Everything I've Learnt
More Than Conquerors' debut album reflects their Christian faith but lacks some much-needed punch, writes Chris Jones
Belfast quartet More Than Conquerors are part of a lineage in Northern Irish indie and rock music that is often overlooked.
Like many before them – from Duke Special and Brian Houston to Two Door Cinema Club and The Lowly Knights – they cut their teeth in church halls and Christian youth groups, honing their craft in front of teenage audiences so that by the time they came to the clubs and bars of Belfast, they were streets ahead of many of their contemporaries.
Over the last three years, the young band have swelled their audience with a lot of gigging, plenty of energy and a sound that harks back to British indie rock and post-hardcore of the early 2000s, bands like Biffy Clyro, Reuben and Hundred Reasons, as well as a hint of American emo from the same era and earlier.
In a sense, More Than Conquerors have pulled off an impossible trick – by building a devoted fanbase while staying true to their roots, they've become the Christian band it's perfectly fine for non-Christians to like.
The band's preoccupations with the big questions – life, death and particularly faith – are writ large on a debut album with an appropriately weighty title. Over the course of the records' 32 minutes, singer Kris Platt makes it perfectly clear that he is a young man with a lot on his mind.
'What if there's no heaven or hell? What if we all die young?' he implores in the chorus of 'Jaw'. Meanwhile, former single 'When The Well Runs Dry' appears to find Platt in the midst of a crisis of faith. 'Now I only talk to God when there's something I need,' he sings, and you sense a guilty conscience at work.
Overt references to matters of faith are few, however. Elsewhere Platt's words are very much open to interpretation, and could deal with any kind of relationships, whether romantic, platonic or religious. He's a deft lyricist, and for the most part Everything I've Learnt is universal without being banal. The voice that carries those words is a sticking point, though.
Admittedly, this is largely a matter of personal taste, and Platt can certainly sing, but he's very much of the 'high pitched, clean and earnest' school of vocals, when a little more grit and aggression might have more of an impact. The first few seconds of the album encapsulates the issue, as the colossal crunch of a Biffy Clyro-esque guitar riff almost immediately drops away to leave only Platt's reedy vocals. It's the aural equivalent of slamming on the brakes.
There is a chronic lack of excitement throughout this record, which is a problem for a band that bills itself on its Facebook page as 'alternative punk rock' – unless they mean it's an alternative 'to' punk rock, in which case it's a pretty accurate description.
Choruses soar where they are meant to, the harmonies are well-executed and there's plenty of accessible melody, but the pristine production values probably do this album more harm than good – it's clean, measured and far too safe.
There are exceptions. 'Pits Of Old' is one of a handful of songs with some dirt under its fingernails – and the buzzsaw riff is an effective counterpoint to one of Platt's best chorus melodies – while the punchy choruses of 'Jaw' and 'When The Well Runs Dry' are likely to stick in your head until after the album has breathed its last.
By the end, however, it's all become very predictable and a bit dull, and a record that lasts a mere 32 minutes feels much, much longer because of it. More Than Conquerors are clearly an accomplished young band with a knack for connecting with their audience. But for now they're not offering anything that hasn't been done before, and better.
Everything I've Learnt is available to download now.