For a band that is not in my normal(?) music taste range, there’s obviously something powerful going on in the songs of Famous Last Words‘ sophomore album Council of the Dead. The post-hardcore quartet from Petosky, MI successfully created an album with not one, not two, but eight musical narratives while tastefully interlocking the storylines with ease (hence the phrase “Council of the Dead”). The narratives alone are enough to take notice of and the addition of connecting storylines turns the album into more than just a handful of songs about fictional (or non-fictional) characters’ lives, or I guess in this case deaths.
The album starts off with a semi-PSA welcoming into the land of the deceased and instrumental preview of what will be unfolding within the upcoming tracks consisting of sirens, hospital monitors, pianos, glocking of the guns, explosions and car crashes in the form of “Letter to the Council”. The title track continues the “letter” in the form of a song that encourages the departed (which we meet in the remaining songs) to tell their death story and to help them come to terms with their passing. The start of this musical chapter book begins with that of a woman dying of old age and illness (“The Fog”), and comes full circle in that of an older gentleman who is has quite literally lost all of his family members to some form of death (“My Life Before My Eyes”).
For the duration of Council of the Dead, the listener is exposed to expert visual storytelling of very real tales of death – like DUI car crashes (“Hell In The Headlights”), drug deals gone wrong (“The Killing Zone”), being caught in the line of fire (“Brothers in Arms”), overdoses (“Fading Memories”), and suicide (“One in the Chamber”). The most interesting factor comes in the form of “The Uprise”, which is the only song about a living character paying tribute to those who have departed and plays a guardian angel role for those who have struggled to cope with loss.
As a cool social media unveiling of the song titles, mugshots of the bloodstained “deceased” were given fictional (or non-fictional) names, and a line of lyrics that hints at the how they had died. The instrumentation, as well as the intensity of frontman JT Tollas’ vocals, clearly hint at the brutality of the death of the person. Each person is connected in some way or form (2 characters even caused 2 of the deaths) and is beautifully revealed in the ending ballad “The End of the Beginning”. While it may take a while to figure out the mystery, you’ll be absolutely mind-blown and have so many emotions after.
Council of the Dead is filled with beautiful storytelling from beginning to end and absolutely fulfilled their goal of helping anyone who has lost a loved one cope with the pain in the most sincere and creative way possible. As an album the focuses on the concept of death and the afterlife, there is a spiritual aspect to it as well that shines through in Tollas’ heartfelt vocals and showcases him taking on the role of a God-like figure bringing these lost souls back to each other. I can’t help but commend Famous Last Words for creating an album that perfectly embodies the differentiating death stories as if they were the ones living them out.