Review Summary: On the Brink of disaster, a more focused and cohesive latter half salvages a wildly inconsistent third album.
"WELCOME TO THE GUNSHOW" - capital letters fully intended - are the first words you hear on In This Moment's third LP 'A Star-Crossed Wasteland'. Lead vocalist Maria Brink then does not let up screaming at us for the song's entirety, while producer Kevin Churko ensures the generic metalcore chugging and blast-beats are slicker than the Gulf of Mexico. 'Gunshow' seems a strange and uninspired choice for not only the album opener, but also the first sample fans would hear from a new album. When the band predictably and logically announced that this release would be a middle ground between their raw, aggressive debut 'Beautiful Tragedy', and the catchy, updated hard-rock of follow-up 'The Dream', it is doubtful that anyone but them had this song in mind... Its only saving grace being that Brink's banshee screech is at least decipherable. Of course, the song is "too heavy for radio" - their words, not mine - so official lead single 'The Promise' attempts to replicate Evanescence's success by employing Adrian Patrick (vocalist of Las Vegas rock band Otherwise) to create a so-so duet. Needless to say, it's no 'Bring Me To Life'.
Thankfully, 'A Star-Crossed Wasteland' does not continue on in this vain, with all concerned realizing that the dynamic they are striving for, includes allowing Brink to display the impressively melodic clean vocals which were a genuine revelation on 'The Dream'. The energetic and (pardon the pun) driving 'Just Drive' is much closer to what fans would have had in mind when imagining a combination of In This Moment's first two albums, as is 'Blazin''; a hard-hitting (dare I say “blazing”) cut which has a guitar solo and scream-along factor that is sure to make it a live favorite.
As a whole, the album is decidedly back-loaded, with the band’s original mission statement seeming much more focused toward the end of the LP… Nowhere can this be heard better than on successive tracks 'The Road' and 'Iron Army'. The former is the cut which bears most resemblance to 'The Dream', with some nice clean backing vocals courtesy of guitarist 'Chris Howorth'. His outro solo then fades out into the menacing 'Iron Army', the track which is most similar to 'Beautiful Tragedy'. Likely to be the favorite of metal devotees, the male backing vocals return here, but this time in the form of death growls! In a sense, 'A Star-Crossed Wasteland' reminds of an old-fashioned dual-sided vinyl record, since track-6 'Blazin' is a superior version of the opener, while tracks 5 and 10 just happen to each be piano-driven ballads… Both the title track and closer 'World In Flames' allow Brink to display her ever-improving vocal range amongst haunting musical back-drops, with the latter especially noteworthy since the buxom blonde bombshell puts it all on the line during the climactic finale, and ends up hitting a home run.
Elsewhere, penultimate track 'The Last Cowboy' also adds welcome variety by utilizing Brink's spoken word verses to effectively complement a solid female/male sung chorus. Further assisting the sense that the LP comes together more cohesively as it reaches its denouement is the loose lyrical theme permeating through 'A Star-Crossed Wasteland'. While it would be a stretch to call this a concept album, there are continual references to cowboys and apocalyptic wastelands which, along with a running theme of individual persistence through struggle (best exemplified on ‘Standing Alone’), does provide this recording with a consistent focus.
Practically an album of two halves, initial listens to 'A Star-Crossed Wasteland' are unfavorable and suggest that In This Moment are (pardon another pun) on the brink of disaster. For the first time in the LA quintet's career, it appeared genuinely gimmicky to have such an attention-seeking lead vocalist out front. Caught in-between targets and ultimately pleasing few, it seemed as if the band would die by their logical insistence to fuse the sounds of their first two releases. However, they do eventually hit their straps and salvage the album with a more focused and cohesive latter half. It all results in 'A Star-Crossed Wasteland' being a wildly inconsistent album, where listeners are more likely to enjoy specific portions of most tracks, rather than songs in their entirety. In This Moment were definitely on the right track with their objectives third time around, let's just hope that their execution is more precise come album number four.
Recommended Tracks for fans of (the melodic) 'The Dream': The Road, Just Drive & World In Flames.
Recommended Tracks for fans of (the heavy) 'Beautiful Tragedy': Iron Army, Just Drive & Blazin'.