Fightstar, ‘Grand Unification’ | The Album Story

Ahead of their highly anticipated reunion show at London’s Wembley Arena next month, Fightstar go back to the very beginning and reflect on the making of their debut album ‘Grand Unification’.

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Fightstar never really have a plan of action in place. Even the offer for them to play their biggest-ever show at Wembley Arena as a 20th-anniversary celebration was a surprise. That’s not to say that they aren’t grateful for the opportunity and the incredible reaction to them hitting the stage again for the first time in eight years. It’s just that despite Charlie Simpson, Alex Westaway, Dan Haigh and Omar Abidi tending to life away from the band in the time that has passed, the cogs evidently haven’t stopped turning. A fanbase has continued to love and nurture them, even though it hasn’t been at the forefront of their minds. That’s something they will never take lightly.

“I feel like it’s the greatest honour for a band to able to come back after such an extended break and have fans that are still as loyal,” Charlie explains. “It’s the main thing that makes me feel so humbled by all this. Bands can do very well for a couple of years and then go away, and that’s it. But to hold on to a fanbase like this for as long as we have and for it to mean something to people, you really can’t ask for anything more. You always make music for yourself, but to share it with people that it generally means something to is something else.”

That sentiment is a testament to how emotionally connected Fightstar’s music has been for these two decades. That’s especially true on ‘Grand Unification’, an album that is probably one of the deepest, most decadent, and devastating debuts from a British band. It is a record that pushed the limits of what could be expected from such a young band. From its grandiose fantasy storytelling to its blending of post-hardcore grit and post-rock euphoria, it is the benchmark to end all benchmarks.

With that in mind, Rock Sound sat down with the band to delve into what it took to make an album of such magnitude and how it felt to be four teenagers with the world at their feet.


Before ‘Grand Unification’, Fightstar had only ever made music independently. They created their debut EP ‘They Liked You Better When You Were Dead’ on a penny-sized budget, recording at their houses between dusk and dawn wherever possible and smoking way too much weed in the process. So when they were upgraded to a complete studio setup thanks to their signing with Universal Records, they realised just how many tools they now had at their disposal. It allowed them to create something that felt cohesive and coordinated rather than just pulling together what had been inspiring them in the moment previously. But even before they stepped foot in that space, they knew they could do absolutely anything they wanted.

“There was a very definitive moment in time when the cycle of the EP finished and the time to make the album started,” Dan explains. “It’s rare to have a big blank canvas like the one we did. The chance to lay some foundations with concepts and ideas of what we wanted the record to be before we even had the tools.”

“The expectation at the time was very low as well”,
Omar adds. “The feeling at the time was that these guys are just going to be some manufactured cookie cutter heavy thing, just a way to rebrand Charlie somehow. That’s why we wrote such a grand and true record. We had no fear in our souls that this wouldn’t live up to expectations. It’s absolutely anything we want it to be. Let’s do what we love doing, and let’s see how that plays out.”

That’s how you end up with a record featuring the gritty riffing of 'Hazy Eyes’ and the sprawling beauty of 'Open Your Eyes’. You can hear the epic scope of Funeral For A Friend on 'Here Again (Last Conversation)’ and the world-building patience of Mono on 'Waste A Moment’. The record is as much a melting pot for inspiration as it is a middle finger to anybody who dares to perceive them as something that they aren’t. They wrote for the sheer thrill of being able to do it and nothing else. 

“The only time we have written like that was on this and our last album [2015’s 'Behind The Devil’s Back]. I don’t care what band you are in, you end up getting sucked into all this and all that when you are on a label. Back in the beginning, we just didn’t give a fuck, and we didn’t give a fuck about 'Behind The Devil’s Back’. There is a purity in writing purely for yourself.”


If you had asked the band who their dream producer would be, they would all agree on Colin Richardson. If you asked them if they ever thought they would actually work together, they would all agree you were off your head. So when he agreed to take on the challenge, you can only imagine how that felt for a band raised on the likes of Fear Factory's ‘Demanufacture’ and Machine Head's ‘Burn My Eyes’. They knew that he was the perfect pair of hands to bring out the best in the band’s guitar tones and help them perfect their percussion. That meant spending a week solely on drums – four days for a singular kick drum, no less – much to the surprise of Omar. But this attention to detail was needed to bring the ambition and atmosphere of ‘Grand Unification’ from a dream to reality. To create art that transcends assumptions, you need to put the work in.

“The choice of Colin greatly influenced how the record came out,” Dan explains. “Like, this guy was exactly who we wanted to work with and what we wanted this to be, but could we even dare to dream? I think he came to a show, and we hit it off, and that’s when he agreed to do it. That was when it felt like, ‘Fuck yeah, this is childhood dream stuff coming true’.”

“Something that I never realised about Colin is that one of his favourite albums is ‘The Bends’ by Radiohead,” Charlie adds. “That’s just something you would never expect. So for us, being able to use his prowess with the heavy stuff, but being able to lean into the balladry and ambient stuff really helped.” 

To be in a position where they were being associated with one of the greats at such an early point in their journey is something the quartet never took for granted. It certainly set them up with habits that have lasted through to today. The biggest one was the process of being pushed in at the deep end and seeing if they could handle the pressure of it all. It’s fair to say they thrived. 

“The whole reference of ‘Grand Unification’ was our grand exploration,” Omar expands. “The four of us put in the pressure cooker of studio writing with a figure like Colin. That’s the real test of a band, being in the middle of that. Can they produce the goods in the time they have without killing each other? That was our first foray into it, and the record shows it.”


Though ‘Grand Unification’ is a concept record – based around and nodding heavily towards the band’s love for the anime classic Neon Genesis Evangelion – it wasn’t until late in the process that it was actually cemented. It was the vast musical exploration that they were experiencing that allowed it to take place, and when they realised how deep they were going, they then wondered why they would stop. 

More than anything, the record is based on things that were actually happening in the band’s lives and around them. A case of trying to find your identity in a constantly changing society. Being at an age where responsibility wasn’t at the forefront of the mind, but the pursuit of finding purpose was. Realising that when all is said and done, it is you and those you love against the world. Being able to pull from these feelings and then propel them through a lens of imagination and intrigue allowed the band to delve into the best of both worlds. 

“We were simply motivated and driven by what we were going through at the time,” Alex explains. “We were kids, you know, and we had this natural view of things. It’s a magical point in your life. In an emotional sense, we were comfortable. So, that led us to change more to the fantasy side of things. Though something has always affected us is how the world is. It’s getting scary, and we are staring into the unknown.”

“A lot of Fightstar songs are very much a social commentary,”
Charlie points out. “Looking out at the world and what is happening. That’s how we would go about linking the things we were writing with the Evangelion-style stuff. It was looking at what was going on socially. The stuff we were writing about is more relevant now than it was then. From that moment, you fall asleep into this trance, but when you wake up and look around you, you realise what you’ve seen is more real than before. I worry about the world, man.”

And that’s an essential aspect of why ‘Grand Unification has become so timeless. No matter how surreal and otherworldly, the events occurring within the record were inspired by things happening in real life. The feeling of watching the planet you call home rip itself to shreds right before your eyes, and isn’t that something we can all associate with right now in 2024? History is unfolding in our day-to-day lives, so what can we do to be on the right side of it?

Though rather than focus solely on the darkness and the despair, there is plenty of hope to be found within the cracks. Of romances blossoming against all odds and the desire to keep fighting when all may be lost. Flowers can still grow through the most ravaged ground, and that beauty is sometimes all we have.

“It boils down to the core element of what Fightstar is,” Omar adds. “And that is being able to extrapolate the light from the dark. That intense feeling of weight, that intense feeling of doom, but then making sure there is a crack that produces light and hope. It’s the exact same as us, going from finding ourselves with the EP recorded in one room as a band to moving to have a producer like Colin and the space to really be honest with what we wanted to achieve. That’s where our light came from.”


The actual scientific definition of the ‘Grand Unification’ theory is how three forces – weak, strong and electromagnetic – come together as one, producing all of the pushes and pulls that make up our universe. Aside from being a way for the band to scratch the nerdy part of the brains, it also feels like a perfect summation of what they wanted to do with Fightstar. Bringing together everything they loved and believed in into one cohesive and powerful entity. 

“The ‘Grand’ in ‘Grand Unification’ comes from how this was a grand and ambitious album in scope. The Grand Unification Theory asks, ‘What does everything mean, and what is this all about?’ And that is reflected in what we were also trying to do musically. We did all of these things, we brought them together and found our way to our own grand unified theory that joins all of our disparate elements together.”

However, it is the artwork for the record that resonates with fans more than anything. Created by artist Dan Conway, it depicts two figures standing on the only dry piece of land with everything else washed away in a flood. But rather than being terrified of their surroundings, they are at peace, holding hands. It is the most tattooed image that the band get shown, and with good reason. Dan would also go on to create artwork for three other Fightstar projects: 2007’s ‘One Day Son, This Will All Be Yours’, 2008’s ‘Alternate Endings’ and 2015’s ‘Behind The Devil’s Back’. So, who would have thought such a perfect image and working relationship would be something that Dan just stumbled on?

“It was completely random how I came across it whilst browsing Deviant Art,” he laughs. “It was initially titled ‘Her Silent Silhouette’. Immediately, I was floored by it because there were so many parallels between the record and how those two characters are. They are stood out in a truly apocalyptic scene, but they are okay with it. They are standing together, hoping to forge something new in the future. It all connected perfectly.”


As stated, Fightstar never really have a plan of action in place. But that is the way that they like it, to be honest. Not being on anyone else’s schedule means that everything that Fightstar is remains pure. Of course, there are ambitions, but having all the time in the world to realise is so much better than plunging right back into the unknown.

“I think as a band, as you get older, everyone’s life becomes much richer and has many more responsibilities,” Omar explains. “It’s harder for a band of our age to plan what’s happening next year or the year after. We have little hopes that it would be nice to do, but it’s hard to lay down those solid plans.”

Though honestly, why would they rush into anything when ‘Behind The Devil’s Back’, an album that represents the band at their most brutal and beautiful, came from them following their instincts? Creating a record of that scope requires time, so if new material is ever on the horizon again, it will need precisely that. But if it means that what comes out is going to be more colossal than anything we have heard before, then they are sure that the fanbase will be more than happy to be patient. 

“We’re not going to be the Fightstar where we have outside influence or are chasing a certain thing again,” Charlie concludes. “You just feel like it will not be what you want it to be. But I worry that the music industry is becoming fast fashion. Music is just put out so quickly. I think having something you can take your time with is nice, and it’s becoming something that is less and less common. It’s all about treasuring it, and that’s what we are going to do.”

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