(hed) pe – Blackout

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I was no naive at the time. I wanted desperately to like this. The album cover was beautiful. The word ‘blackout’ is pretty cool. The band’s name was badass and made no sense. Best of all, there were supposed to be one of the more Hip-Hop orientated Nu Metal. My previous experience with them was with Only in Amerika, which was good if you ignore how it treated women like the Japanese treated their specimen in Unit 731.

Something about this record felt off, though. Sure, the opening song was great and bizarre with its melodic-yet-aggressive vocals. Everything else lacked the punch, that Nu Metal chutzpah that (hed) pe did better than anyone else. After following them further into their career, the position of this album became clearer. It also explained why Only in Amerika was such a hateful record towards women.

This was their normal record. Apparently, the label pushed them to make this. Making a more radio-friendly record means less profanity, less lyrics about partying and more straight-up rock about the general gloom of life. The fact the record still sounds at home in the Nu Metal speaks volumes about the band’s talent. The label couldn’t crush the party. Even while playing straight, the band is weirder than their peers.

The key to this is the band’s natural talent. On previous albums, it could be said the genre pushed them to great moments. Here, they’re dealing with a duller sound that only talent can lift up. Check that ominous riff in “Dangerous”, that jerky guitar line in “Bury Me” or the frantic bassline in “Flesh and Bone”. Whenever a Nu Metal band normalized their sound, they had no such moments. They kicked ordinary riffs. (hed) pe can still finds unique sounds even when making generic gloom rock.

Jahred’s vocals are, of course, an integral part of the charm. His vocals are just as versatile as last time. He raps a little less, but he still jumps freely from style to style. It sometimes even sounds like there are two vocalists in the band. On “Suck It Up”, his singing voice goes ridiculously low. I talk a lot about the balance between melody and aggression which Nu Metal bands are great at capturing. That song is another perfect example of how it works.

He does sound defanged. The title-track should be an anthem against conformity, about trying to fit in. Jahred doesn’t have the same bravado and conviction that made “Crazy Legs” so thrilling. He just sings. His voice is pretty, but is that what people call ‘inauthentic’? In the previous records, his personality dominated. Here, he’s just an extremely talented vocalist. The only time he sounds like the old times is in “Crazy Life”. That’s no coincidence, since it’s the one song that relies more on rapping and some hedonistic lyrics.

At least he has a beautiful singing voice. On the acoustic, Everlast-esque “Other Side” his voice is so pretty it doesn’t really matter that it must be insincere. If we learned anything from the Lostprophets fiasco is that music’s an act. Jahred’s act may not be the most convincing, but his natural charisma lifts up the already excellent melodies. No one else should perform “Revelations” or “Get Away”. Then again, who really cares about authenticity in Nu Metal? It’s a genre about partying and vague complains about life. Blackout may more serious than their previous album, but the title-track is still a banger.

There’s actually a good side to removing the band’s personality. In later records Jahred came off like a misogynistic rapist. How he didn’t get involved a sex scandal is a mystery to me. In fact, I’m sure he did his sure of sex crimes that just weren’t reported yet. Blackout is unique in the band’s discography. It has all the band’s main talents – the crushing riffs, odd sounds, genre-hopping, versatile vocals – without the obnoxious “Women are evil and I love sex” lyrics. It’s the one (hed) pe album I can listen to without squirming.

Despite defanging and normalizing the sound, the natural talent of this band lead to a strong set of songs. It may lack their unique personality, but then again their personality sometimes got in the way. Everything you need in a Nu Metal record – hooks, loudness, variety are here. Not every record can be as brilliant as (hed) pe’s self-titled, but each of these 13 songs should be on a playlist for a rock party.

3.5 crazy lives out of 5

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(hed) pe – (hed) pe

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All this time, a great rock album was a click away.

(hed) pe are extremely talented and completely stupid. Their singer is versatile, capable of doing anything with his voice and has plenty of personality. His lyrics are often so misogynistic that listening to Lostprophets is more comfortable. They were a band Nu Metal needed. Nu Metal had plenty of weird bands, but it needed someone to go full retard. Bands flirted with genres, but very few threw themselves with conviction. No surprise the genre spat out a bunch of decent, but fairly one-dimensional bands. In the end, the experimentation was used mainly to drive angry and catchy rock tracks.

How can such a difficult task be done so well on the first outing? (hed) pe are genre-benders and you’d think they’ll need experience before dropping a classic. Yet here they’re fully formed. Everything you want in a Nu Metal album is here whether you’re looking for noise or experimentation or fun. It even beats Lostprophets’ debut (which doesn’t count thanks to Watkins) and Slipknot’s self-titled. It has consistent songwriting, variety and little of the misogyny that plagued later records. All this time I’ve been dying for them to drop a classic and here it was.

It’s a dizzying, confusing album. No album destroys the claim that “Nu Metal was generic and whiny” like this one. (hed) pe don’t even have to experiment with critic-approved genres like Deftones to gain credibility. Nu Metal, at its best, was about making the best Faith No More album that never was. Mike Patton was too preoccupied with being weird which took away from the song. King For a Day is an impressive album, but it’s more about the Jazz in “Star A.D.” and the screaming in “Cuckoo for Caca” than a good hook with a sound that makes it more fun.

The band creates a unique sound for each track, but it’s rarely tokenism. Their pool of influence may be more limited – primarily Hip-Hop and Punk Rock, but it allows them to explore these influence more deeply. You don’t bend genres by simply dropping a rap verse there and screamed vocals in the next song. You have to integrate it into your overall sound. Sometimes they isolate elements, like in “33” or “Firsty”. Mostly, the genres blur into each other. Even on Punk songs like “Circus” you’ll get a few rapped lines here and there.

It’s the sort of album you have to go song-by-song to express how varied it is. There’s the vague Heavy Psych of “Hill”. “Ken 2012” leans towards G-Funk. “Serpent Boy” is a straight-forward Rap Metal track that puts Rage Against the Machine to shame. “Ground” has a Punk-Pop chorus to it which makes it the melodic anchor of the album. There’s another ingridient that’s necessary for the perfect Nu Metal album – a mix of fun and anger.

Another unique aspect of Nu Metal was that it was both angsty and fun at the same time. Bands who didn’t borrow Hip-Hop beats still had its party attitudes. Many songs would sound great whatever mood you are in. That’s one reason no other Rock genre has yet to replace it. Punk-Pop was too silly. Grunge was too depressed. Metalcore and Thrash are so serious it’s funny.

(hed) pe perfectly captures the fun-yet-angry mood of Nu Metal. “Firsty” is the definitive angry song full of shouting about not giving a fuck. Its lyrics are full of refusing to be what people tell you to be. “Ken 2012” has macho bullshit and bragging, only to go full Metal in an angry, but still cocky hook. “Hill” is the only track that sinks to self-pity with the inspiration of Sisyphus. It’s actually out of place – it’s a slow, sad rocker in an album full of ‘fuck you’ Punk songs and ‘I’m awesome’ Rap songs. By the time it arrives you’ve gotten so used to genre-hopping that it fits the mood.

The ultimate highlight must be “Darky”. It’s pretty long, but only because it aspires to be the best Nu Metal song ever. The rapping is surprisingly competent. The beat is funkier and the bars are busier. The chorus has pseudo-Deftones whispering and atmospherics and it ends with talking about dropping bombs and telling someone to fuck off. It’s a song you can’t comfortably slide into any genre. In general, the band is more comfortable and forward-thinking in their Rap songs. It’s bizarre they bragged about being Punk Rock when it’s the rap songs – “Ken 2012”, “Tired of Sleep” and “Serpent Boy” where they play with structures and elements. The band became incredibly stupid later, but still talented. You can’t reconcile their overall stupidity with such sophisticated songwriting.

(hed) pe is an experimental, angry, fun and catchy album. If this doesn’t convince you Nu Metal is worthwhile, then nothing will. Then again, why would someone who’s into loud balls out rock wouldn’t like this? It has Nu Metal’s fury without the whiny-ness and stupid lyrics. It has Rap’s macho bullshit attitude without boring Boom Bap. It’s experimental without resorting to tokenism, creating a sound that’s both diverse and consistent. Such albums can’t be debut. It’s supposed to take great skill and musical knowledge to produce such an album. From here it was all downhill, but at least (hed) pe dropped this before becoming insufferable douchebags.

4.5 fucks that were not given out of 5

Cowboy Bebop

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Since being a critic means writing tons of words, people often think of us as pretentious assholes who can’t have fun. Some critics swallow that crap and then write meaningless bullcrap instead of admitting they enjoyed a stylish, flashy story. The easiest way to recognize it is when a series is said to be about ‘existentialism’. That’s so general, but so useful. After all, that stream of philosophy is huge and you can insert anything into it.

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Since I don’t care about my image, I’m not going to claim Cowboy Bebop is about ‘existentialism’ when I can’t back it up. I have no shame in admitting I love a story that’s all about flash, action and amusing characters. That’s what Cowboy Bebop is and it’s proof that mere storytelling is an art too. There are a few touching moments and the last episodes push for something more profound, but until then there isn’t any depth. Why should it have any when “Mushroom Samba” is one of the best anime episodes ever?

Watanabe taglined the show as “a new genre unto itself” and later called it an exaggeration. That’s like the fastest runner in the world saying he’s slow. Cowboy Bebop never runs out of steam or ideas. It always has a wide-eyed sense of wonder and always excited what other stories it can tell. Many of the tropes are recognizable, but nothing is a missed chance.

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The approach is akin to a band that tries a new genre with every song. People who complain about the episodic nature miss the point. The series has a wider reach than nearly every anime out there. Pretty much every episode is a whole different genre. The characters and art style are the same, but even the color schemes change. “Mushroom Samba” and “Cowboy Funk” are experiments with Comedy and have brighter colors. “Toys in the Attic” experiments with horror and is noticeably darker.

Even pacing and side-character design changes. The aforementioned “Mushroom Samba” has far wackier character design than “Speak Like a Child”, one of the more introspective episodes. The series doesn’t simply borrow a lot from Western fiction but distills it to one show. It had mass appeal because it had a wide reach – whoever you are, there’s something to like her.

Convincing the viewer that the world in your anime exists is difficult. Calling things ‘realistic’ or ‘unrealistic’ isn’t enough, since you first have to know what reality is (or, more correctly, how people perceive reality). The solid blocks don’t define reality. Spaceships and cities on the moon aren’t automatically ‘unrealistic’. If you told people from 1000 years ago that anime will exist they’ll think you’re possessed by a devil.

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Reality and real life go deeper than this. Reality is, among things, confusing and has a lot of sides. If it didn’t we wouldn’t need to create art. The most realistic anime are the most far-reaching ones. An anime is more realistic the more it can contain different moods and different people. It doesn’t matter whether you live as a drifter or in a small community – life has all kinds of things going for it.

The show has bounty hunters in space, loud gunfights and a failed experiment that learned to fly. It’s still more realistic – and thus more alive than most anime out there. The variety in mood and texture of the events brings it to life. I couldn’t imagine a show having a fat balloon assassin feeling realistic.

The cast is also a prime example of how to have an ensemble. Spike isn’t the main character. They’re all are. Their personalities aren’t simply different but connected, there is chemistry here. Jet isn’t just a contrast to Spike’s apathy, but a more warm figure for the damaged Faye and the young Ed. Spike’s apathy and cockiness is what puts him at odds with Faye but their greed is what they share and what unites them. Ed herself is a sun in the group of depressed individuals. The characters don’t act out of convenience but on their inner drives, and each of their reactions is uniquely theirs.

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Variety itself isn’t enough, of course. You need more than the basics of having different episodes with different styles and moods. The narratives are always tightly focused. The world is full of great anime, but few deserve the award of ‘no useless shots’. Except for the plot-heavy episodes (which don’t really work anyway), every shot equals progress.

It’s worth noting that Cowboy Bebop isn’t a dialogue-heavy show. It borrowed this from the film noire genre. Unlike noire’s bad side, Bebop doesn’t rely on dark shots to let you things are dark. Rather, it doesn’t use a lot of dialogue because it doesn’t need to. The shots are informative enough, and so are never boring.

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The series’ only flaw is the grand story behind it focusing on Spike’s past. The series doesn’t exactly lose focus, but confidence. Up until then the defining trait was elegance. Everything was small, but it was enough that counted for a lot. Suddenly we have this huge backstory of broken hearts and smoking guns and overthrowing a criminal syndicate. The last two episodes, while having decent actions, end up mostly as a collection of serious dialogue and dark staring. It survives only on the show’s natural charm. This is one route that demanded a whole new way of storytelling. It’s nice of Watanabe to try but it didn’t work.

Cowboy Bebop is a great anime not because it’s philosophical, influential or borrows a lot from Western fiction. It’s brilliant because it’s a masterpiece of pure storytelling. There are no useless parts in these 23 or so episodes. Each story is different both in events, pacing and mood. People who are uncomfortable with this will make stuff up about ‘existentialism’ but it’s their loss. Regardless of who you are, there’s something to enjoy here.

4.5 trippy mushrooms out of 5

From Ashes to New – Day One

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There was bound to be a Linkin Park worshipping band some time. The only surprise is that it came this late. It’s been 12 years since the explosive success of Meteora, and only now a band tries to replicate its success?

Linkin Park had their share of similar bands, but they always took the most banal elements. Red and Hoobastank didn’t echo Linkin Park but echoed the whole Angst Rock movement that encompassed a variety of genres. A few others came close, like Thousand Foot Krutch. They were too fun and loose though. From Ashes to New literally worship it.

The only difference between Ashes and Linkin Park is in the rapping. It’s more aggressive, sounding leaning towards the wackier moments of Cage. Besides that, “Land of Make Believe” sounded like what the fans wanted and never got after Meteora. The rapping drives the verses and the beat fits the amount of bars – the band is clearly familiar with Hip-Hop. The chorus is melodic but full of hate and there’s some screaming to add punch. It’s all backed by electronic sounds.

It’s just as exciting as it was the first time Linkin Park did it. The weird criticism aimed at Linkin Park that they’re generic still doesn’t make sense. Later albums proved they were always about mixing things up, and the bands that truly sound like them have these same qualities. Just as it took time for Icon for Hire and Hollywood Undead to expand their genre, it will take to Ashes too.

Their sound is great, but it’s limited. Despite mixing genres, the songs themselves aren’t very different. Even the mood feels oddly the same, even though “Land of Make Believe” is supposed to be aggressive whereas “Downfall” is hopeful. It’s not enough to just borrow various ideas from various genres. You need to find a way to mix them up.

When Linkin Park realized this, we got Minutes to Midnight which had the pure Hip-Hop of “Bleed It Out” next to the electronic ballad of “Leave Out All the Rest”. It’s hard to find such odd moments here. There’s a quasi-bass drop in “Farther From Home” but it doesn’t really affect the song. In the end, every song is the same. Hooks are sung with complete serious, the drums and guitars thunder, the electronics tell you this is epic and someone occasionally raps.

The hooks can only carry them so far, although there are some brilliant ones – “Downfall”, “Land of Make Believe” and “Breaking Now” make you forget the obvious influence. If you have a uniform, you need brilliant hooks. It’s not that Ashes lack something specific that prevents them from writing good hooks. They sound passionate enough, and they never rely on annoying techniques of just stretching syllables. The science of a good chorus is a confusing one and the band isn’t an expert on it here.

There’s hope for them, though. They may be derivative, but they’re derivative of a great band who later became greater. Even if they lack Linkin Park’s hooks, they got their wide-eyed approach. Being an experimental, genre-bending band is hard. It takes experience to learn about the genres, how they work and in how many ways you can mix them. The band gets the basics right, so the future looks bright for them.

3 ashes out of 5

Knife Party: An Overview

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Knife Party are a weird story. It seems whenever Rob Swire tries something, he immidiately moves to something else. This technique can lead to a very diverse catalogue, but that’s not really what happens in this case. It seems Swire is more afraid of repeating himself than wanting to explore new ground, He shouldn’t be. Both Pendulum and Knife Party mastered their genres. While he abandoned Pendulum soon enough before they will lose their personality, Knife Party was different.

It started well enough. Their first two EP’s were released in the span of 2011-12. This was the beginning of Brostep’s traditional sound, a little before wild experimentation became common. The dominating sounds were mid-range bass wobbles and laser-like blips. Adding a little melody was common, but they always used abrasive sounds for that.

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The first EP mastered that style. The scene had a lot of talented producers but no one matched Skrillex. No one could make their Brostep as ridiculous as his. His music was almost a self-parody. Knife Party sounded exactly like Skrillex but got it right. “Fire Hive” either screams in your ear or bass-talks. “Destroy Them With Lazers” has bass roars and lazer sounds.

It was almost a classic. It could have been, actually. Knife Party also released a DJ mix with some unreleased tracks which were just as good. There’s no reason not to release “The Box” or “Suffer”. The dumbest decision was to scrap “Zoology” which featured Skrillex. There’s a full-length version which is possible the original and not just a fanmade remake. Anyway, that song epitomizes what was so good about the scene. It had the funky rhythm of Moombahton but with the Heavy Metal aggression of Brostep.

Rage Valley was even better. Every song tackled a different genre and made everything around it feel a little pointless. “Centipede” is ridiculously heavy and it’s not actually loud. It’s just the BOOM at the beginning of the drop that makes it so intense. “Bonfire” was a hit that deserved all the hype. It switches constantly from roars, mid-range and melodic synths. Every little part is catchy on its own, and the alternating between them gives it a hyperactive energy. The sound of the drums is also perfect. Although “Sleaze” isn’t as good as “Zoology”, it first showed that Knife Party could make bangers without being loud.

Things started go downhill with Haunted House. It’s a great EP, but this is where Rob Swire focused on Not Being Brostep rather than making good music. The result is trend-hopping. It’s not so bad here because “LRAD” destroys almost every other Big Room track. It’s hard to think of a Big Room track that matches it and isn’t made by a Brostep artist. There’s “Wizard” and “Epic”, but that’s it. The VIP mix of “Internet Friends” also destroys the original. It adds more to the first drop and adds a Brostep one at the end. If you don’t count “Zoology” because it’s unreleased, then that’s their masterpiece.

Abandon Ship was where Rob Swire got completely lost. There were some traditional tracks there. There was some experimental tracks that kept the aggression. “404”, for example, is a weirder version of Big Room that’s pure genius. A lot of the tracks see Knife Party hopping on trends that aren’t very good, or they don’t give them a new spin.

“EDM Trend Machine” bangs, but there’s nothing unique or charming about it. It’s a very straightforward Deep House track. “Begin Again” and “Red Dawn” tackle worse trends. The former is an Avicii rip-off that’s saved only because of SWire’s vocals and the structure. The second is an attempt to stick a few samples from ethnic music to make us think it’s original. It sounds like a David Guetta B-Side (only with better production).

All of it bangs (except “DIMH” which has no point), but it saw Knife Party shedding their ‘seizure music’ and replacing it with, what exactly? Inoffensive dance music? I know that loudness isn’t actually praised in EDM. The best-selling tracks in Beatport are rarely weird or inventive or ridiculous. It’s mostly a typical House track with those annoying Melbourne Bounce sounds. It’s something that’s kind of rhythmic, kind of melodic but never anything that will distract you from staring at bouncing tits.

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Why did Knife Party try to appeal to him, making dance music that’s suited to fade to the background? Their latest EP is the worst offender. For some moronic reason they decided their collaboration with Tom Morello will be on his album (We already heard that promise) and replaced it with a JAUZ remix. They should’ve kept the remix and get rid of “Kraken” or “PLUR Police”. If Abandon Ship had some quirky or odd moments,this has none. The drops here are exactly the same, only using slightly different notes. The wobbles and bass plucks of “Parliament Funk” are great, but that’s one song out of 3. They couldn’t even make a different second drop.

I don’t get it. I understand getting disillusioned with a scene. Many artists moved away from these sounds, but they expanded their horizons. Skrillex, Kill the Noise, Dillon Francis and even Barely Alive aren’t just about 140 BPM drops with bass growls. Dillon and KTN actually released average LP’s, but they pushed themselves and tried new ideas. KTN mixed his bass growls with Deep House or did a weird Disco track. Dillon tried his hand at producing Pop music and it worked.

Knife Party have very high levels of production. As generic as “PLUR Police” is, it still sounds better than anything like it. I hope the new EP was just a transition record, something they had to get out of their system. Their previous material is some of the best Bass Music has to offer. For all of Rob’s cynicism, that’s his scene. There’s no reason to move away from it. Aggression may dominate, but experimentation is encouraged. The top labels have plenty of weird artists in them. Never Say Die did sign LAXX after all. Hopefully, Knife Party will come back to themselves. If not, we still got 3 classic EP’s and a decent LP.

Next up: Top 10 Knife Party songs.

Megadeth – Dystopia

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For a long while, I thought metalheads were stupid.I read reviews in metal sites where bands were called unoriginal for mixing genres. Then they’d give five stars to a Thrash band that keeps it ‘true to their roots’. I really hoped I was just stereotyping because I was an idiot.

“Super Collider” is a great song. It’s ridiculous Stadium Rock that’s fun, melodic and would go well with a beer. Since it was ‘radio rock’ the fans got angry and so we get the obligatory back to basics album. There isn’t a single song here as fun or with as much personality as “Super Collider”.

Mustain is an old guy. He didn’t hide it on “Super Collider”. He sounded like an old guy celebrating rock music and the joys of making money off telling teenagers about how religion is bad. It sounded both honest and refreshing even if you never heard a
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Here, he’s just pulling cliches out of his ass. I already heard this record back when it was called Countdown to Extinction. It was just as overly serious then but the band sounded young. There was charm in how seriously they played their music.

You don’t hear this spark in this record. It sounds so calculated. Can you get more cliched than “Fatal Illusion” or “Death From Within”? These are the most hackneyed Thrash titles. There’s a tiredness all over the record, even though the band tries hard to hide it.

They still sound good. In fact, I’m sure many of these songs would work well live. The riffs are loud and the drums bang hard. Mustaine may sound old but he sure tries. Sometimes, he hits the spot like on “The Emperor” (which is the most lighthearted song here. That’s not a coincidence). It’s charming to see how they try hard to make something profound in “Poisonous Shadows”. We even get an instrumental track in “Conquer or Die”, which isn’t interesting but at least it’s not an acoustic interlude. Maybe it will work well in a movie.

It’s so serious though. Do people really enjoy listening to chugging riffs, squeaky solos while stroking their beard? Stupid lyrics can be a lot of fun, but not in this context. This is a very serious album. You may make a mistake it’s just fun thrashing, but then you get to “Post American World”. That’s the kind of brooding I expect from The Smiths or Joy Division. The thing is, sparse arrangements sound well when brooding. Shredding doesn’t brood.

I might have taken the whole ‘apocalypse’ theme seriously, but it’s been drilled to our heads already. The only apocalypse so far is an apocalypse in the arts. The theme of ‘apocalypse’ is now boring. Still, it could have been fine if it was fun. This is music for first-person shooters and action films. It’s all pounding drums and chugging riffs. The only way you can be apocalyptic with this music is by adding something, like how Ministry’s guitars sound like chainsaws.

Mustaine sounds grave though. He sounds worried about the upcoming dystopia (Which we’ve been warned about from time immemorial). There’s no fun to be had here. It’s not even the venting that Ministry had on their Bush albums. Mustaine sounds like he hopes to change the world using guitar solos. All he does is give people a reason to make fun of metal.

Or maybe he’s just tired. He wanted to sing anthems now that he’s got tons of money. The fans wanted tostroke their beards while thinking ‘this is deep. It’s not about girls’. So he gave us a record full of dull lyrics about how the thread is real.

It’s a shame because there’s talent here. There are some really good hooks and most of the record sounds energetic enough. The band doesn’t sound like they’re at the end, but more like they’re not interested in this type of music. “The Threat Is Real” would have been better if it was about telling people to fuck off.

Some have criticized Mustaine’s ‘conservative’ lyrics. The irony is bigger than Jupiter. There are hundreds of bands making songs against America. Bowie had a song called “I’m Afraid of Americans”. Mustaine says vaguely that he doesn’t trust a huge wave of immigrants and suddenly he’s xenophobic and racist. Okay, the lyrics to “Post American World” are stupid, but I’ve heard far worse xenophobia from oppressed groups.

It’s a fun record, but mostly pointless. It’s overly serious in a genre that’s not meant to be serious. “The Emperor” is great and so is a few other songs, but why go back to this? I can get the same effect by listening to Prong or Five Finger Death Punch or Superjoint Ritual or Texas Hippie Coalition, only without the bullshit lyrics and seriousness.

2 super colliders out of 5

Panic! At the Disco – Death of a Bachelor

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Panic at the Disco were never ’emo’. They were never even similar to the bands that people mis-classified as Emo. They had Punk-Pop elements, yes, but they were more experimental and glam than their peers. When Fall Out Boy and Chemical Romance traded the punkish hooks for experimentation, it sounded like a band trying to justify their huge fanbase. When Panic reinvented themselves over and over, it was just something they were made to do.

“Emperor’s New Clothes” isn’t surprising. It was inevitable. Urie stomps and brags over a Hip-Hop backing while forgetting to rap. Fall Out Boy released a very similar song recently too. This is what happens to all successful rock bands. After you’re victorious, selling records and getting groupies what is there to sing about?

Stadium is the logical end of any band that relied on hooks for success. Some bands still pretend they have a serious message to deliver. Others, like Papa Roach, still give us angsty lyrics only with friendly melodies. They make it clear that the bands aren’t struggling, but they hope the songs will help you.

Since Panic never complained much about life, they choose (more correctly, Urie chooses) the hedonistic approach. There are a lot of lyrics about partying, drugs and being a bad motherfucker. The biggest influence on this album isn’t Frank Sinatra. Did Frank display the arrogance Urie shows in “Victorious” or “The Good, The Bad…”? For most of the album, Urie tells people either to fuck off, step their game up or how great he is. When he’s not doing that, he tells us he parties hard. It’s no different than your average Rap song on the radio.

That’s not a bad thing, of course. It’s actually what Rock music needs right now. Rock music suffered too much of over-seriousness. Ever since Nirvana, every rock star decided to make the audience a psychotherapist. Some Nu Metal or Punk Pop bands added a little fun, but a lot of Rock was just noise to think deep thoughts during recess. I can still remember the days when we considered fun music to be meaningless and therefore bad.

These songs are great. Urie is convincing in his arrogance and I don’t expect anything less of a rock star with fan girls. Urie sounds so confident that “Crazy=Genius” almost sounds stupid. What kind of lover would doubt him after hearing him on “Emperor’s New Clothes”? On “The Good, the Bad…” he sounds like he will continue smiling even if he’ll receive 1000 punches.

Urie also experiments with genres a bit, but they’re never full-blown experiments. It’s odd to hear no guitars on “Emperor’s New Clothes”, but he never lets the genre he experiments with to take over. I don’t know whether it’s a good or bad thing. Urie is a charismatic enough singer to hold his own. The hooks are better than ever, but you do wish Urie would go further. If he’s so confident as he presents himself, why doesn’t he try to rap on “Emperor’s New Clothes”? Why doesn’t “Victorious” contains a Skrillex-inspired bass drop although it begs to?

As expected, it’s the ballads that fail. They’re not terrible, but they’re a huge step down. They reek of tokenism. Urie may like Sinatra, but he doesn’t have the same kind of voice. He can’t replicate that atmosphere. A few horns and vocal acrobatics don’t make you Sinatra or Dean Martin. They have a specific style of melodies and of singing.

The title-track doesn’t suffer too much since it still has the old rock star arrogance. The obligatory closing ballad is a huge step down. Instead of channeling the influence and making a throwback, it’s just your ordinary piano ballad at the end of a rock album. Ballads often stick like a sore thumb in an album full of party tracks.

These two and a few other, more serious tracks make the record less focused. Urie plays the party tracks with full conviction, but he’s unsure how exactly to imitate Sinatra. Without this focus, the album fails to be the big statement it should have been. It’s still a great record full of hooks and variety, though. Maybe Pretty Odd was Panic’s classics and they will never improve on it, but Urie is far sounding out of ideas.

3.5 naked emperors out of 5