Nathan Kiehn is a blogger at Keenlinks, a contributor at Geeks Under Grace, and the author of "The Gray Guard" ebook trilogy on Amazon.
Fit for a Metalhead
Since their formation in 2007, Christian metal band Fit for a King has performed hundreds of shows in front of thousands of listeners, eager for their particular brand of metal and always hungry for new material. In this department, the band has never disappointed, releasing four studio albums from 2013–2018 with Solid State Records, as well as a re-recorded version of their independent release Descendants in late 2013. Purely subjective, I believe these first five albums fit nicely on a scale ranging from "good" to "astounding."
Over time, the band has grown and molded their sound, perhaps not always maturing in ways they expected, but at least providing music that was unique and different from either their contemporaries or whatever albums they produced previously. I want to rank these first five albums and discuss them. What makes each album unique, and what does that say about Fit for a King?
5. Descendants (2011/2013)
This album is a little strange to rank, since it's technically been released twice. FFAK released it independently in 2011, but after being picked up by label Solid State Records, they put out a "redux"ed version in late 2013. Having listened to both versions, however, I'll be speaking about them as a single unit.
I'm putting this album at the bottom of the list because, while there are a few standout songs, a lot of the material just never gelled with me all that well. "Ancient Waters" and "The Architect" stand head-and-shoulders above the rest of the album: the former draws you into the album with an amazing intro and wonderful opening vocals by frontman Ryan Kirby; the latter has some amazing instrumental moments and a great clean chorus, but it's Memphis May Fire's vocalist Matty Mullins' guest vocals which makes the song's second half stand out.
Release vs. Re-Release
The dual nature of the albums actually makes this a bit more difficult to rank as well. I've never been fond of many of the original release's tracks—"Descendants" is good but a bit too short, and nothing wows me on tracks like "Buried," "Parallels" or "Hollow Eyes"—and the re-release has unfortunately helped little.
The sound and production quality are certainly better, but it's ultimately a flimsy sheen over material that doesn't stand up to the band's superior later albums. "Ancient Waters," "The Architect," and "Unchanging" even have moments that sound better on the original tracks and moments I appreciate more on the re-release. Both end up being a tad disappointing—the original for it's somewhat bland production and the re-release for not fixing as many mistakes as it could have.
"Descendants" Track Listing
|Song Title||Length||Favorite Lyric|
"I have come to destroy"
"I sit here humble and meek/I stand still looking to fill this void"
"With blood filling up my bones it's my time/With breathe filling up my chest it's my time/My time to move"
"All I leave in my path is destruction/Hell has opened its gates for me"
"The arms of the broken can only hold you up for so long"
"I will not be shaken/I am cleansed from the inside out"
The Roots Within
"Oh God is it too late to pull me out of this/And then I heard your voice/This is where it ends"
"I know its hard to live with these lies shoved down your throat/I know its hard to breathe when your lungs have failed you"
"Wait for something more/And pray for this new day/Wait for something more and pray"
"I won't let this go/My worthless hands have let you down"
Keep Me Alive (original track on redux version)
"Death will not become me"
4. Slave to Nothing (2014)
Having discovered FFAK in 2013, I was overly excited for this 2014 release. With both their first Solid State album and the Descendants re-release under their belts, the band was poised to go nowhere but up. But Slave to Nothing, while not a backslide for the band, does represent a slight shift into somewhat softer territory.
By no means does FFAK leave the metalcore genre or lose the sound they established for themselves with Creation/Destruction. But Slave to Nothing is a different album for the crew that ends up being not quite the sophomore effort I was hoping for.
The album's biggest issue can be summed up in one word: "middling." So much of the material found on Slave to Nothing fails to stand out as incredible, unlike tracks from past releases. That's not to say great songs don't exist—the title track, with For Today's Mattie Montgomery on guest vocals is an absolutely stellar song, "A Greater Sense of Self" is the single which mesmerized me the first time I heard it, and "Forever Unbroken" is a fist-pumping anthem any metalhead can get behind. But several of the albums' weaker tracks—"Kill the Pain," "Hooked," "Break Away," and "Cleanse My Soul"—fail to bring any uniqueness to Slave to Nothing, residing in this "been there, heard that" ether of mediocrity. Some really good breakdowns exist, but they're sometimes pushed aside by pieces that don't fit as well.
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Perhaps the album's weakest element is in its clean vocals. Just when you start loving Ryan Kirby's voice blazing through "Forever Unbroken," you remember that the band's primary clean vocalist, Ryan O'Leary, bombed his chorus on "Hooked." Kirby's transition to main clean vocalist won't be completed until two albums from now, but it's worth the wait. That, sadly, isn't a complement to the cleans we're offered on this album. O'Leary doesn't flub everything he sings—his work on "Kill the Pain," "Cleanse My Soul," and the softer ballad "Selfish Eyes" is still pretty entertaining.
"Slave to Nothing" Track Listing
|Song Title||Length||Favorite Lyric|
Kill the Pain
"I've filled my veins with poison/And silenced my voice just to take another breath"
Young & Undeserving
"I've been wondering where he went/And how a good man lives to die"
Slave to Nothing
"A kingdom reclaimed/The spawn of sin is shamed/Reaching from the dirt as darkness falls beneath the Earth"
"The devil grabs my throat, and now I know/ I'm not the only one to blame/Years of empty bottles and broken needles/Have lead me to the flames"
"I'd prefer to be trapped inside addiction/Chained to the floor with no hope to survive/Give it up you'll never escape"
"Do you love, when you're breaking at the seams?/Do you love, when you forget what it means?/Do you love, when you have nothing?"
A Greater Sense of Self
"Use me or let me go/This is too much to take/Move me or let me fall/Relieve me of this burden"
"Lies have put me down/Hate has shut me out/Through the trials and the pain/I will remain/Forever unbroken"
"A liar in Heaven makes an angel in Hell"
Cleanse My Soul
"Like a parasite you're digging into my soul/Spirit fill these lungs, make me whole"
The Final Thoughts of a Dying Man
"Don't let the darkness define you/You are not alone/Don't let the darkness define you/You will find your home"
3. Deathgrip (2016)
FFAK's third studio album was one I was really looking forward before it dropped. Singles "Pissed Off," "Dead Memory," and "Cold Room" were fantastic tracks and gave a hint of what was to be the band's first "concept" album. Tapping into themes of loss, abandonment, terrorism, and genocide, Deathgrip is still the band's darkest album to date.
This elevates it above the previous two albums, centering itself on a grim focus that doesn't come across as "dark for the sake of being dark" but rather "dark for the purpose of saying something about the darkness we all deal with." This means a song like "Pissed Off" isn't just an exploration of violence in our world; it's a lament about how saturated our world is with hate and death and how that needs to be righted.
I actually struggled with liking Deathgrip at first. I wasn't wowed by much of it my first couple of times I listened through it. But the more I listened, the more I realized that the songs I enjoyed were really good...and the songs I didn't weren't all that great. Tracks like "Pissed Off," "Dead Memory," "Stacking Bodies," "Cold Room," and "Deathgrip" are amazing lyrically and vocally; but songs like "Disease," "Shadows and Echoes," and "Unclaimed, Unloved" fall a little flat. O'Leary's vocals, though much improved since Slave to Nothing, still don't amaze me at moments.
The band's biggest weapon in terms of vocals really becomes Kirby. Not only does his screaming becoming more honed on this album, but his clean vocals continue to shine. His choruses for "Dead Memory" and "Cold Room" are some of the best moments of the album. While O'Leary provides some good sounds on "Cold Room" and "We Are All Lost," seeing Kirby pick up the clean vocal slack while breakdowns rage around him makes for some fun, almost enchanting tracks.
"Deathgrip" Track Listing
|Song Title||Length||Favorite Lyric|
"We create, we destroy/We create/We are slaves to nothing/But the blood on our hands"
"Your tongue tells lies/Your eyes deceive/Your touch, poisonous"
"I've been dreaming of your face again/Another nightmare, will they ever end?/I've been dreaming of the place you're in/So far away, so far away from me"
"The demons rip into my chest/Extracting a disease, we spent years trying to suppress/Constricting veins, bloodshot eyes/Hell has come to claim its prize"
Shadows & Echoes
"The strong they stand up for their sons and daughters/The weak they flee from the sight of martyrs"
More Than Nameless
"I've been spit on/I've been cast away/I am more than decay/You'll never hold me down/Rise up/I'm not nameless"
We Are All Lost
"I built my foundation with the fragile hands of fellow men/I believed that I was the key/And that You were only there to help me when I needed You"
"Tell me, how can one live when all they hear is useless, worthless, give up?"
"We live in a place/Where five-hundred thousand people disappear without a trace/No funeral, no regard/Just another number in the body count"
"My memories are like a noose around my neck/I could never let go of all the regrets"
2. Dark Skies (2018)
Dark Skies is the album I was hoping our previous three entries would sound like. Though Slave to Nothing and Deathgrip provided similar standards of metal FFAK brought to the table in their first Solid State release, some elements felt a little off. The writing wasn't as sharp, the clean vocals could be iffy. Several great songs, but also some genuinely disappointing ones.
This all changed with Dark Skies. I can't say the band "found their groove" here, since I don't loathe Slave to Nothing or Deathgrip. But Dark Skies is the release that sounded most like the FFAK I fell in love with back in 2013. A promise of hope filters into topically-darker songs here. The album isn't as "conceptual" as Deathgrip, but underlying themes of hope and light thrive in the midst of some of the grimmer material fans are offered.
Thankfully, finding a dull song in this album is difficult to do. A few weaker tracks exist: "Debts of the Soul" is a shorter song that acts more like an intro to "Oblivion" rather than serving as a standalone track; "Engraved" is enjoyable, but "Pissed off" and "Ancient Waters" are better examples of opening songs. But even songs I wasn't a huge fan of when I first started listening—"Anthem of the Defeated" and "Shattered Glass"—have grown on me, even if they're both a bit too short. Thankfully, the majority of this album is incredible. Tracks "The Price of Agony," "Backbreaker," "Youth|Division," "When Everything Means Nothing," "Tower of Pain," and "Oblivion" are all amazing additions to FFAK's arsenal.
Ryan Kirby has fully usurped the position of clean vocalist here, and the band has never made a better decision concerning their sound. Slave to Nothing and Deathgrip feel like appetizers to this full-on buffet. "When Everything Means Nothing" owes a fantastic intro to his voice, and the same can be said for the chorus of "Youth|Division" and the ending for "The Price of Agony." Kirby's vocals aren't the only weapons the band utilizes, but they're a shining example of wise decision-making that separates this album from several of its predecessors.
"Dark Skies" Track Listing
|Song Title||Length||Favorite Lyric|
"How do I make my life something to remember?/Give me a purpose to raise into the smoke"
The Price of Agony
"Holding on to what we know/Too proud to change/Too scared to grow"
"Backbreaker/Sever all the ties sever all the lies/Backbreaker/Reach inside and see if I'm living"
Anthem of the Defeated
"The disrespected, the angry at heart/I feel your pain, I feel your hurt/Hatred, it comes in waves/Tear me apart, then what's left to save?"
When Everything Means Nothing
"Answers never seemed so distant/The fear of missing out blurs my vision/Am I enough to live up to the expectations of a world that won't stop moving?"
"Am I here to live like I'm broken/Am I here to lose my way?/Separate me from the sorrow/Give me hope for another day"
"I know you're rotting inside and no one knows you're hurting/You're searching for light, but all you know is burning/Can't find the cure for something no one can see/Can't find the answers when there's no room left to breathe"
Tower of Pain
"Fear shouldn't be deciding my fate/My agony shouldn't be holding this weight"
Debts of the Soul
"Will you take my burdens?/Will you wear my scars?"
"The grip of the guilt and the scars of my sins live on, they're choking me"
1. Creation/Destruction (2013)
When it comes to FFAK, I have a personal Top 10 list of songs. Seven of those songs are from Creation/Destruction. "Ancient Waters" may be the first song of theirs I discovered, but Creation/Destruction was the first album I explored. Plumbing its depths, I was hooked from the very start and, many years later, continue to jam to it endlessly.
The album is lightning in a bottle, something the band has perhaps attempted replicating and come closest to doing so with last year's Dark Skies. There are no guest vocals and not really a discernible theme. All of it is metal, infused with tight writing, amazing breakdowns, and gorgeous vocals.
So many of the songs work for so many reasons. "Warpath" drags you in with a snarl from Kirby, guitars riffing until his brutal opening lines; "Hollow King (Sound of the End)" hits you fifteen seconds in with the band's heaviest breakdown to date; "Broken Fame" utilizes ex-clean vocalist Aaron Kadura's voice majestically during the chorus. In fact, the blend of Kadura and Kirby's voices may be this album's biggest strength. Kirby's clean vocals have been amazing, but listening to him paired to Kadura during "Bitter End" or "The Resistance" makes me ache for such a match to exist again.
"Skin & Bones" is a softer ballad, another beautiful example of Kadura's rich voice. It's the only softer song on the album but is maybe one of my favorite songs by the band. Lyrically, each of these songs point to the band's ability to craft narratives and images that won't leave your head. Latching on to themes of addiction and spiritual warfare, the album never lets up, so fans should be ready to never let their guard down.
"Creation/Destruction" Track Listing
|Song Title||Length||Favorite Lyric|
"This is my everlasting purpose/I will be the end of your lies"
Hollow King (Sound of the End)
"You ventured out to save the one you love/You should have known/This is the price that you pay"
"You cannot find a way/When all you do is aim to accumulate/Reaching out for everything but the answers/We have gone astray"
"I never thought I'd see the day/When I'd see my Maker face-to-face/Every sin accounted for/Every bad decision I ever made"
Skins & Bones
"I know that one of these days/I'll finally see you face to face/At the golden gates/Will you take me or will I fade into the grave?"
"We will be a generation that makes a stand/Against the ones who call themselves kings/They will take away everything/Before we have a chance to speak"
"In the primes of our lives we turn a blind eye/To the burdens that we bring on ourselves/Mistaking fortune for warnings/I brought this on myself"
"I breathe the toxins in/For too long I've been doing a delicate walk with the devil"
Eyes to See
"Worn down by my self-inflicted struggle/I need to let go/If seeing is believing/Then give me eyes to see"
"You backstabber/You spit filth from your mouth/Spitting fire on fire and still claiming devout/You're no better than the demons that are filling your head/You're a medium for malice/Now your destruction begins"
Why FFAK Is Worth Listening To
In total, FFAK has produced over fifty songs in the time they've been together. Their music represents some of the finest in the Christian metal industry today. Not every song is a winner, nor is every album perfect. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and each has at least one song that could very well get stuck in your head if you gave it a listen. With some powerful messages, fantastic lyrics, strong vocals, and heavy instrumentals, Fit for a King is a band worth checking out. They've got plenty of material. What are you waiting for?
© 2019 Nathan Kiehn