If you were a passionate fan of early to mid-2000s post-hardcore you probably would have heard of a small record called The Satellite Years. Hopesfall was a band that originally sung under the Christian hardcore banner before various member changes prompted them to drop the label. The Satellite Years was their breakthrough effort and a legendary staple of the hardcore scene. Their debut full-length, The Frailty of Words, was a simple and straightforward dive into the abrasive but The Satellite Years saw the band experimenting with spacy, post-rock textures and melodic structures that would make most 90s emo groups proud, and despite its admittedly dated production, it holds up extraordinarily well today. Following that the band went on to release two more LPs. A-types served to drastically tone down the heavier elements of the band’s sound while Magnetic North brought their “space rock” aesthetic to the forefront. A little over a decade later and the long-awaited release of Arbiter introduces yet another progressive step in the band’s evolution, resulting in one of their strongest offerings to date and one of the most successful comebacks in recent memory.
From the opening notes of “Faint Object Camera” to the epic finale of the title track, “Indignation and the Rise of the Arbiter,” Arbiter is a nostalgic blend of their past work, such as the return of the harsh vocals from The Satellite Years and the spacy ambience of Magnetic North. “Faint Object Camera” opens with a slow, thunderous riff before the harsh vocals of frontman Jay Forrest pierce the empty, echoey cosmos. This heavy introduction soon gives way to a melodic chorus that, although void of any real infectious hook, carries an emotional weight that is simply captivating. “H.A. Wallace Space Academy” was the first new material fans heard from the band in years and it could not have been a better first impression of what was to come. The song sounds like a product of mid-2000s alternative rock in its prime and with a chorus that soars with introspective beauty, it’s an immediate highlight. Both “Bradley Fighting Vehicle” and “C.S. Lucky One” boast infectious hooks and punchy musicianship while being no less complex than the two that come before them.
The second half the record sees it slowing down the tempo and venturing into more musically expansive waters. The intro to “I Catapult,” for example, is musically sparse and distant in a “calm before the storm” kind of way. “Tunguska” is a multi-layered gem that takes multiple listens to unravel, and after the brief but gorgeous “Aphelion,” “Drowning Potential” kicks things back into gear with a screamed verse that flows not unlike something from the Deftones. When the record concludes with the one-two punch of “In Bloom” and “Indignation and the Rise of the Arbiter,” a pair of songs that steadily build into emotionally captivating payoffs, it’s easy to imagine longtime fans leaving with the most sincere sense of gratitude.
One could argue that Arbiter is simply Hopesfall playing it safe and I honestly wouldn’t have any objections with that conclusion. Hopesfall didn’t come back to reinvent the wheel or make some big, profound statement. They didn’t feel the need to abandon the past and craft something entirely different and separated. Arbiter is nothing more than the product of good friends reuniting and making music with no larger goal in mind than to have a good time and make some new memories with themselves and their fans. Truly, does a comeback record require more than that?