Review Summary: The joke's over
Back in 2006, two scene kids from Florida thought that it would be hilarious to make a metalcore cover of Soulja Boy’s “Crank That.” The song blew up and, in an extremely improbable chain of events, landed them a record deal at Epitaph. These kids, Matt Mehana and the since departed Nabil Moo, were a shock to the system. While many casual metalcore fans admit that part of the appeal of the genre is how silly it is, I Set My Friends on Fire (ISMFOF) were the first band to openly mock the genre. Complete with all the clichés- jokey song titles, occasional abuse of the synthesizer, autotuned hooks- their debut album You Can’t Spell Slaughter Without Laughter was enjoyable in the same way that Adam West-era Batman is. It was passable due to its sheer campiness. On Astral Rejection, there is no such fun to be found and the finished product reflects that in terms of content and quality.
It’s impossible to accuse ISMFOF of lacking creativity. If anything, they’re too creative for their own good. Experimenting with everything from power ballads (the first part of Astral Rejection) to short dubstep sequences (My Paralyzed Brother Taps His Foot…), it’s impossible of accusing Astral Rejection of lacking initiative. Unfortunately, that’s one of the few compliments that one can pay this album. The other side of the coin with trying out so many things is that nothing stands out as exceptional or, in ISMFOF’s case, very good at all. The dubstep and 8-bit sound bad and really out of place; this is best seen on “Infinite Suck,” where an 8-bit sequence is played in sequence with a chugging guitar riff. This genre melding by creative mastermind Chris Lent, formerly of From First to Last, rarely works and shows that ambition is good but sometimes it’s probably a good thing to take yourself less seriously. The music generally ranges from ‘bad’ to ‘abysmal.’ and there is exactly one good musical section on the album: the 8-bit and drums sequence on Narcissismfof. The rest of the music could conceivably be an Attack Attack! outtakes reel, with the keys and guitars getting nearly equal attention in the mix. To make matters worse, the music rarely supports the already weak vocals.
The clean vocals, which had the perfect level of autotune on their last album, now alter Mehana’s voice to T-Pain levels. To be fair, it’s Mehana’s first time trying his hand at clean vocals but not even autotune can cover up his apparent tone deafness. This is disappointing, because the clean vocals were what made their first album enjoyable. It’s also kind of sad because it’s obvious that Mehana is trying his best to make up for the loss of Nabil Moo but fails miserably. Meanwhile, Mehana’s harsh vocals have become less listenable. The screams on the album sound a lot like those found on “Beauty is in the Eye of the Beerholder,” from You Can’t Spell Slaughter Without Laughter. The lyrics, which were decently funny on their previous album, are almost entirely unintelligible. Mehana almost seems like he’s trying too hard to scream well. This has the opposite effect, as his highs have gotten pitchier and the lows transcend guttural into a territory that’s impossible to describe. The vocal performance can be summed up as dismal.
The humor element, the one that made the band famous in the first place, has been wiped clean. There are no shouts of “What the ***!” to begin songs like there were in the past and the lyrics, the ones that you can understand, don’t tackle humorous topics like they did in the past. The creative wordplay has been replaced with Mehana’s apparent need to find polysyllabic words and insert them into his choruses whenever possible. Even the song titles have lost their flair in favor of being edgy. While listening to the album, it’s impossible not to wonder why in the world they decided to get so much more serious. The frat party vibe of You Can’t Spell Slaughter… has been replaced with one of an overzealous student who has taken too many classes; he’s weighed down by so much work that he can’t have a good time doing it.
Frankly, this album really disappointed me. I always had a soft spot for ISMFOF’s humor and occasionally cool breakdown or catchy hook. None of these elements are found on Astral Rejection. It’s merely an amalgamation of generic guitar, bad vocals and strange programming. Lent’s attempt at creativity and variation fails overall and pales in compatison to Moo, who was plenty creative and actually understood how music should sound. This album is the exact opposite of what I would have expected after Mehana’s work with comedy group Smosh and serves as evidence that thinking outside the box is good, but venturing too far can be a giant misstep.