Review Summary: This is War seems to be a trumpeting call to arms to a war that comes so often we get sick of hearing it. Too much buildup for too much explosion. The album exhausts, without having a single weak spot, rather, the arrangement and choice of songs themselve
30 Seconds to Mars (30stm) is a band that was... well, critiqued quite heavily after their first "space"-themed self-titled debut. Their second album, in a seemingly responsible move, strafed towards a more radio friendly, all around, equal rock sound. So what could they have been thinking when they not only reverted back into the "space" sound, but kept running past the post established in the first album?
Was it the fanboys they seemed to alienate from their second, more straight-foreword album? That seems a silly thing to do, because fans are gained or lost based on merit... if you keep trying to appease the same fanbase you will achieve little (see, Linkin Park). Was it their lawsuit with their record label (which they totally deserved; they failed to provide according to their stipulation)? Was it Jared Leto's head finally exploding with egocentric overpretention?
In my opinion it is a conglomerate of all three. In order to come back with an untarnished image, 30stm put out an album hyped out to the max, trying to aim for huge expansionism and sweeping themes, something you can play over a medieval war movie. They seemed to think that anything else would make people call them lazy for, well, being lazy in the last 4 years. They wanted to convince people they really had been working on a huge call-to-arms and magnum opus. The fanboys crying over the mass appeal of the second album were listened too (most likely in accordance with the previous), and Jared simply had far too much control over this album... his pretentious nature is apparent on the other records, but it never (really) distracts from the overall sound.
So with that out of the way, let's actually review the album.
First, let me clarify that the 1.5/5 is a score IN REFERENCE to what I believe the band to be capable of; ie, it is a judgment against themselves, rather than one against the common strata of music. This album isn't terrible... For an average listener it probably is fairly moving, with sufficient beats and changes to keep them motivated. HOWEVER, compared to what glimpses of 30stm have shown themselves capable of, this is a terrible, terrible disappointment.
Let's start with the length of the songs. Most songs drag to over 5 minutes... That's longer than the average on the first 30stm album. Now I'm not one to slate against long songs- many bands can pull off quite a long song HERE OR THERE, or some bands consistently pump out long ones. The thing is however, long songs equate to a shorter, much more varied album. There should be fewer, better chosen, and representative songs, rather than the standard album fair of 12 songs, 10 of which drag on and on. It's almost exhausting listening to the album.
-5 points for exhausting song lengths
Lyrics- Are actually quite poor. In 30stm's realization that their previous album had quite 'angsty' lyrics, they tried to run as far away from that as fast as they could, trying to hide behind the genre that was established by classic rock artists; the glory and honor of war. Getting ready to fight. However, instead of paving a new road on ground that has been salted and purged a thousand times, they simple dumped a bag of asphalt in a spot and expected it to grow. The lyrics are thematically repetitive, actually lyrically repetitive, lack imagination, creativity, and any spark or vigor. The singing itself is also quite sub-par as to what I had come to expect. Leto has quite a distinct vocal range... so why does he try to expand on an already good thing. Many parts screech with off-tone sounds that were really unnecessary. Lastly, the huge amount of gang vocals present throughout the album, on almost every single song, was a very VERY bad idea. Gang vocals work, but have to be very precisely inserted and SPARSE. Otherwise they exhaust the ears. Nobody minds a few gang vocals sprinkled throughout an album, it's a fresh taste. But if they're used ad nauseum, it simply... exhausts.
3/20 points for vocals
Instruments- Besides the irritating fact that there are more instruments present than could possibly be played live (a personal irk of mine), the instruments themselves don't suffer too heavy penalties. They're simple, sometimes seem unnecessary, but generally keep the rhythm as well as can be expected. The two problems I have as per sound goes would have to be the spacey aura that hangs around the songs, and the drums. Drums are instruments that can either keep the beat well, or form their own. But what the drums insist on doing in this album is constantly building up our excitement with quite good (technical skill is sufficient) fills, and doing this repeatedly. This seems to be the worst nerve of this album. Too many buildups too often, leaving the listener enervated.
15/20 points for instruments
Presentation of album- Right off the bat, most of these songs are not strictly BAD songs. They just don't mesh well together. Throw in any of the songs (after stripping it it's ridiculous gang vocal and extraneous spacey sound embellishments) on the other 30stm albums and they'd fit. Hell, they'd probably even stand out as above average. But all of these similar-themed similar-sounding songs promising epic and sweeping hugeness simply fall flat placed together, leaving an empty and hollow sound in its wake. On the album itself, the presentation is standard. Hits followed by average songs, with a strong finish.
2/10 points for presentation
OVERALL SCORE: 15/50
individual songs are fairly above average taken out of context of the album
Some songs tend to honestly fulfill the mission of being huge, exciting affairs (such as Kings and Queens)
Too much extraneous sound
Too much build-up
Very poor lyrics
Voice is too strained
Pretentious and overblown (both in marketing and the songs themselves)
Too many gang vocals
100 suns has to be my favorite on the album. Take away the stupid gang -vocal section and this song is a wonderful little acoustic ditty
Kings and Queens has poor lyrics, but they're better than the brother song This Is War. This is a simpler song, you could edit out some of it (cut it down to 330-4) and this would be a very good song
Hurricane (Kanye just doesn't work)
Stranger in a Strange Land is an epitome of why this album doesn't work. It has build ups, slow sections, wears on 7 minutes, and just... no.
Most of the songs on this album strafe in the average area though... The album is a flop not because of individual mistakes but because of a collective sinking by each song