Attack Attack! - This Means War
Record Label: Rise Records
Release Date: January 17, 2012
When Attack Attack! saw their entrance onto the music scene in 2008, they were known for antics that attempted to mix the heavy electronic synthesizer and playfulness of pop, with the aggression of metalcore. The result was polarizing. You either loved it, or were appalled by it and with every pivotal moment of their career, beginning with the ousting of Austin Carlile, to the loss of Johnny Franck after the release of their Self Titled album, the band has been heartily welcomed or fiercely criticized. Whatever your personal opinion of the band, it can be agreed that the band had never fully attempted to make completely serious songs, or a cohesively focused album. That is until the release of This Means War. A final release on Rise Records, the aspiring band endeavors to distinguish themselves and put forth the real Attack Attack!. How does the album fair? Mediocre at best, with small, gleaming moments of hope.
There is absolutely no feasible way of writing this review on the track-by-track basis that I normally use. Why? Frankly, this is because of the albums biggest flaw, monotony. Good lord, the vast majority of the album sounds like one giant song. To break it down, the general structure of every song goes as follows: Introductory heavy riff, breakdown style verse, chorus, second breakdown verse, another chorus (maybe played twice), pre-breakdown (typically in which Caleb Shomo is the only audible member), breakdown, pre-chorus, chorus, and finally introductory riff used as an outro. That’s it. Literally, the only song structure used in This Means War, with minor variation. There are also additional factors that contribute to the monotony. Songs that begin with an effect laden ( phaser, high pass filter, etc.) guitar part: 5 songs. Songs that vocally begin with Shomo screaming an introductory phrase (such as, but not limited to: “Yeah” or “Go” ): 5 songs. Songs where Shomo rants, in which said rant is out of timing or pitch: 6 songs. Songs with chugging: 10 songs. But that’s to be expected. Moving on.
The band, to their credit, has strayed away from a more typical metalcore but the execution of their attempt at djent does not sound fully developed. In the time between initial promotion and release, the band flaunted that the album was written, recorded, mixed, and mastered in a matter of 30 something days, and to be honest, it shows. This is not to detract from Shomo’s appreciable job of production, as it is a good start to a young talent, but the songs sound mumbled, rehashed and poorly delivered, meshing a weak rendition of Periphery or a slight A Plea for Purging imitation. As noted above, the song writing abilities are weak at best, though instrumentation has clearly improved, considerably for each member. Wetzel is tighter behind the kit, Whiting throws in a fast riff here and there, Holgado's bass keeps up to speed, and Caleb's clean vocals are rather enjoyable. Lyrically, the album follows the concept of governmental revolution, anarchy, and apocalyptic-like survival and reads of an angsty rebellious 14 year old writing bad fiction (I heard “I put _______ on the line” one too many times.) Unclean vocal delivery is strenuously, well, monotonous as little range is expressed with the exception to occasional low growls. The band, too, has given up the majority of the overflowing electronic aspects that were extensive in their previous releases, which could be a great thing or terrible thing depending on which side of the spectrum you are on in regards to Attack Attack! fandom.
Now to address some significant highlights. Number one: Shomo’s clean vocals. Though they may go underutilized or misappropriated, his cleans do sound fresher than the typical, nasally high pitched, completely autotuned shtick that kids beg for in heavy music today. His vocals in the chorus of “The Wretched” and “The Confrontation” shine brightest, swinging from a lower register to a fairly midrange one. Number two: The standout tracks just mentioned. Though they are not too distinct sonically, they are the ones that provide enough redeeming qualities to actually be listened to more than once. “The Wretched” explores an atmospheric guitar line that may be geared more towards radio rock, while the “The Confrontation” provides the strongest technicality on the album with a surprisingly decent riff towards the end of the song (something that is virtually inexistent on the rest of the album). These elements provide the strongest hope on the album that Attack Attack! have a plausible shot at creating quality music, given that they push themselves and work hard to put effort, thought, and time into their tracks. Unfortunately, though, that’s as far as this goes.
Perhaps the band rushed out a release to complete contractual obligations with Rise Records. Perhaps they wanted to experiment with lower tuning, and 7 strings guitars, as djent seems to be a growing trend in the scene. Hell, perhaps, this is Attack Attack! ‘coming into their own.’ Regrettably, that’s where the problem lies. If this is as high as the band aims, no amount of talent will push them to be better than their cohorts. Flaunting a new sense of identity doesn’t make you a different band. Instead the effort you truly put into creating something different and worthwhile strengthens the foundation you stand upon. If Attack Attack! choose to stay the metalcore course, they should take the time to reflect on their shortcomings and use this album as a springboard. If not, time can only tell where they’ll end up, or if they continue to release a poor imitation of what everyone else is already trying to make. So, of course, Attack Attack! comes back to where they always were with This Means War. The breakdown fanatics will stay loyal and others will abandon ship in search of the ‘next best thing.’ So take a listen for yourself, and in the words of Attack Attack! “Grab your guns, and pick a side.”