I didn’t think Frank Iero could impress me more, but I stand corrected.
Iero’s newest EP, Heaven is a Place, This is a Place, is a passionate and raw experience wrapped up neatly in 4 songs and 18 minutes. It is, in a sense, the antithesis of Barriers, his last full album released in 2019 with the Future Violents (now Future Violence).
Barriers opens with the hopeful sentiment that a “new day’s coming” and ends with the encouragement to live life to the fullest, regardless of consequences. Heaven is a Place, This is a Place, however, opens with “Violence,” a striking piece about a toxic relationship, and ends with a heartbreaking track called “Record Ender.” Indeed, where Barriers seems to encourage moving forward and breaking through—well, barriers—Heaven is a Place, This is a Place launches the listener to the past in a vehicle of nostalgia fueled by a pain that has never gotten closure.
Like all great writers and heartbroken poets, Iero is a storyteller. The EP is not a concept work by any means, but the four tracks fit together like the stages of grief. “Violence” is the introduction to this tumultuous relationship; “Sewerwolf” is the desperate, brutal grab for self-empowerment after the break-up; “Losing My Religion” is the mournful acceptance that the relationship was not what it was made out to be; and finally, “Record Ender” is the bittersweet nail in the coffin, the admittance that despite it all, Iero still cares deeply.
This is love like you’ve never wanted to know it.
It’s a startling, forceful glimpse into a relationship that isn’t healthy by any means, one that is addictive, one-sided, and physically abusive. The protagonist is obsessed with this person to the point where their states of being are directly linked, with the protagonist viewing themselves only as a mere extension of their love interest. It’s painfully honest and tinged with the same self-depreciation that was peppered throughout Iero’s first solo album, Stomachaches (2014).
The track begins with a gritty guitar riff before the rest of the band kicks in, cued by Iero’s first words on the record: a challenge, a war cry of “come on!” After the instrumental introduction, Iero twists the image of love into something perverted and cruel. The protagonist begs for the other person’s time and touch, and they relish in the pain because of how it means the other person has lavished attention on them. To quote the song’s more skin-crawling lyrics: their fear “gets [the other person] off / the sound of hell in [their] ears when the fear takes hold of [them].”
Kayleigh Goldsworthy makes the track—her backup vocals are sultry and soft, juxtaposing Iero’s half-screams and wails, and it’s her lilting croon that allows the visual imagery of the lyrics to become fully realized.
What’s most interesting is that no song has made me feel quite so much like an accomplice to the heinous mistreatment of somebody’s autonomy. Iero compels the listener to look at this relationship and empathize. Try to look away, and he forces your attention back with an unsettlingly quiet supplication or a coarse cry for recognition. Simply put, we’re spurred on by the protagonist’s distorted devotion to their abuser.
What happens next? Do they get out of their situation? The last line certainly implies that they do: “You’re going to be sorry when I’m gone.”
The protagonist (as it were) is gone, and they’re angry.
In a statement to Alt Press, Iero credited his son with the name of this follow-up track to “Violence”:
“Originally the song was untitled. It was fun to play and I liked it, but I couldn’t find a good name for it. So I asked Miles [his son] what he would name it. At that time he had come up with a superhero character he named ‘Super Wolf,’ so he said you should name it that. A few days later he came into my basement studio and I had songs scribbled out all over this giant whiteboard, and he asked, ‘Hey Dad, what’s a Sewerwolf?’ The name was so filthy and enigmatic that I knew it was fate naming the song.”
…a cute anecdote for a song that is far from cute.
“Sewerwolf” is sonically closer to tracks found on Iero’s sophomore solo album, Parachutes (2016). The slower, almost reckless nature of the song’s verses feels threatening, as though Iero is circling around, prowling before he strikes and screams in with the chorus: “I come alive forged in fire.”
Former Murder by Death bassist Matt Armstrong shines, but in general, the Future Violence nail it absolutely and without mercy. Production is clean and so crisp that you could probably bite it and hear a crunch. I’m also of the belief that a band is only as good as its drummer, and Thursday’s Tucker Rule is a veritable force to be reckoned with. Overall, the song is a demonstration of artistic talent, pure emotion, and ambition.
“Sewerwolf” may not be my favourite song off the EP, but I’ll be damned if I tear down such a brilliant piece. Cheers, Frank.
iii. Losing My Religion
Yeah, okay, this is a cover of “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M. It’s not a new cover, either—there’s a version on YouTube from 2017 that premiered on BBC Radio 1. Regardless of its history, however, it fits seamlessly on the Heaven is a Place, This is a Place.
What more is there to say? Goldsworthy’s backup vocals once again provide the perfect support beneath Iero’s anguished musings. The simple, almost bare instrumentation and the harmonization of Iero and Goldsworthy’s voices give the song a different atmosphere from the original, making it more contemplative and intimate. Thematically, it’s the perfect opposite to “Violence”: it’s the acceptance that the protagonist and their love interest are two separate entities, that their relationship was not what the protagonist had made it out to be in their head.
It’s a quiet funeral for what was and what could have been, had things been different.
iv. Record Ender
From the forlorn reflection of “Losing My Religion”, Iero guides the listener to the last track off the EP: the anthemic “Record Ender.”
In many ways, this song is an admittance to not only having loved, but to still loving someone. If “Losing My Religion” was the flip side to “Violence,” then “Record Ender” is the opposite of “Sewerwolf.” No longer is the protagonist convincing themselves that they are better alone with their anger; they’re looking back on the relationship and conceding that still, they’d do anything for the other person.
This song is heart-wrenching despite being a cheesy, slow, rock ballad. Or maybe it’s heart-wrenching because of it. Iero captures an impression of innocence that has not yet been touched by horrors of the relationship. A part of the protagonist still wants to make the other person pay attention to them and love them, and they know that regardless, they’d still go back if the other person asked.
The sentiment echoes the contorted obsession rooted deeply in “Violence,” but instead of being a shamelessly troublesome look at their love, “Record Ender” is disguised as pure, hopeful devotion. It’s almost defeatist in nature: “Because it takes a mess to love a wreck, / but what does that matter anymore?” Though this is a broken love—and we’re granted that knowledge from the start—Iero makes it something we almost want to give back to him to make him happy, even if we know doing so wouldn’t fix anything.
That being said, “Record Ender” is a beautiful finale to a gorgeous EP, and what is there beyond that?
All in all, Heaven is a Place, This is a Place is just the sort of thing we needed to kick off the new year.
Stream here: https://unfd.lnk.to/HIAPTIAP