evolve into a monotone rhythmic feast.
I’m reminded of “Save Yourself” and the impact of that song – in particular the spoken word section at its end – and just how much power the act of speaking from one’s heart has. It makes sense that doing so is a first step (of many things), if that’s what is meant here, including making an album or surviving a funeral.
Blisteringly heavy from the start, “Falling Ashes” is unsettling due to its punishing relentlessness. A delicate haunting melody dances in the background of this intensity, seeming to mirror the intensity of the experiences expressed in the lyrics. With the stabs of the “From gutter to gutter” lines, Sean Harmanis’s vocal rhythms strike fiercely, before culminating in a deep low of defeat.
That light melody is still present and grinds up against the instrumental heaviness in dissonant collision. It’s fittingly jarring in the song’s themes of a traumatic past leading to a troubled present. Throaty calls to ‘Guardians’ seem to break a sonic dam and reveal momentary peace – coupled by an ear-to-ear meditation – before returning to stormy turbulence.
With unexpected groove, “Bones” oozes throat-constricting anxiousness, with someone mentally combing over all that they are, including all that they despise of themselves. Climbing and with pressure rising, especially without the relief of a chorus where you might expect it, it’s two-steppable savagery toward the self.
The continued self-analysis of their uselessness only hits a point of surrender when the chorus finally comes; when a gang vocal calls skyward for their carcass, soul, heart, everything to be taken. A pared back moment of solemn singing ahead of another chorus leads to a shinier atmosphere than you’d expect from someone virtually ‘refunding’ themselves.. if I’m understanding it correctly.
In an interview with Revolver, Sean was quoted as saying that the songs of the album as well as Make Them Suffer in general are all about juxtaposition, explaining that “injecting life and light into something typically dark is basically our bread and butter”. I’d had this in mind while taking in “Bones”, and wondered if this shininess of sound was in part because of this.[And as a side note, this song has been in my head since first (pre-release) listen and it hasn’t left it.]
“Drown With Me”
Each of the How To Survive A Funeral singles has impressed and left a memorable mark, including “Drown With Me”. In terms of light blending with dark, I took the album’s fourth song to reflect the uncomfortable vulnerability that can be asked for with diving into something new or different, including a relationship. I take it as a kind of side-step of what we heard in “Bones”; where the surrender is being urged for growth as opposed to giving everything up and sacrificing.
The track does an exceptional job in taking ocean/watery metaphors to their extreme, and I love how invested Make Them Suffer seem to have been in this idea throughout the song. Even instrumentally, the song gives the sense of being hit by one wave after another, as well as the “which way is up?” feeling when dunked underwater and tumbling around with sand and foam.
With this, the clarity of the chorus is made more noticeable, akin to a mermaid (with no offense intended to Booka Nile!) arriving and soothing the underwater panic with calm presence. The high and light melodies and singing form a cushion to the seriousness that’s felt, and lyrical urgings to “drown with me if you can” encourage the person to push the limits of their vulnerability and let fear melt away.
Again Sean Harmanis’ vocal rhythms strike bluntly and fill the depths of this song’s ‘world’ with his cries. I notice that it’s perhaps the third instance that Make Them Suffer have referred to spirit or soul in the songs of the album, feeling like a connective link through the album, and the ‘survival’ of the funeral may relate to the spirit that lives on and not just the attendees of the funeral?
At the halfway mark, How To Survive A Funeral still feels buoyant and energised. This album is by no means a chore to be with. “Erase Me” pummels with sheets of rain via Jordan Mather’s effort on drums, and the high-pitched melody practically squeals to force its way through to be metaphorically seen.
The reckless energy of the verses has me think of someone going head-first at life without fear, yet likely leaving a path of destruction behind them. Closer inspection upon the lyrics highlights a desire for a relationship to be killed, by any means possible. Destroying the connection to leave this reckless one to go and be reckless without having their tether to the other cause them to hurt or be endlessly waiting. Repetition of lines like “Let it break” urgently hit home the strength of desire to end this entanglement.
Booka’s contribution at the chorus reveals a softer core within the recklessness, as does the vulnerable/sung chorus toward the song’s end that offers something akin to a sweetened cradling of farewell. The song is decidedly memorable, with riffs and breakdown around the midway mark of the song making it a pleasure to immerse in this toxic and crumbling relationship dynamic. Eardrum blasts express the sheer determination for the other to hear the message.
“Soul Decay” is another song that set up camp in my mind since I first heard it, and also happens to be another instance of talking about souls. Where it could potentially get tired at this point of the album with the same structure with Booka appearing at the choruses, “Soul Decay” offers something else: The dominant voice is Sean’s, with ethereal-esque softening occurring alongside it.
The second verse’s paring back speaks like a magnifying glass upon the flaws and choices of another, and the things that keep them stuck in martyrdom; a place where they seem intent to remain. Spiralling riffs and heartbeat thuds from the drums seem intent on seeping into the core of the person they’re referring to, to wake them from a pointless loop. The urgency of “Soul Decay” progressively climbs, along with the distaste peaking like screams from a mountaintop. Meanwhile, groove-laden breakdowns are an absolute treat. [For the interested, I spoke more about this song in detail here, as well as explored “Erase Me”, and “Drown With Me” when they released as singles.]
“Fake Your Own Death”
“Fake Your Own Death” is what hate sounds like. From grinding and piercingly stuck record kinds of sounds, the song is both cavernous and bombarding. Sean’s rhythmic barks spray venom right back at the snake in question.
Yet again the groove that shows up instrumentally makes this feel like far more fun than the lyrics share, and the blunt track moves through a variety of head-haunting, pummeling, and threatening moments. There’s not much more to say than the fact that this is likely to go down a treat in a live setting. Sonic hatred is a surprisingly good time.
“How To Survive A Funeral”
Despite the idea of keeping dark things light, the title track is still a moving one. With static and seriousness, we’re two-stepped into the scene of a funeral, and it’s unsettling to witness a conversation with the person who has passed away. Describing what it was like at their funeral, the line “none of us knew we cared ’til you’re gone” hits with a lump at the throat.
The song’s chorus kneads emotion out of me with its interwoven layers, and places a softened lens upon this finality. I understand the deceased person to have been disconnected and troubled, and hear a horrified ‘How could you do this?!’ flavour of anger from Sean’s vocals.
Nick McLernon’s wildness via guitar seems to capture the person’s inner storms, and there’s a collective pressure-cooker kind of tension instrumentally speaking, with a momentary cold breeze taking us to the burial. Sean’s voice seems to practically shred the earthbound tethers of this human as they are put to rest. And just when I felt like the song had moved me sufficiently, the “Everyone came in colours” part punched me in the heart and I absolutely cried (some more).
“The Attendant” is blatantly more ‘ballady’ than its album siblings, including a “whoa-oh” moment at the chorus. But it’s by no means a cheesy addition to the album and has its own distinctive place.
Contemplative and clean at its start, I understand it as sharing a ‘Who am I and what have I done?’ kind of question. Gentle piano melody joins in before the fuller song expands in all of its swayable glory along with the melody, with substance and weight in these wonderings.
More slithery and pared back at its first verse, we learn of the protagonist’s view of how damaging they are to others. There’s something beautiful about this; a heavy-hearted sifting through the ashes of their existence. The ongoing gentle piano melody gives it all a kinder quality and stops it from sinking into a completely dark atmosphere. It’s something I didn’t expect to hear on this album at all and yet it’s still unmistakably Make Them Suffer.
“That’s Just Life”
And even after the surprise of “The Attendant”‘s sound and an electronic intro, I was still foolish enough to expect a signature Make Them Suffer sound from “That’s Just Life”. I went into the track thinking I knew where it’d go and it had a lot more going on than expected, and turned out to be a perfect ending to the album.
To try and capture that, let’s say that “That’s Just Life” stomps and crushes with signature Make Them Suffer weight, before a djent pocket seeps into an electronic moment before thrashing again. It vibes like a heavy journey and climb, with the lighter “That’s just life” being the surrendered free fall from the top, gliding down like a feather.
The thematic subjects of change and leadership makes me think about the band’s signing to Greyscale Records, but it’s vague enough that it could reflect any experience that touches on the idea of riding the bumps as they happen, and being okay to let go of old connections in the name of growth.
The track is incredibly satisfying in its effortless forward movement that’s coupled with instrumental fire and intricacy. I wanted the guitar feature part at around 3:00-3:30 mark to never end. Perfection. The song (and therefore the album as a whole) peters out into a wry smile of possibility in the new, and it feels decidedly great to me.
In fact to sum it all up, the entire album is surprisingly heartwarming and happy, even given all of its focus spent upon broken souls and crumbling/toxic connections. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the album was in honour of Make Them Suffer getting to the other side of their own challenging experiences, or those that they’ve witnessed in others, and celebrating their ability to survive things that could ruin a person or a band.
We survive funerals like we survive anything, by breathing and facing it and moving forward, and there’s a lot of that contained in this album. How To Survive A Funeral is Make Them Suffer continuing to move forward and facing whatever damage with surrender and embracing change. It seems like the idea of being fearless and unafraid to release what doesn’t work for you extends beyond lyrical ideas. With this fourth studio album under their collective belt now, the band feels fresh and inspired and optimistic, and fully embodying Sean’s frequent catchcry of “GO!”.
Listen to/buy How To Survive A Funeral now: https://grysclrec.lnk.to/makethemsuffer
A collection of memorable songs that successfully pull together the light and shade of being alive and going through difficulty and getting to the other side. Tight musicianship and stunning atmospheres.
It felt like things were just getting started at the end of "That's Just Life" and I'd have liked to have felt more of this through the album.