Follow No One is the collaborative music project of two highly accomplished musicians from different parts of the world, with two completely separate musical backgrounds – singer/songwriter and pianist Rich Hall, who’s originally from Nashville, Tennessee, but now based in Denver, Colorado, and guitar virtuoso Pedro Murino Almeida from Lisbon, Portugal, but with roots in Brazil. Rich began performing at a young age in theater, but found his true calling in writing and performing music. Pedro was classically trained in music composition, with a successful career involving his own musical acts, and his work has been featured in film and video.
Influenced by such rock giants as Dream Theater, Alter Bridge, Foo Fighters, Queensryche and Styx, to name but a few, they draw from the classic hard rock that defined an era, while adding a fresh approach to create their own distinctive sound. Working remotely from their respective home bases in Denver and Lisbon, the duo released their debut EP, simply titled “5“, in September 2017, featuring five hard-hitting tracks (here’s my review). They followed up with several singles over the next few years, including an excellent cover of David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Americans” (which especially resonates with me at the moment, but I digress). In 2019, Follow No One was named Best Rock Act at the Nashville-based Josie Music Awards, the world’s largest all-genre, privately-owned award show.
Now they return with their first full-length album FATE, a monumental concept work based on Hall’s real-life and near-death experiences that tested his faith, endurance and will to live. The album is an epic rock opera of sorts, featuring 17 tracks, 11 of which are songs and the other six spoken word pieces that drive the storyline forward. FATE‘s overarching theme is predicated on the question “If you lost everything you had, would you just give up or fight like hell to get it back?” The various tracks follow Hall’s journey from the depths of despair that culminated in a life-threatening health incident, to his self-redemption and healing that followed to get him to where he is today.
The album opens with “The Beginning Is in the End“, a spoken word piece that begins with sounds of someone gasping for air making a 911 call, then hanging up. We soon realize it’s Hall in a severe state of distress, recalling some important events in his life as he stares death in the face. Those events include happy times like the birth of his first son and his early career success (to which his father comments “You’re a lucky young man. This is one helluva place you got here, son. Just keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll be fine. But, if you want my advice, enjoy your time at the top of the mountain. You may not always be here“), as well as the devastating news that his wife is leaving him and taking their two sons with her.
Next, we’re launched headlong into the hard-rocking “No Happy Ever Afters“, in which Hall bitterly laments of feeling betrayed and abandoned, his life now in tatters: “Take everything you have, and all that you hold dear, and watch it disappear. It’s just me we’re talking about, but I don’t think we’ll ever speak again.” Almeida’s guitar-playing prowess is on full display as he lays down scorching hot riffs, backed with pummeling rhythms and explosive percussion. They keep the aural onslaught going full throttle on the appropriately blistering “Drowning in Fire“, which is followed by a spoken word interlude “Adding Insult to Injury” that chronicles Hall’s life spiraling out of control from destructive behaviors, and isolating himself from others to the point where his father sends the local police to check in on him.
As the album progresses, Hall’s story unfolds with the telling of the rupturing of a major blood vessel in his throat, detailed in the song “Hanging by a Thread” and spoken word track “ICU – Can You See Me“, in which his doctor tells him of the severity of his condition. Realizing he nearly died, Hall has an epiphany “You were on a hell of a ride, but soon you may be dead. Now you’re in that moment where the memories of your life are passing by. Better hope the man pulling the strings, is pulling for your side.”
He starts coming to terms with his life as it now exists and contemplates the path he must take going forward on “Erase Me“. A year later, his sanity reaching the breaking point, he just wants to run away from his pain, which he lays out on the exhilarating rocker “Just Drive“: “Ok, take a deep breath and just remember: Every mile you go is one mile away from where you were. So fuck it, just drive!”
Now we arrive at the title track and centerpiece of the album, “Fate“, an anthemic rock ballad in the style of some of the great rock ballads of the late 80s. Almeida’s guitar work is especially magnificent here, and nicely accompanied by Hall’s beautiful piano and keyboards. His vocals are particularly moving as he plaintively ponders whether all the hardship and pain he’s going through is pre-determined or totally random “Is it fate, that makes our tomorrow? Is it me, that determines it all? Could it be, through the pain and the sorrow, there is no choice at all?”
Hall’s journey toward his recovery and self-improvement encounters a few setbacks along the way. On the very poignant “No Christmas Without You“, he’s left heartbroken at the prospect of facing another Christmas alone, without his sons. This pain is expressed on the hard-rocking “Million Miles Away“, with Hall lamenting about how he feels that, no matter how much he’s moving forward, he still feels farther away than ever. “A million miles away, is not far enough to keep my heart away. The closer I am, the further you are to me.” For this track, bass was played by Tony Franklin, and Hall’s son Reagan sang backing vocals.
Hall takes on his depression on the spoken-word “Just a Dream“, a conversation with his father who also suffered from the mental illness, and the song “This Bastard“, giving a name to the emotional foe he vows to vanquish. Once again, Almeida lays down some blistering riffs, making this a pretty good rocker. On “Never Surrender“, he sings of not giving up and letting his problems and depression defeat him. Things are finally looking up as he picks his sons up at the airport when they arrive for a Christmas visit on “Airport – Reunidos“. I like how he tells them about his new music project with Almeida when they get in the car.
FATE ends on an optimistic note with “Let Love” a beautiful, cinematic rock anthem about the healing powers of love. Reunited with his sons, Hall jubilantly sings of how love, faith and forgiveness helped him to survive and find happiness. “I forgive you, I still love you / You know that anything’s possible, as long as you learn how to survive. Keep your dreams alive, there is nothing to stop you now. Now that you’ve learned how to die.” Almeida’s guitar work is spectacular, accompanied by Hall’s gorgeous piano and soaring strings that make this song one of the highlights of the album.
With FATE, Hall and Almeida have created an epic work of musical art. It’s an impressive accomplishment, for which they should be very proud.