Artist: Famous Last Words
Album: Council of the Dead
Life after death. It’s a much-debated concept, many have given their opinions and it has often caused much controversy. Do we just rot in the ground? Is there a Heaven and/or Hell? Are there angels and demons waiting for us? Whatever the case, the thought of dying strikes fear into the hearts of many souls. In essence, this is the concept that Petoskey’s Famous Last Words have tackled in their newest album, Council of the Dead. The follow-up to last year’s gruesome short-story album Two-Faced Charade, Council of the Dead takes an entirely different subject and brings it to life in a way that no other band could.
Council of the Dead tells the stories of 7 individuals who have been brought together in death for a special privilege that no other souls get the good fortune to receive. What these fortunate souls do not realize is that each of them were connected in life, as in death. They each left a loved one behind when they departed. The album tells each of their stories and, if you listen closely, by the end you will know exactly how they connect with one another.
The album opens up with “Letter to the Council” which explains that these people have died and, rather than passing on to the other side, they are in a place known only as the “Land of Deceased”. In this place, there has been a meeting called where each one will get to try to remember their story, explain it and gain some closure by receiving a special gift, not granted to others like them. The title track that follows goes into a bit more detail.
Once “Council of the Dead” ends, we’re led into “The Fog”. This is the story of Nancy, a woman who slowly lost her mind over the years. She was prescribed medications, none of which worked. “She can’t see through this haze, confusions, delusions, her mind’s in a daze” vocalist JT Tollas proclaims. She has no memories of her life because it’s been overrun with dementia. She tries so hard to escape it, to no avail until, eventually, she passes on and joins the Council.
Perhaps my favorite song on the album (for reasons I will divulge later on) is “Hell in the Headlights”. This song tells the story of Eric and his daughter. While traveling one night, they entered a tunnel and were hit head-on by a drunk driver. While Eric has died, his daughter lives on. Sitting in the Council, he pleads “I’ll do anything you want, just promise me she’ll be safe without her father.” There are many children who grow up without parents, for many different reasons but his daughter was too young to understand just exactly what had happened. He cries out in denial “You spread these lies, just another way to justify that our lives are gone and we must move on! But that is not alright. All I needed was a little time and all I wanted was to say goodbye but I can’t move on, this is all so wrong and I will not comply!” This grim story ends and the next fortunate soul speaks.
“Brothers in Arms” tells the story of Jarred who died in battle. While he didn’t want to die, he was proud to have done so by his companys side. Constantly under gun fire, saving women and children while bringing the fight to their enemies. Jarred’s brother, Daniel is back home with their father and he never got the chance to say goodbye. As a missile hits where his company they are consumed by the blast, never to see their loved ones or make it home again.
Next, we’re led into the story of “The Killing Zone”. The story of Daniel who wanted nothing more than to make his father proud. Thinking that he could do just that, he joined a gang. One night, feeling incredibly pressured to prove himself, he heads in to rob a store and it goes horribly wrong. “I’ll take it all, I will take everything, clean out that one-stop shop stock I guarantee, I’ll be on top of the world, I’ll be invincible!” He thinks this is the way it will go down, but he was sorely mistaken. As he makes his getaway, he’s met with his enemies. They roll down the window, point the shotgun out and shoot him dead. What did a life of crime get him? Nothing more than 6-feet under the ground.
The tale told in “Fading Memories” is of a boy named Zack, who was a friend of Daniel’s. He knew everything that was going on but did nothing to stop it. Now, with his friend gone, he wants nothing more than his fix so that he can numb the pain. He knows he could have prevented it, he could have stopped him from making such a stupid decision but he never said a word. Now, on his last night “cook it up, just to numb the pain. Pull the belt around my arm in search of my last vein, like a felon in for life I’m wasting away. It’s the only thing in life that keeps my mind sane.” This time, he overdoses and collapses on the floor, never to wake up.
The haunting “Entity” gives the listener a little breather from the emotional roller coaster ride we’ve been on since the beginning. Once it ends, Aisha’s story, “The Uprising” begins. Caught in the middle of a dangerous scene, bombs falling, bullets flying and peope being taken prisoner all around her, Aisha is nothing more than a scared little girl who lives oversea and just wants to escape it all. When Jarred’s company storms in, they save her and get her to safety before meeting their end. Forever her heroes, their legend will live on.
“My Life Before My Eyes” tells Bob’s story. Bob is in the same hospital as Nancy With his son being caught in the cross-fire of a gang war and his other son having died overseas in battle, he is alone. He wants nothing more than to see his family one last time as he lies his hospital bed, slowly slipping away from a broken heart. His final breath escapes his lungs and, alas, his family isn’t there. He dies alone. The worst way possible to die.
Finally, we’re led into the last chapter. “One in the Chamber” tells the story of Jake, Nancy’s son. Jake developed a drinking problem after his mother died from losing her mind. One night, he goes driving drunk and hits a car. The car, containing Eric and his daughter, is totaled but the daughter somehow makes it out alive. Not able to live with the guilt of what he’s done, he decides to take his life.
“The End of the Beginning” reveals what we’ve been waiting to hear. These fortunate souls have been granted a second chance. “‘Cause this is not the end, it’s time now to transcend and start another journey or go back to amend the lives you lived before. You know it’s always been up to you, so now it’s time for you to choose.”
This album teaches you to cherish everything you have because you never know when it may cease. It touches on many subjects and ultimately, the meanings behind certain parts of the story are left to interpretation. One thing is for certain, vocalist JT Tollas has an incredibly brilliant affinity for creating captivating stories and Council of the Dead is no exception. Primed and ready to be another album of the year for this writer, I suggest everyone go pre-order the album, out on InVogue Records on August 25th!
“Council of the Dead” (Official Lyric Video)
“The Uprising” (Official Lyric Video)