Review Summary: "Ultimately, This Is War is a near perfect blend of old and new, even though the album is wildly inconsistent in direction"
30 Seconds To Mars is an incessantly difficult band to follow. From their industrial/space rock roots to radio-friendly alternative rock/post-grunge, the band has surprised with every album. Musical progression is one thing, but a complete face-lift after their debut album was quite the shock. Naturally, anticipation sky rocketed for their next album; fear of the unknown loomed over the massive fan base of 30 Seconds To Mars. Predictions abounded, but it remained impossible to assume the sound of the band’s upcoming album. The album teaser did not help either since the band annoyingly chose the strangest and least familiar sounding sections of the album.
Finally, the first real glimpse of the album came when 30 Seconds To Mars streamed their lead single, ‘Kings and Queens’, on their Myspace page. The song was an anthem, a song with a massive chorus as expected from a 30 Seconds To Mars single. Unfortunately, there was nothing particularly unique about the song – it was the obvious choice for a single. If the entire album turned out like ‘Kings and Queens’, This Is War would have been disgustingly average.
Thankfully, after all the nerve-racking anticipation, it is safe to say that This Is War is an excellent album. This Is War is a successful blend of their previous album’s alternative rock, and their self-titled album’s spacy/progressive tendencies. The album ambitiously crashes in (after the boring intro song ‘Escape’) with the obscure ‘Night of the Hunter’. Immediately evident is the band’s direction toward electronic-infused rock. With bopping synthesizers and the tom-toms smashed as loudly as humanely possible, the song prompts the listener to jump along. Combined with smooth guitars and an urgent delivery from Jared Leto (the lead vocalist) during the chorus, ‘Night of the Hunter’ is one of the best songs. Another excellent mix of previous sounds is found in, ‘Search and Destroy’. The song is minimalistic, but the spacey synths in the verse combined with the shimmering guitars in the chorus converge in an alluring fusion.
The one song that truly showcases the band’s true talent is ‘Alibi’. The maturity of the song is incredible, and deserves to be held with high esteem. The song is a breathtaking, emotional journey. Fragile piano playing, melancholy atmospherics, subdued drumming, and barely audible vocals all mesh together into a beautiful picture. What makes this song epic though, is that it continuously progresses until every instrument explodes in a climactic fury. Moments like these signify that 30 Seconds To Mars are more than just a singles band, and that the band may yet provide a lasting impact on the musical industry.
30 Seconds To Mars has to be commended for creating such a consistent album despite dipping into an infinite cistern of genres: electro-pop, pop rock, hard rock, progressive rock, electronic rock, alternative rock, space rock, gothic rock, emo, new wave, gothic prog, neo-prog, etc. etc. etc. It is baffling that such a clash of genres could result in radio-friendly material at all, but somehow it works. The electronics, keyboard, and synthesizers are effective, and often compose the back-bone of the band’s sound. Coupled with their typically smooth, melodious guitars, pulsing bass guitars, and abrasive drums, the band’s typical alternative rock formula is more attractive than ever.
Lyrically, This Is War combines the depressed lyrics of A Beautiful Lie, as well as the poetic nonsense of their debut. What we have here are rather childish, vulgar and emotive lyrics in the album. ‘Night of the Hunter’ is the prime example, with such non-inspiring lyrics as: “Honest to God I'll break your heart, tear you to pieces and rip you apart”, and “Blessed by a bitch from a bastard seed,
pleasure to meet you but better to bleed”. Also expect to cringe from the opening words of ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’: “Enemy of mine, I'll *** you like the devil”. Jared’s lyrics are deceptively apocalyptic in nature. Look no further than ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’: “The end is coming, everybody run, now we're gonna live forever, gonna live forever tonight, tonight, tonight”. From the apocalyptic tale of the album’s lyrics, one wonders the true message. The chorus of ‘Kings and Queens’ does not help with its incomprehensible religious lyrics: “We were the victims of ourselves, maybe the children of a lesser God, between Heaven and Hell”. ‘Search and Destroy’ has equally frustrating lyrics: “Sold my soul, to heaven and to hell”.
This Is War is a mixed bag – perhaps this is a result of the band’s influences. The most prominent is the Bjork influence, which is evident in ‘Night of the Hunter’, ‘Hurricane’, ‘Alibi’, and ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’. Jared’s vocals are also Bjork-influenced, so expect to hear plenty Waaaaaaayooooh’s, Waaayahh’s, Awaaaay oohhh’s, and other precocious drivel. This would not be so noticeable except that Jared sometimes sounds like a male version of Bjork – yes, it is as creepy as it sounds.
The award for the greatest and worst aspect of the album has to be its over-production. The great aspect of it, of course, is that the songs are all meticulously written. Every sound and every bridge are memorable, so no wasted space appears in the album. The awful aspect of the over-production though, is that the album can sometimes seem overbearing or irritating. 30 Seconds to Mars sound best when they strip all bombast away, which the lyrically laughable acoustic song ‘100 Suns’ can attest to.
Ultimately, This Is War is a near perfect blend of old and new, even though the album is wildly inconsistent in direction. It is a little rough on the edges, but this is to be expected from a band continuously evolving. This could have been an album for the ages, but too many inconsistencies have robbed the band of a classic release. As such, this is still an excellent album. 30 Seconds To Mars are heading in the right direction, and it is only a matter of time before they release their magnum opus.
- Night of the Hunter
- Kings and Queens
- This Is War
- Search and Destroy