This story begins with math.
When doing repetitive online math problems in high school, I quickly discovered that browsing the internet for Christian hard rock music was a pleasant way to pass the time while adding, subtracting, finding “x,” etc. One band in particular—small shout-out to Righteous Vendetta here—took up much of that listening time. That is, until I clicked on a suggested music video and got absolutely sucked into the whirling vortex that is Fit for a King. What I discovered was a single off their independently released album Descendants; to my delight, they had recently released a second album, titled Creation/Destruction, with Solid State Records. This sophomore effort quickly enraptured me. It was official. I had become a metalhead.
Metal is a funny genre of music to be labeled as “Christian,” yet the bands involved somehow manage to tiptoe the fine line between a genre often labeled “Devil music”—head-banging, screamo gobbledygook—uplifting spiritual anthems. Surprisingly, it works. FFAK brings both sheer brute force and contemplative lyrics to their songs—with messages ranging from spiritual warfare, to temptation, to death, to even heavier topics like abortion and terrorism. And, admittedly, while the growls, sneers, snarls, and squeals from frontman Ryan Kirby can often sound like the exact opposite of the message the band is trying to get across, I would argue metal just brings the sheer “power” other Christian brands of music don’t. Christian metal songs are fist-pumping, in-your-face, adrenaline-fueled epics that make you want to punch Satan in the face. Maybe it seems a tad overzealous, but heck, it works. As both a fan of the music and a song writer myself, I at least appreciate the ability of bands like FFAK to bring about heavy music with Christian underpinnings.
FFAK is at the top of their game, having released four albums to date—2011’s Descendants (both the original and a late 2013 Solid State re-release), 2013’s Creation/Destruction, 2014’s Slave to Nothing, and 2016’s Deathgrip—with a new album, Dark Skies, dropping yesterday. So, partially in celebration of the newest album and partially because FFAK is just such a great band, here’s my “official” ranking off the 42 songs they’ve released prior to their latest album; I’m not including Dark Skies as it’s just too fresh for me to place in a list like this.
Don’t worry; I’ll be brief. And I’ll be cutting this into three distinct blogs so as not to go overly long as I cover all 42 tracks.
As another note: I’ll be skipping over purely instrumental tracks “Creation” from Creation/Destruction, “Il Diluvio” from Descendants, and “The End’s Beginning” from Deathgrip, as they have no lyrical quality to them.
42. Buried (Descendants)
I was, admittedly, not overly excited about getting FFAK’s initial album. After sampling it off YouTube, I discovered an album that just wasn’t the same quality musically or production wise from the band as Creation/Destruction. While a rereleased version of the Descendants album is much better than the original, it’s still nowhere near the level of greatness C/D achieves. “Buried” is probably my least favorite song on the record, simply because it has nothing memorable about it. Other songs may have catchy choruses, great guitar gifs, or memorable guest vocals; this doesn’t. It’s just your flavor-of-the-month metal song.
41. Parallels (Descendants)
Squeaking its way out of the lowest spot, “Parallels” manages to overcome its fellow Descendants track simply because it contributes some of the aforementioned guest vocals. Jeremy Gray, lead singer of Christian hard rock outfit Ivoryline, mixes his clean vocals in with at-the-time clean vocalist Aaron Kadura (who left the band in 2014 and was replaced with Ryan “Tuck” O’Leary). It’s a nice addition to see the band bring in some added help; however, this is really the only part of the song which makes it stick out. Otherwise, it’s still fairly flat.
40. Unclaimed, Unloved (Deathgrip)
For fans wanting more heavy FFAK music, 2016’s Deathgrip delivers. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the album took what was great about the band—especially great writing and clever use of vocals—and dialed it back a bit. With some “meh” and repetitive lyrics, this song’s strengths lie in that we at least get fun opening instrumentals (a rarity from FFAK, who tend to forego the opening guitar chugs and leap straight into Kirby’s lyrical rage) as well as Kirby’s ever-fantastic voice. Clean vocalist O’Leary completely flubs the chorus, however. There’s actually some build up to the chorus here, and your ears begin to imagine it going one way, and then all of a sudden O’Leary comes pounding in, says “nope,” and grates against your ears. It’s not good, which is disappointing. O’Leary’s lyrics on the previous album “Slave to Nothing” are pretty good; to have that same element somehow change and now be the worst part of Deathgrip is unfortunate.
39. Disease (Deathgrip)
There are some great tracks, as you will see, but a track like “Disease” once again slides into “generic metal” territory. It’s bolstered by the fact FFAK had more experience under their belts, but combine carelessly written lyrics (such as the repetitive “We thought we were…” phrasing of the chorus) with more poor clean vocals, and you have a track that really could have been much better.
38. Transcend (Descendants)
The first soft “ballad” on this list (note: there aren’t many), “Transcend” is all Kadura. Known as “A Love that Transcends Everything” on the original release, this track allows Kadura’s lilting lyrics to pass slowly by. Perhaps a bit too slow at first, the song seems to find its mark after a few listens. While the lyrics are a little repetitive and simple, it’s not an awful song by any means. FFAK just makes some better ballads, as we shall see.
37. Shadows & Echoes (Deathgrip)
Much like the preceding tracks, “Shadows & Echoes” tends to fade into the sadly forgettable side of FFAK’s bibliography, which is fortunately really short. What elevates this song slightly above the previous tracks is, surprisingly, O’Leary’s chorus. “Would you tell me about your heart?” he asks in a poignant way, finding his voice just for a short while and delivering something that’s actually kinda catchy.
36. Descendants (Descendants)
The title track of FFAK’s original album (duh), Descendants’ biggest flaw is it’s just too dang short. Both the original and remastered versions showcase Kirby’s impressive vocals, and listening to both really allows an audience to see how much he grew in the intervening years. While the rereleased Descendants seemed to be a quick process following Creation/Destruction’s release earlier that year, songs like these prove that this second attempt was far superior to the original. It’s still way too short, though.
35. Hollow Eyes (Descendants)
What makes “Hollow Eyes” pleasant to listen to is the intertwining of lyrics provided by both Kirby and Kadura. Both vocalists sing in sync at moments, making a fun combination of voices. With some great imagery provided by the lyrics (“Remove this flesh, hollow out my eyes/Remove this flesh, shed the scab, and hollow out my eyes/A prisoner to myself, this grip is suffocating”), it’s really the dance between the two vocalists that makes this song enjoyable. Sadly, that’s still probably its only memorable feature.
34. Identity (Creation/Destruction)
The first track from FFAK’s sophomore album on this list, “Identity” comes in so high (or low, depending on your view) basically because it’s the worst of the best. With an album that has so many good songs on it, this one comes in just not as great compared it all the other awesome tracks. It suffers from a listless, traipsing quality that meanders around vocally, maybe plays with a chorus, and then runs around a bit more. Without much definable structure, it really comes across as several stanzas mashed together. Good ideas, good words…just poor execution.
33. The Roots Within (Descendants)
Kirby’s vocals are displayed enthusiastically here, ranging the gamut from snarls to shrieks even in the middle of various lines. Jumping straight into the song, Kirby keeps it up the whole way through, only pausing for a chorus sung by Kadura (“I’ve dug this grave for myself/And day by day, it’s getting deeper”), which is arguably one of his best on the rereleased album. It’s catchy, the lyrics are interesting, and the whole thing is just sung well. A dramatic ending adds in heavy riffs with Kirby’s deep-throated lyrics, providing a head-banger of a conclusion.
32. Messenger, Messenger (Descendants)
What makes this track one of the better Descendants’ songs, like the previous track, is Kirby’s vocal range at display here. Even within the first few lines of the song (“I’ve been building a nation/Under the water and on top of graves/I’ve been building a nation to construct the great revolt”), Kirby goes from mid-range, to deeper growls, to higher cries. The very end of the song provides Kirby with some great range as well, and with some earlier clean lyrics sung nicely by Kadura, “Messenger Messenger” lets itself be a stronger track than most others here. It’s also equally enjoyable to listen on both the old and newer versions, so props to the old record for making this a good one back then.
31. Kill The Pain (Slave to Nothing)
Following Creation/Destruction, fans were ready for another killer metal album from FFAK. Surprisingly, from what I’ve read, Slave to Nothing was a backslide for most fans, toning down C/D’s heaviness. While I enjoy the record plenty, “Kill The Pain” is a good example of what fans have complained about. It’s just generic, like a few other songs on this list. There’s really nothing that sets it apart from other tracks to make it a standout. Considering it’s the first track in the album, and considering where other first tracks rate on this list, “Kill The Pain” feels like a weaker way to open Slave to Nothing. Kirby holds his own well here, but a weak chorus and some rather generic riffs make it one of the songs that may have antagonized fans.
30. We Are All Lost (Deathgrip)
The pity about this track from Deathgrip is the chorus. Again, we have O’Leary on singing duties, and time and time again he fails to provide the (mostly) smooth vocals of predecessor Kadura. Kirby maintains his heavy growls, and a small breakdown following the first chorus’ cry of “We’re all lost and sick!” is a treat. Perhaps the best moment follows the final chorus, when another voice joins in and sings the chorus’ lyrics in more rapid fashion. This version of the chorus—this quicker, less grating, perhaps-sung-by-someone-else? version—is what the rest of the track should have used. An inkling of hope at the very end of what is otherwise a poorly sung moment. Recent re-listenings of the album has bolstered my opinion of the song, but not the chorus.
29. Eyes To See (Creation/Destruction)
“Eyes To See” may not the best track off this album, but it’s still a nice listen. With a pretty great chorus sung by Kadura, the song seems to focus on the often messy relationship between Christians and God, offering the nice bit of hope that God always remains by us even when we run away. If anything, Kadura does steal the show here; add in some awkward drums at the beginning and, much with “Identity,” a meandering flow to the song, and you end up with another weaker song off of the band’s best album. Fortunately, that soon begins to change.
That ends this portion of the list. I think, at this point, I can say I’ve covered the weakest FFAK songs and that things will go up from here. Yes, we still have a bunch of songs to go, but this perhaps begins the middling portion of the list, songs that I enjoy listening to but not as much as others. But which is the absolute best? All shall be revealed soon, as cheesy detectives on TV are fond of saying.