Review Summary: Still Remains almost completely sheds their metalcore stereotypes and tries for a fuller, more mature sound.
When I first heard the last album by Still Remains I liked it and found it to be enjoyable, but on the same token I also found it to be a pretty average offering - basically it was the same metalcore album that everyone else seemed to be releasing. It had growled verses, sung choruses and the generic riffs, but it also had a few things setting it apart from the pack. The main thing setting it apart was the subtle use of keyboards which is becoming slightly more common now, but wasn’t at the time. The other thing was that from time to time you could hear a part in a song and think that these guys really had potential to move beyond the stagnant genre they started in, if only they would flesh out those small details.
I am happy to report that on their new album, The Serpent
, they have delivered on that potential. Gone are most of the generic riffs, gone are the choruses that don’t fit the overall song, and also gone are the verses that sound like nothing more than a rushed attempt to get back to the chorus. In a nutshell, Still Remains have gone a long way towards transcending the metalcore genre they started in. In fact, they have made such a varied and diversified album that some people have began to question whether they’re still metalcore or not. A lot of people are actually using the term “progressive” to describe these new songs, and there really are subtle hints of prog in the use of keyboards and the construction of some of the riffs as well as in the melodic leads, but these guys aren’t about to be mistaken for Dream Theater
or Fates Warning
any time soon.
The most instantly noticeable change in their sound is the increased use of keyboards. The keyboards are the source for a lot of the melodies on the album, either on their own or in tandem with the guitars. When they’re not providing the melodies in the song the keyboards are still used to create a solid backdrop. The keyboard sound itself is slightly difficult to describe, but they basically have a spacey or techno-type vibe to them. This sound is not a bad thing, though, as it gives the songs a very unique atmosphere. The riffs, too, have made a change for the better. They have traded most of the generic riffs of the past for riffs that could be described as having more to do with regular metal (and occasionally even rock), and in doing so they have become memorable and also help each song to stand apart from one another. The fact that the songs actually don’t all blend together is a feat unto itself for this band, but also makes it harder to broadly describe the album as a whole accurately, so we’ll move on to more specifics.
Right from the start it’s easy to tell that this is going to be a different album for these guys. Instead of a wall of guitars to start the album, we are treated to a synth line that gradually fades in, and when the guitars do finally come in it’s in an entirely harmonic and melodic capacity played at a mid-pace, and the song doesn’t contain any vocals at all. Unlike a lot of album intros, this is an intro that’s actually worthy of repeated listens. After this intro is the first real song of the album. This song is probably the most representative of the band’s past sound and is coincidentally enough, also the weakest track on the album. It follows the basic formula of growled verses and sung choruses with the exception being that the chorus actually fits the song. After this song, though, expect the unexpected.
The next track, "Stay Captive", is an upbeat rocker with plenty of melodies but is also heavy enough that it should satisfy the metalcore crowd as long as they can get past the fact that the entire song is sung. In fact a majority of the vocals on this album seem to be sung. They’re not only sung, but they’re layered to give them a constant sense of harmony. This isn’t a bad thing, though, because this guy can really sing. For those that need the screams in order to like an album, the growled vocals aren’t entirely missing and make an appearance in most the songs, but they serve more to provide variation and don’t follow any set pattern (i.e. growled verses with sung choruses). Another thing is that it seems the growled vocals have become more powerful and angry on this release. I don’t know if it’s because they really have or because they’re not being overly used so that they seem more powerful when they are used, but either way they really do seem more in your face. Anyway, after "Stay Captive" the album continues to diversify.
As the album continues, there are songs that are more typical of the metalcore sound but without all the drawbacks, and then there are songs that break from that sound entirely. One of the best examples of that break is the powerful and emotional ballad-type song, "Maria", which manages to be heartfelt while still being very commanding as well. Another standout track is "Dancing with the Enemy" which is totally upbeat, and features an almost danceable drumbeat for the chorus. Speaking of the chorus, it is also probably the most catchy and poppy one on the album but they pull the song off flawlessly. In fact almost all of their experimentation and deviation from the metalcore formula has been for the better, and almost all songs feature some form of this experimentation or outside musical influence.
Despite all the successful changes that were made, I don't want to make it sound like everything is perfect because there are some minor issues that I have with the album. In a few of the later songs, the drumming seems a little too simplistic. I think it was done that way to try to catch the rock vibe that they seem to try to incorporate into those songs but it could have been done better. That is actually my main complaint about the album and it’s a minor problem at worst since these parts that I’m referring to are generally pretty short in duration and don’t happen very often. It should also be mentioned that there is a definite decrease in speed, aggression, and screaming on this album and that is the only thing I could see that might turn an old fan off, but there are 100 other bands doing exactly that sound when the need for it arises.
Due to the experimentation, their willingness to break from the norms, and the increased acceptance of other musical influences, Still Remains have done it; they have broke from the formula and made an album that should appeal to their older fans as much as it should appeal to those that generally don’t like metalcore or that only have a passing interest in it. What we have here is an album of capable guitar playing that alternates between chunky riffs and melodic leads as well as memorable choruses that actually work within the context of the song. We’re also treated to something that almost no metalcore album ever provides; surprises. When these surprises are a wide range of influences and good solid songs such as the ones mentioned earlier, than that is a good thing. For fans of metalcore willing to give change a chance, as well as for people who usually blow off the genre for being too generic and predictable.