It’ll be a great day when coverage of Frank Iero’s new music no longer has the obligation to refer to him as ‘former My Chemical Romance guitarist’. His number of chameleonic projects in the six years since that band’s dissolution has made it evident that he wants to break away from those ties and become his own musical entity, such is the extent to which rougher, more abrasive sounds have become very much the norm in contrast to MCR’s larger-than-life arena-ready pop-rock. But as it stands, it still does feel like a necessity to keep that link active, mostly because that remains Iero’s strongest work to date. It’s true that putting him front and centre will undoubtedly yield different results than where his musical contributions were almost entirely guitar-based, but his work with both The Cellabration and The Patience have lacked the same exuberance, gusto and crucial likability, leading to garage-rock projects that had solid moments across the board, but felt more like an exercise in doubling down how different this new phase in his career is than making a definitive musical statement. It’s a shame as well, because the personal ambition is laid out bare, but the critical pieces have struggled to click in a way that makes Iero’s work have the same longstanding impact.
With Barriers though, a lot of that seems to have changed, and it’s initially a bit difficult to isolate why. Sonically, not much has really changed here, as Iero and his next crop of collaborators continue to filter alt-rock and garage-rock through scuzzy, scrappy layers with the same sort of looseness and quintessentially punk affectation for instability as was present on Parachutes, but Barriers seems to utilise it with so much more strength and greater melodic nous. This feels like a genuinely huge rock album moonlighting as a DIY, underground project rather than the other way around, and when that mindset is fully embraced, the results easily stand as the best post-MCR music that Iero has come out with to date.
It’s Iero who stands as the main focal point of that discussion as well, with this album standing as a recollection of hardships and obstacles that have blocked his path up to now, though the beauty comes in the open-to-interpretation nature of it all. There’s often been a roughness and a combustibility in Iero’s vocals, never typically sticking to one style for too long, and while that could’ve been seen as a weakness stemming from a lack of control in the past, it actually feels thematically built in here, with a track like Fever Dream weaving between quiet moments of vulnerability, panting exasperation and snarling viciousness without so much as a pause for breath. There’s certainly an untrained element to his delivery, particularly when there’s still no effort made to hide all the ragged edges, but that’s very much part of the point here. It’s arguably the first time that each part of Iero’s music has synthesised this well, and when everything feels as robust as it does, that definitely reaps some rewards.
On the whole though, it definitely feels like certain elements have been tinkered and toyed with to actually reach that endpoint. Barriers is generally a much bigger-sounding album that either of its predecessors, starting with the swaying gospel influences of opener A New Day’s Coming that mightn’t be entirely indicative of the album’s sound, but feels very telling about what’s to come in terms of scope. Indeed, Young And Doomed feels like the perfect candidate for a lead single in that regard in its beefing up of the scratchy post-hardcore formula, something that’s replicated on the likes of Basement Eyes and Police Police and messed with further on the fantastic driving crunch of Medicine Square Garden. Backed by Steve Albini’s production job that gives the ramshackle execution a sense of weight and snarl that greatly benefits it, Barriers tows the line between sneering underground gem and radio-ready excellence with ease, even if it isn’t always entirely obvious. As much as the melodies may be coated in fuzz and a quivering instability ready to snap at any moment, it crucially never does, and it makes for a frequently thrilling listen that coalesces so effectively, doubly so when placed in the context of Iero’s past releases.
But even removed from that context and judged on its own merits, Barriers really is a great album from an artist who’s always been capable of that but has never really gotten over the hill of making one. What’s even better is that it hasn’t taken any sort of drastic change to reach that point either, rather just a bit of fine-tuning to make a solid formula hit with a lot more force. And as it stands, Barriers feels like the most definitive statement of who Frank Iero is to date, collating the passion, creativity and volatility that’s previously been scattered across his discography into one album to allow it all to shine. If all goes right, this could be the album to solidify Frank Iero as a truly great musician now rather than simply in a previous life, and after so much turbulence and development, he couldn’t be more deserving of it.
For fans of: Taking Back Sunday, Milk Teeth, Pup
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Barriers’ by Frank Iero And The Future Violents is released on 31st May on UNFD.