Review Summary: With its fist-to-face intensity and infectious hooks, Population: Declining is a monster of a debut for Hail the Villain.
Hail the Villain really did arrive out of nowhere. In the crowded field of alternative radio rock, bands like Three Days Grace and Seether seemed to take the reins of the music charts, brooding through the airwaves with angst for the typical rock festival crowd. Suddenly, this collection of metalheads from Ontario arrives to shake up the expectations of what’s worth listening to on the radio. Population: Declining is the debut album from Canada rockers Hail the Villain, formed by lead singer Bryan Crouch. Originally designed as Crouch’s solo act, Hail the Villain is as stripped-down and straightforward as an alternative metal group can get. There are zero frills here. A single ballad exists among a packed house of furious metal riffs, pounding drums, and infectious sing-scream vocals. Angst and anger permeate Hail the Villain’s debut outing and one would think that these guys are a one-trick pony, filled to the brim with the same type of brooding emotive waves that gave their peers so much popularity.
But damn, do these guys rock.
Hail the Villain may initially sound like a mix between weighted alternative rock like Chevelle and faster-paced metal like Mudvayne, but Bryan Crouch and friends have something that their more well-known friends seem to neglect: energy. These guys understand how to get on the radio, while still making their music intense and absolutely furious. Their first single “Take Back the Fear” has an ascendant riff throughout the song, but bursts into a surprisingly upbeat chorus, one that is easy to sing along with at rock festivals. “Runaway” shows the band’s creativity in mixing in their hooks. That “GO!” that bursts into the chorus resonates so powerfully, revving energy into the song like an explosion. Don’t let the ridiculously angsty lyrics get in the way; Hail the Villain have cracked the code for radio metal perfection.
But the guys know how to be heavy just as much as being radio-friendly. “My Reward” is downright thunderous. Crouch is always walking the tightrope of screaming and singing (which has taken a toll on his voice) but never stumbles in the presentation. As the frontman belts out “let me love you, scar and burn you,” it’s easy to see that the band is out for intensity just as much as gathering a following over the airwaves. The guitars are thick and textured, but nimble. Each grinding guitar riff is empowered by a rapid, riotous pace that fuels the entire record. Songs like “Evil Has a Name” and “Glad to Be” feel destined for greatness on rock radio: brilliantly accessible, but always packing a heaviness that’s true to alterative metal. It’s that perfect storm of heaviness and catchiness that just makes Population: Declining work so well, a storm that brings out the best in both without falling victim to either’s setbacks.
The most creative sides of the band are apparent in the tempo changes of “16 Cradles” and the sole ballad on the record, “Swan Dive Suicide.” “16 Cradles” makes a surreal shift in pacing in the middle of the song, going from a revving drag-race into a pounding, much more straightforward tempo. It catches the listener off guard, and though the transition isn’t as fluid as other songs in the genre, it remains a unique moment in Population: Declining. “Swan Dive Suicide” is the pseudo-closer (with the real final track being the fast-paced “Social Graces”), one that drips with a thick and slow tempo that could very well echo the works of Deftones’ work on White Pony. In addition to the more experimentally designed tracks, “Mission Control” takes things to a new level, one built for getting a crowd going. The songs like “Pyro” and “Blackout” feel fit for the mosh pit. They get the listener pumped up. Hail the Villain’s mighty brew of heavy riffs and hooky vocals is never a crutch for the band. It’s something that they’ve mastered on Population: Declining, one that will hopefully continue in their future works.
Hail the Villain isn’t out to revolutionize anything. Repeated listenings will make the songs blend together a bit and Crouch doesn’t push the vocal boundaries much outside of the radio single hooks, but what Hail the Villain do with gusto is keep the gears grinding. The guys always sound like they’re holding nothing back. Radio rock has become infamous for sounding cut-and-paste and derivative amongst the different bands in the genre, but Hail the Villain are the anti-thesis of that. The bands that fall in the pitfall of modern rock monotony forget about energy and intensity in exchange for a post-grunge hit; Hail the Villain never does. All things considered, Hail the Villain is a promising collection of talented musicians with a lot of great ideas behind their revving guitars and angsty lyrics. As a debut album, Population: Declining is absolutely fantastic. Debut albums rarely have the bottomless reserve of energy that Hail the Villain has churned into Population: Declining. If you’ve been looking to get away from the growingly stagnant alt-metal scene, Hail the Villain has the relief, and it’s called Population: Declining.