When ill-informed commentators write about depression, they often conform to one of two misnomers. Sometimes they oversimplify it, sagely identifying physical enablers – hormones, family divorce, loneliness – as sadness’s root and cause. Take some hormone pills, spend more time with your parents to individualise them outside your ego, go out and make some new friends; talk to someone. Sometimes they’re dismissively metaphysical, fixated on the theory of depression as an infallible, unknowable, immaterial force that can’t be assuaged by anything as rudimentary as pills, empathising with others, a social life, or a confessional conversation. The actuality is elusive, burrowed in the gulf between generalised illness and abstract theory, between science and fiction.

Brand New introduced unsparing and demanding conversations about depression as being both indefinite and vindictive throughout the 00s, none more challenging than on The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, still considered not only one of the best emo albums of all time, but one of the most salient diaries of mental illness. In a 2005 interview with Melkweg, a now defunct Amsterdam zine, frontman Jesse Lacey revealed that in their writing, each member of Brand New intentionally submerged themselves in the loss of friends and family "in order to channel it into their songwriting and expel it." Depression isn’t just a topic for Brand New, a perfunctory theme, it’s intrinsic to them, and they burrow deep. On ‘137’ from their long-awaited fifth album Science Fiction, Lacey sings “Let’s all go play Nagasaki/ We can all get vapourised/ Hold my hand, let’s turn to ash/ I’ll see you on the other side.” The depths of such bleak, immutable nihilism are unfathomable, but they have never let it define them. They come through the murk with stories to rehabilitate. It’s as much about the therapy as the origins. Bluntly, they arguably express the silent fatigue and screeching gutters of depression better than anyone else.

Science Fiction emerges from nowhere, which makes perfect logistics given Brand New’s enigmatic, entirely genuine dontgiveafuckery. One day they post two abrupt tweets announcing a new tour and a special edition vinyl for their fifth album – deprived of detail or even a title – and the next they spread CD postings and “leaks” of the album. They’ve never cared about the red-tape processes of the industry, and they weren’t going to have their goodbye – and Science Fiction makes it finally clear that this is categorically the end – undercut by bureaucratic niceties.

What distinguishes Brand New is their flair for conjuring idyllic harmonies in coarse codas; the serenity in the scream, where they’re most beautiful when they align most with hardcore. This manifested on ‘You Won’t Know’ and ‘Archers’ from The Devil & God, and ‘Gasoline’ from Daisy, as ephemera of pure catharsis. After an eight-year absence, tinges of scepticism (sustained by some inessential singles last year) of their aptitude for gratifying hooks is unavoidable. Yet, it’s the clarity and authority of Science Fiction’s sound which strikes first. Just because they have pedigree doesn’t diminish the visceral satisfaction of the production here. The interweaving riffs on the chorus of ‘Can’t Get It Out’ – an introspection on Lacey’s desponding influence on Brand New’s, well, brand – are buttressed by the backing vocals intruding and parroting Lacey’s “I want to tell you we’re alright/ Want to erase all your doubt”; exhibiting the duality of internal dialogue while embracing that aural sweet spot. There are moments like this – flares of catharsis, of levity, of transcendental splendour – peppering Science Fiction. There’s the cascading bridge on ‘Waste’, the Spanish guitar pirouette on ‘Desert’, essentially every chord change and pitch shift on ‘Same Logic/Teeth’, and that incandescent guitar solo on ‘451’. In its almost casual self-assurance, it feels like the record Brand New have spent their career pursuing.

Deeper inside the substance of their arrangements is the density of their musical omnivorousness. While they teleport between the dynamics of their own catalogue, they also adorn and pastiche various guises of Americana. ‘Waste’ is so alt-country you can imagine Lacey surrounded by spittoons; while ‘Could Never Be Heaven’ contemplates, adorned in woodland guitars, like an early Fleet Foxes deep cut; all that precludes ‘451’ which, like a Tom Waits song, is an ash-coated rasp to mediate the country weirdness. ‘Same Logic/Teeth’ traverses prog rock opera terrain – a bass choir intoning from nothing “At the bottom of the ocean fish won’t judge you by your faults” with searing malice, for instance – while maintaining a shattering and incisive humility. Such heterogeneity isn’t just aesthetic; they’re different palettes designated meticulously for the band’s final self-portrait, summoning specific thoughts and tempers of Armageddon and blistered finality.

It’s a conversation they entered sixteen years ago with Your Favourite Weapon, but at their end, mental health remains Brand New’s critical leitmotif, and it’s not trite to say that their forthright portrayal of depression remains fundamental. It’s problematic to project externalities onto a self-contained work but released in the wake of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington’s suicides – crossover, contemporary artists who discuss depression with analogous candour – Science Fiction has accrued new layers of import. What’s broadcasted by these tragedies and invoked by Science Fiction is the permanence and obstinacy of depression; that just because these artists grappled with their demons in an international spotlight so compellingly in their youth doesn’t mean the black dog fades with middle age. The self-consciousness of ‘Can’t get It Out’ and ‘No Control’ aggravates this, conveying a voice knowingly marred by the same boils of uncertainty and anxiety as the one so transfixing on Your Favourite Weapon; “I got a job/ So let me find 10 million distractions/ Some get sick, some don’t get cured/ That’s how it goes.” With emo revivalism – somewhat facilitated and invigorated by Brand New – at its peak and inspiring a new generation of young people to speak openly about their mental health, acknowledging loudly that depression is ageless and timeless and conceivably lifelong is vital, and Science Fiction is an amplifier.

Science Fiction also purports an alarming, overwhelmingly moving paradox. An iconic band who have spent their career famously flagging the importance of mental health have not emancipated themselves, but viably suffered in their mental health as a result. The pressures we’ve exerted on them as fans – ceaselessly demanding more music about dependence, depression and coping, more tours, more merch – will have, in miserable and realised irony, impacted them. Writers such as myself are guilty of waxing lyrical about how purgative we imagine writing and performing this music must be, but the truth is far more complicated. The crux of ‘Same Logic/Teeth’ lies in this fallacy as extended to the lethal, catalysing spiral of self-loathing and substance abuse; “Well this is the same logic that got us into trouble the first time/ When we discovered we could use.” Lacey has written so powerfully before about addiction and self-hatred, but the song’s emphasis on history repeating itself registers as a flagellating meta-commentary of his writing and its consequences as much as a new admission. This is Brand New, and Lacey, confronting their reflection with a vitality and pitilessness that I don’t think I’ve heard before in music.

Yet, perhaps there’s truth to the purge after all. ‘In The Water’ ends with “I can’t say it enough/ Can’t sing it enough/ So I’ll find another way.” A career, a life, spent writing, singing, figuring, and fighting depression; there will always be regressions, relapses – and it will always be partly inscrutable, the realm of science fiction – but Lacey sounds driven to keep on keeping on. It may be that finally releasing this record has lifted a weight from him, and he can explore, less laboured, new adventures. As an approximation of the band’s legacy and a reckoning with Lacey’s vocation of confessionalism, this record feels made for them.

Science Fiction feels like an Event, similar to the releases of To Pimp a Butterfly and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It’s the inexorable locus of several factors – some deliberate and triggered, some organically developed and tragically pertinent – spanning and decisively concluding the plaiting arc of Brand New’s seventeen year career, hallmarking the provisional rise in credibility and popularity of emo “revivalism,” and signifying the growing awareness paid to mental health in music and at large; and the untold steps yet to take in achieving sufficient understanding and support. It culminates in this, the absolute apex of their perennially superlative songwriting. After nearly two decades of providing rehabilitative stories for their devotees, Brand New close their book with one for themselves.