Review Summary: Moving just a bit higher on the metalcore food-chain.
To borrow a line straight from the horse's mouth, Dead Throne
is an album made by a band that used to play "dumb, plain and simple" metalcore. The band is, for better or worse, The Devil Wears Prada and the horse in question is the shrieking lead vocalist Mike Hranica - a man who in the same interview promised that Dead Throne
was a huge evolution for the band. He, like countless other misinformed metalcore vocalists before him, said that his band's latest record would simultaneously be their heaviest and most intelligent album to date. So, while nobody thats into music is unfamiliar with a band mistakenly (or dishonestly) hyping up their latest record as their "heaviest", it might catch you off guard to hear that Hranica was on-the-ball with his assessment - Dead Throne
moves away from a lot of cliches the band had been perpetuating and is, without a doubt, both their best and their most aggressive album to date. It turns out however, that Hranica was right not only about the band making their heaviest album yet but he also was bang-on mentioning that his band had played boring, "dumb" metalcore. They've done nothing but be a bad Underoath leech for their entire career; "dumb" metalcore truly couldn't be a better moniker. It's this context - The Devil Wears Prada's history of ultimate dumb-ness - that gives my accolade of 'Best The Devil Wears Prada Album Ever!
' a little less reason to celebrate. While Dead Throne
is a shocking and impressive progression for a band many thought were condemned to a history of meatheaded breakdowns and obnoxious, whiny choruses, it turns out the future isn't so bleak for Hranica and his boys - instead
, we're treated to meatheaded breakdowns with a nifty riff or two
and a side of obnoxious but-slightly-less
-whiny choruses. This is
2011, after all.
The problem is, for all their shiny new down-tuned riffs and fancy production, the band still hasn't given up on metalcore's most cherished staple: there's nary one song on Dead Throne
that doesn't proudly feature a two-note, palm-muted breakdown. Sure, the guitar tones are better this time around and on the odd occasion, one of the breakdowns will actually be awesome
(see the middle of 'R.I.T' or 'My Questions') but the majority never manage to find more than two dissonant notes on the fretboard. It's not even an issue of 'metalcore is bad because breakdowns are bad
' anymore (there are
good breakdowns here), it's an issue of needing to break out of the palm-muted mould this decade has created - The Devil Wears Prada prove barely capable of this. Jeremy DePoyster's whiny, overproduced clean vocals don't help much either - they're still stuck in a time where Underoath's They're Only Chasing Safety
was the be-all-end-all to catchy songwriting and Dead Throne
suffers from a series of fatally cheesy As I Lay Dying-aping choruses (see 'Mammoth'). The saddest thing is that DePoyster's moments on the record all come at times when a recess from Hranica's barking is more than needed - DePoyster just never satisfies the thirst.
Hranica's vocals, however, have come a long way since 2009's With Roots Above and Branches Below
. Where he was the weakest link in the band's arsenal of mediocrity, he's now more than decent and quite surprisingly versatile. His lows are no longer empty and hollow sounding, his highs are only slightly grating and he's adopted a Spencer Chamberlain-esque yelling vocal style that provides much needed dynamic to his songs (see 'Vengeance' for a taste). The band's instrumental section took a few leaps and bounds too - a lot of innovative passages pop up now and again, such as the rolling snare and eerie riff combination that opens 'Vengeance'. Whether or not it leads into another hideous, boring breakdown is irrelevant (it does); the band is learning to create some pretty cool sounds collectively. 'R.I.T.' starts off with a groovy Inhale Exhale-esque riff that is pretty fun, all things considered, and the low tuning heavy riffs hit as hard as the high, plucked leads hold interest. 'Chicago' and 'Kansas' even decide to turn off the distortion for a moment (thank you August Burns Red for lending your clean tones), sculpting spacey guitar lines that rely on the delay and effects to hold intention rather than the licks themselves. The former song even forbids itself to ever trying a tempo switch or awkward transition and plugs away at a consistent tempo that slowly builds itself into a suitably epic, if short-lived, climax. And even if 'Kansas', the album's only instrumental, doesn't manage to be the best song on the album (a cheesy spoken word part in the middle saves it from that honour), the band at least managed to make 'Constance' the lone song on Dead Throne
that is enjoyable from beginning to end. There's a few off-kilter riffs, a killer guest vocal spot by As I Lay Dying's Tim Lambesis in the band's heaviest moments and a catchy, if simple, opening riff. It's not a song out to change lives or even be impressive in the context of the scene as a whole but it's definitely the best Dead Throne
has to offer and pretty damn impressive knowing that this band was writing 'HTML Rulez d00d' only a few years back.
Yet in the end, The Devil Wears Prada are a few too many cliche punk beats and cheesy synth keyboard lines away from being taken seriously. While the band, and Hranica especially, have improved as a whole and moved a few steps up the proverbial ladder, they're still leagues away from making something consistent. Dead Throne
will satisfy casual fans of the band's style and will thrill fans of the band's Zombie EP
but will sadly do little more than raise the eyebrows of the previously unconvinced. Dead Throne
is a band simply breaking out of it's bland cocoon and spreading it's mosh-pit wings - but this butterfly just ain't ready to fly just yet. But hey, at least you did better than August Burns Red this year, guys!