I See Stars – New Demons

i-see-starsby Taylor Markarian

The fourth studio album to come from I See Stars is aptly summarized by its name, New Demons. Everything goes deeper. Their signature electronic styling veers towards dubstep, the guitars have more intricacy and substance, and the vocals carry an underlying sense of purpose and unfaltering intent. The overall sound possesses a haunting quality that reflects the age-old fears and issues that haunt the human consciousness. These issues are interpreted by the band in a specifically modern context–sample robotic clips (“Initialization Sequence”) and recurring “Harlem Shake” inspired synth riffs keep us in the Internet Age while the hardcore elements ground us in a more sobering reality. The subject matter is heavy but is handled with such care and precision that it manages to be exciting and at times uplifting, reinvigorating a genre that often gets cluttered with monotonous melancholy. Youthful hope meets a more solemn and ominous wisdom making this the band’s most mature release to date.

ISS doesn’t exactly abandon motifs from their previous albums with this one, but rather accents and develops them in a new way.  Fans can still depend on ISS to be catchy, but there is a more gradual progression to all of their songs. All of the vocals have good range; Zach Johnson’s lower, guttural vocals offset frontman Devin Oliver’s soaring melodies in a way that is (no pun intended) electrifying. The way in which every element comes together is actually very impressive, and even democratic. No one element is more important than another. This record does an excellent job of blending each instrumental and vocal component while still letting them shine individually, thereby destroying any predictable sense of hierarchy. Like the majority of music, their songs still for the most part follow a formula, but the band attempts to break down these barriers in select songs by placing lulls, buildups, and quickly shifting tempos where longterm ISS fans may not have anticipated them.

One thing that (thankfully) never changes is the fact that these guys know how to set up really gratifying climaxes. There is a successful build up and release of tension that allows every track to come to its own ultimate end in a way that is utterly galvanizing.  My personal favorite on the album, “Who Am I?” (the concluding song on the record) illustrates the band’s talent in this regard. There are multiple points in this song where we are brought to dramatic new heights and brought back down again, in a sort of musical tease. This structure allows us to get closer and closer to the final culmination of everything that the album has to offer several times before we actually get there. It is, in a word, epic.

Of course, ISS still keeps some of the oh-so-predictable open chord rhythms that we can’t help but love no matter how many hardcore and metalcore bands use them. But considering the amount of ingenuity they actually put into this record, I’m more than okay with that. While there is a similar structural thread that runs through all of the tracks, each song is distinguishable enough that it doesn’t get monotonous or overly predictable. The album isn’t revolutionary, but an album doesn’t have to completely overhaul an entire music scene or personal repertoire in order to be a great fucking album. 2013 has seen a lot of wonderful releases in the hardcore and metal world so far, but New Demons is definitely one of my top picks.

Originally posted on Grimm Rock Review

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