ALBUM REVIEW: These Four Walls – ‘This Is Not A Future’

Words by Tracey Moyle – Music Maven

‘This is Not A Future’, the third offering from New Zealand bred, now Gold Coast locals, These Four Walls will finally arrive on April 24th.   This album has been a long time coming and eagerly anticipated by the fans who have loved this band since the beginning, with previous albums ‘Down Falls An Empire’ (2009) and ‘Living To Write The End’ (2012) well worn on their playlists.  

Tracey Moyle was lucky enough to not only get a preview of the new album but had the opportunity sit down and have an in depth chat with Stephen Gibb (Vocals, guitar) and Gray Vickers (lead guitarist) and dig deep into how the songs were transformed from a simple riff, an idea, or an emotionally raw story to the stellar rock tracks on this new album.

Listening to the songs on ‘This Is Not A Future’, you can’t help but notice they have a connecting theme – balancing between despair and promise, giving the listener the insight to the motive that runs throughout this album, one of hope.  With production starting originally in 2016 at Loose Stone Studios on the Gold Coast with producer Luke Palmer (Dead Letter Circus, Rival Fire, Sky Harbour) and Mix/Master engineer Matt Bartlem, (Dead Letter Circus, Jarryd James, Jacob Lee) on board, the band have brought forward their best work yet, with musical depth and incredibly personal lyrics, they have gone beyond their previous boundaries adding intensity with the addition of grand piano and strings on some tracks.

The Sound is the opening track, beautifully melancholic and captivating with the addition of Ian Peres (Wolfmother, Xavier Rudd) on piano.

Unlike the previous TFW albums, which start off with a powerful burst, they have opened ‘This Is Not A Future’ with an emotional prelude showcasing Stephen Gibb’s ability to express raw emotion in his vocal delivery.  Lyrically it’s sincere – “This is the sound of breaking down.  The sound of simply giving in.  This is the sound of breaking down. Again.”   This song is the hook that takes you into wanting to hear the remaining tale the album.   Gibb gives some insight into this first track: “It’s from a darker side of myself, about waking up in a small town and repeating the same day over and over and over again, the inevitable Groundhog day so many people find themselves in. They can’t find an out.  They turn to substance abuse and that kind of thing as almost something to do, something to feel alive. I really do love the small town I was from but I know a lot of people like that, it can be from anywhere in the world. There are people who have just no way out and end up repeating the same vicious cycle everyday and this whole album is about finding a way out.”    Gray adds: “I don’t even thing it’s restricted to small towns either, big cities are the same – wake up, go to work, have your coffee, go home, watch TV.  You’re not really living, you’re stuck in a cycle.”

Where The Sound is the prologue to the album latest single Chaos is the first chapter that hooks you into the remaining story.  From here the solemn timbre fades and the energy bursts, giving us the familiar catchy riffs and belting rhythm we love about this band.  Gibbs’ urgent vocals carry through the verse taking us into a melodic rock chorus with the scream of angst backed by Elliot Burton (Bass) taking the song to it’s climax.   Vickers explains the transition: “I think it’s really cool that it’s where the album title comes from as well.  It feels like a mission statement for the record and not just lyrically, I think tonally the music, the riffs and the size of the music in there as well is a bit of a message.   It’s what we wanted to get out of this record.”  

Gibb adds: “It’s an immediate follow up to The Sound, it’s about that person stuck in that rut.  It takes a person or an idea or an inspiration to break apart the walls that surround them in darkness and show them light and to show them the path they are following isn’t their future. There’s a lot more for someone out there.

Sometimes you need to be thrown into chaos to know there is more out there.”

The bands third single release Fire Away is the third track on the album.  Brad Vickers takes charge of this track with drums forming and controlling the urgency of the song.  Gibb comes in like a master storyteller telling a tale. Burton is on bass again supporting with furious vocals and Gray Vickers and Gibb fuse it into a complete tale, musically painting a picture of impending doom.  “If you read it from start to finish it’s quite literal. It’s Armageddon in a song” confirms Gibb.  “My endeavour is always that someone can listen to a song and take what they want from it.  They don’t have to listen to something and go ‘oh he’s talking about himself’, I want someone to listen and hear the words how they need it to affect them. That’s always my mission statement for it.  So Fire Away is an interesting one. It’s about following your own path and following your own beliefs and not relying on others for that.”   Gray adds,  “I think the message, especially in the chorus, is very universal, ‘Wasting our time, waiting for a sign’, well fuck, how many people do that, how many people just wait for stuff.”

Next is the band’s 2018 release Over & Over. Gibbs’ ability to relay emotion through his lyrics is brought to the forefront in this song.  I mentioned this to him in our chat.  “Thanks, it hurts so it must be working (laughs) physically and emotionally.  I really do try and put everything into it so I appreciate that a lot.”  Having his vocal resonance likened to The Butterfly Effect’s Clint Boge, Gibb responds with confirmation “We got the opportunity to tour with them in New Zealand in 2010 and I was a massive fan before that; way back, so his vocals were a really massive inspiration for me.  I remember seeing them at The Annandale in Sydney.  They had Full Scale opening for them, which is Ezekiel Ox’s old band, pre Mammal.  I remember Clint coming out on stage, and I hadn’t heard of them at this stage, I was there to see Full Scale. And he walk on stage and just dominated, he just absolutely owned his audience and owned his songs and I was like ‘Yeah, I’ll do that thanks, that’s what I want.  I will have that job thanks.” 

In regard to the context of the song, Gibb continues: “You’re definitely going to find a lyrical theme and concept throughout this entire album.  It always has been, for me ‘falling down, getting back up’ that’s really what it is, never give up, never surrender. That’s the mantra of the album (laughs).  Over & Over is a really dark one, it has to do with really dark suicidal thoughts particularly.  It gets literal in the chorus ‘It won’t be long til we can see over the mountains ahead’, you know, you keep climbing and you’ll get there.  You’ll get to the summit and you’ll see what’s on the other side and you’ll be all the better for it.” 

Peeling back the pace we come to Slow, however, a slower heavier pace doesn’t make this any less a rock song. It comes together beautifully both instrumentally and vocally with TFW showing a quality, structure and depth to their music combined with versatility and strength.  Vickers talks about how it all came together;  “The way we recorded a lot of the songs, we did a first clump which was Bravery, Fire Away and Over and Over, and then we did Slow, Knots and Strands and I think leading up to doing that, you (Gibb) and I spent a lot of time on the lyrics to Slow.  It was another one we got bogged down in the concept rather than what we wanted to get out of it.  It ‘s about being that person that drags everyone else down, that hopeless cause that doesn’t learn from their mistakes. I think we had to pull it out and make it a little more abstract. It’s really hard to write a concept piece yet still have enough relevance and, I guess, reach, saying this isn’t exactly what it’s about but it’s about this.   Slow toed the line nicely.  That song had a few iterations, we played it at the Fuel and Skillet show and it was a whole different song. It wasn’t until we got to recording stage where it just came up with a completely different track. That once came together a lot in the studio.”

Before I’m Gone again taps into Gibbs’ ability to relay emotion through his vocal delivery.  Musically the band carries this feeling building from a crisp vocal/guitar combination with the addition of drums, gradually changing the sentiment of the song from sadness to a spark of hope. This track is full of heart and full of love.  “This is my favourite song on the album” Says Gibb,in the way that it’s actually turned into the song it is, production wise. Originally it was just a guitar and a vocal and when we play it live it, more than likely, will just be a guitar and a vocal. But this song has got this new life to it. Personally my grandma was our biggest fan.  She was my biggest inspiration. She was such an amazing person. A couple of years ago unfortunately we lost her and I was there for the last few days and basically this song was written from the eyes of someone in their last day. They know it’s their last day.  They really want to voice their regrets and get everything off their chest, so they can move on being the best person they can be in that moment.  That’s what Before I’m Gone is to me.  It’s a deep dark song, but you’re right, it’s got this ‘heart’ to it as well.  It’s just this beating heart, I want to be a better person.”  Vickers adds: “It was really an eleventh hour track too, and it was perfectly placed because we needed a ballad or needed something more mellow and softer to fill a space in the record and we had another two songs that were floating in-between.  We thought we had the song then literally a week before, Steve just said, ‘I put another song in the Dropbox, guys’, and that was that.  And it was structurally pretty much unchanged.  I think the only thing we changed is adding a few instruments here and there.   The song from start to finish is pretty much how the original demo came out which is a very rare occurrence.”

The seventh track on the album, Knots, is an energetic burst, bringing the listener back to reality.  Guitars and bass set a dominant rhythm throughout this track.  The magic behind TFW is their ability to work closely as a band to bring a song together seamlessly, each member equally contributing their part perfectly to build catchy riffs, addictive rhythm and standout vocals giving each track it’s own life.  “A lot of the songs on this album have themes. This is a Witcher themed song.”  says Vickers. “This song was originally called ‘Igni’ which is Geralt’s fire spell. This was a fun one.  I wrote a riff and put a blueprint of the song in the drop box, and we take it to the jam space and start working on it.  It was kind of rocky, it was fine, and Brad said ‘lets just change this into 7/8 instead of 4/4.’ That just changed the whole thing entirely and made a massive difference to how we felt, the energy of the song shifted.  Originally it was definitely not as energetic as it became.”  

Lyrically the song’s meaning is talking about things that are bottled up inside you. Gibb explains: “I find words and I find speaking to be more powerful that many other things, (like) solving problems with religion or medication and that kind of thing.  I find that speaking to some one, whether it’s a family member or a stranger, about your issues is going to help a lot more than dousing or dosing the problem.  The end of the song is “if we share the sorrow, we can share tomorrow” and that’s pretty much the lyric that encompasses everything for this album for.”  Vickers adds: “a lot of things are masked by seeking alternative sources than just dealing with problems up front.  We could all do a lot better at that, especially communicating.  Hey, we might all find that at the end of this quarantine and isolation we might all learn to talk a bit better. We might have a positive outcome out of that.”

The first track released from this album back in 2017, Bravery, is the bands most popular song commercially.  It had been five years since  ‘Living to Write The End’s’ release and the fans were more than eager for new music from TFW. This song has everything you need in a rock track; catchy, heavy riff, dominant bass, drums that carry you along with the beat and massive vocals that scream out with melodic power.  “With Bravery, it was the first time we’d felt like a band again in a long time,” admits Vickers. “We’d made the move over here, recruited Elliot to play bass, doing shows and tracking along, but we had nothing behind us.  We had our legacy, our old records and that, but this was the first time we got to put something out and be excited about it and it opened the doors to a lot of new opportunities over here that we thought we’d have but didn’t get when we moved over.   It felt like the next era of ‘Walls’ for us.”

Silent War is the awakening track on this albums journey.  The lyrics ring out: “If I could breath in the air, that I’ve been choking on. If I can breath in the air, then I could live again.” A haunting intro evolves into a rapid pace led by Vickers on guitar with Gibbs’ vocals projecting a sense of hope. “Bring me your wounded, leave the fallen.  There’s a calm within this storm the demon started.”  Hope being the universal element throughout the songs on this album.  Vickers tell how the song became the finished product we hear on the album. “Would you believe me if I told you this song started out as a ballad?  It was a real slow tragic ballad.  We had it a few years ago, about 2017 we had it recorded and we kind of fell out of love with it so we chucked it to the side.  When we come into the last six we went into the drop box and it was in there and literally all Elliot said was ‘What would this song sound like if it was written by the Foo Fighters?’  We thought that was a really interesting idea.  So this is what one of our ballads would sound like if it was written by the Foo Fighters.”   Gibb adds “The intro was Gray’s idea the way it starts with a reprise. You brought in the word haunting, in its original form it was incredibly haunting.  It was a dark, dark song and lyrically it’s probably the darkest out there.  This one is very much about again coming to someone with problems and again approaching the topic of suicide and having nowhere left to go but seeing the end of your own life. But very much that concept of ‘bring me your wounded’ bring me your problems, leave the things that can’t be changed behind and we’ll get through this.”

Rock Bottom sits tenth on the album. A heartfelt ballad delivering a great sense of promise that there is always a ‘light here at the bottom that never goes out.’ Vickers’ guitar solo carries this song to a new level, musically painting the picture as the song unfolds.   The lyrics are personal and Gibb explains why  “It’s written about someone close.  It’s basically about a man who finds the bottom, it’s about finding his way back and falling many, many times along the way but finding their way back up and finding purpose. It’s about finding purpose in yourself and how you can keep going day after day and keep gaining purpose.”  Vickers adds more insight. “What I really like about it is you don’t need to hit your absolute bottom, it’s just stripping yourself of general shit that you don’t need to be doing. It can be about changing a habit or removing yourself from a toxic relationship or something like that. It’s all very much about acknowledging that something’s not right and fixing it. Working towards changing it.”

White Lies is a brilliant rock song that really needs no explanation.  Heavy riffs, with a dynamic tempo that takes you through a kaleidoscope of sounds accompany Brad Vickers’ drumming taking the reins and leading the band through a musical passage.  Burton is a stand out in this track with hammering bass lines dominating at key moments throughout the track. There’s a simmering presence of anger under the surface of the lyrics. Gibb explains why: “It’s written about a very specific person but it’s basically someone that has the face of an angel but the soul of the devil.  Someone who will just lie through their teeth every single day of their existence, to their family to their colleges, to their friends, purely to make themselves better, for not other reason. It’s about ego. It’s about horrible people who have no existence other than themselves. They should know better than to shape white lies into dark ones.   This person knows no existence other than lying because they’ve dug themselves too deep a hole. They live in their lie. That’s the world they live in.” Musically Vickers adds: “That was a real fun song to work on, because the bridge was something I had kicking around for an age and we just shoehorned it into the song.  We’ve got verse, chorus, verse, chorus and then there’s just this whole other music that kicks in.  The way it fit together, man it’s fun to play.”    “Like you said,” adds Gibb “it’s a straight forward rock song and it’s cool because of that. It’s just a fun three and a half minutes, just bang, let’s go.

Strands is the second last song on an album of twelve great tracks and to me, has a sound reminiscent of the later years of Linkin Park.  It could be the huge vocals that Gibb gives us, or the crisp, climbing riffs that leave that feeling.  I’ll leave it up to the listener to judge.  In any case this is another great song featuring all the elements of maturity that this third offering from These Four Walls has laid out for us. Their music carries out a journey continuing throughout each song and Strands is no exception.   Gibbs responds to my initial impression: “I can hear that now that you say it.  It hadn’t been something that I’d thought of but absolutely.   It’s Meteora-esque”   Vickers adds about the track. “That was the song that wouldn’t quit. The main riff, was probably the earliest piece of music on this record that Stephen wrote”. 

Yeah I wrote it in Gray’s garage when we were living with him in 2013.” Gibb confirms.   “It was just a riff that just followed us along”.   Vickers continues: “I just refused to let it die. It kind of consumed me and it drove me a little insane. I think that might have been the seventh full re-version of that song, the one that made the record, because I wanted that riff to exist on a ‘Walls’ song.   So every six months it was like, ‘hey I’ve turned that riff into this song’ and it was ‘Nah’.  I was like, ‘ok guys I got ya.’ Then four months later – ‘I’ve turned it into this song’ with ‘No I don’t like that song’ and eventually it got to be like what we were working on and we worked on it properly.  But I refused to let that riff die because I really wanted it in a ‘Walls’ song.

The final track on the album is Nothingland. Where The Sound was the prologue to the album Nothingland is the conclusion.  With the addition of Chris Carmichael on strings and Ian Peres returning on the Piano, the band have created an epic song with so much depth it sweeps you deeper and deeper into its sound every time you hear it.  I find it has a feel reminiscent of the classic 1994 hit Kiss From a Rose by Seal but more of an epic feel.  It perfectly bookends the album.  Gibb explains the songs conception: “This is my kind of nursery rhyme to say goodbye.  So many nursery rhymes have a positive message and this one is positive but it is saying goodbye.  It’s fitting that it’s the last song on the album.  This is where Ian and Chris came into their own.  This song wouldn’t be anywhere close to the song it is without them. Without the strings and the piano in there. It needed to be real. It needed someone performing those instruments because you can really feel it and you can hear it, you can hear the energy and you can hear the room and it gives me goosebumps when I listen to it still.”    Vickers added: “Nothingland was a really old song that tied in with the original project of a meteor crashing down and as far as a story arc goes that was almost like the purgatory.  Like someone being led through the afterlife at the whole end of the story.  And it’s kind of maintained a bit of that but not as much as it did originally.   When we were talking about adding it to the last six songs of recording it was like, we have to do more than just the keys and the strings, we have to have that rock section in there, we have to make it a musical journey and we knew that that was going to be a real ambitious thing for us to do and we had to lean on opinion and advice from others outside the four of us to make it as good as it is.  And it’s where Luke (Palmer) and Ian worked really well to give us the grand and having Chris in there makes it massive.  Having that vision outside of the four of us, to say this is where it needs to go, this is how far we can go, and that results in us wheeling a grand piano into a large auditorium, it’s like this is what you want the song to do.”   Gibbs backs up with;  “I really enjoy the fact that it follows the path of our previous albums as well.  I mean if you look at To The Loved And The Lost off ‘Down Falls an Empire’ and From Cover to Cover, (‘Living To Write The End’)  Nothingland follows the same route, it’s the way that These Four Walls close an album.  It’s the right way to close this album, it’s the right goodbye.”

With four killer singles already released from the album there seems little doubt this will be the one to launch them onto the charts in a big way. If you are not familiar with These Four Walls ‘This Is Not A Future’ is the album to discover these local hard rockers. 

‘This Is Not A Future’ will be available on all digital platforms from April 24. 

Pre-order your copy HERE

Order These Four Walls merch HERE

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