During their past three releases, Fire Next Time have explored themes of darkness and despair through frantic folk punk songs. The raspy vocals of James Renton and the ever-present acoustic guitar have provided the core of the music, allowing the songs to live fully as both full band and solo ventures. With Knives however, the band seems to have finally gelled into a cohesive unit. While Renton’s lyrics are still the focal point, the music has evolved with a stronger punk rock influence, stripping off the creative shackles of their former sub-genre. Hitting the road with bands like Off With Their Heads has had a definite influence on their music, with the members digging deeper into their punk pasts. This is the band’s first recording with their new rhythm section, both of whom have strong musical pedigrees to draw upon.
What has not changed is the dark themes explored through the lyrics. At one point Renton sings, “tell Old Scratch I’m coming home,” a reference to the Devil. In Birch Wood, he sings, “I will cut your throat, just to watch you choke.” Echoes of folk still surface, used to complement and contrast the tone as necessary. An element of maturity shows through, as the members each use their individual strengths to improve the whole, rather than fighting for the listener’s focus.
With many miles logged on the highway, countless late-night shows and years of bitter Northern winters under their belts, Fire Next Time would be excused if they decided to mellow with age. Instead, they sound rejuvenated here, with a sense of purpose that was decidedly absent in the past. There are fewer drunken pub sing-alongs here and slightly more chaos. Rather than giving in to despair, the band sounds poised to fight back and embrace it.