Review Summary: Dead Years is an amazing album, and the best This Or The Apocalypse have put out yet. Nobody should pass on this one.
This Or The Apocalypse have been doing Metalcore a bit better than most since they released Monuments. The great melodies and leads, the insane drumming, the passionate vocals, all brought together beautifully. Monuments, as much as I enjoy it, had below average production quality and despite it's awesome elements, it got repetitive. In 2010 the band put out Haunt What's Left. The production was outstanding and the songs each had their own identity, and despite lacking some of the technicality of Monuments it seemed to be an improvement for the most part.
When the band released their single 'In Wolves' I was worried. It's a good track, in fact it has grown on me so much that I would go as far as to call it a great track, but they can do better, a hell of a lot better. I'm extremely relieved to be able to tell you that the single is the album's weakest track. What the rest of the album has in store for you is the best Metalcore you're likely to hear for quite some time.
The album kicks off with 'Hell Praiser' which immediately displays some very aggressive yet melodic guitar leads and a powerful scream from Ricky. The track is chaotic. Ricky, who has always had a very unique and urgent sounding scream, displays his new range in full right off the bat, switching from mid range rasps to powerful growls to higher screams and back again. His performance on this album is displays more emotion than any of his previous work, and certainly more urgency and desperation. His lyrics are also quite strong. It's easily his best performance to date.
When listening to this band you expect good guitar work, but what they've done here is just breathtaking. When going for a more melodic sound, the leads very from aggressive and in your face, like the opening of 'Hell Praiser' to stunningly beautiful, as they are in songs like 'Hate The Ones You Love' and 'Americans.' Even when going for a more chug and rhythm focused sound these guys sound so much better than what you would expect. The only word to describe is is style. The way they play has so much feeling to it, even things that could be potentially dull come off sounding so stylized and fun that it's damn near impossible not to have a great time listening to every second of their work. The best part of this is that it never ends, they play like pros from start to finish.
When I heard that TOTA's drummer, Grant McFarland had left the band, I was horrified. The drumming has always been one of the biggest highlights of this band's material, so with that beast of a drummer no longer behind the kit, myself and other fans alike were more than a little worried about what the drumming on the new album would sound like. I don't know if it was because they didn't have a drummer locked down at the time of recording, or because they simply didn't believe the new guy could create what this album needed and what the fans expected, but the current drummer for TOTA didn't record these drum tracks, a couple of the producers did. They did a damn good job. If I didn't know that Grant was gone I would assume that this was his work. It's flashy, it's technical, it kicks all sorts of ass, it's a ton of fun to listen to. Fans have nothing to fear in this department, it's outstanding work.
I wish this album was flawless, as far as I'm concerned it comes really freakin' close, but a few wrong moves hold Dead Years back just a little bit. There were clean vocals on Haunt What's Left, and they worked quite well, Ricky is actually a solid singer. The problem is, he leaves the singing to several others on this album. According to the band, Ricky's performance here is much more demanding than it was previously, and he simply wouldn't have the energy to pull off these clean choruses live. It was a smart move in theory, but the singing provided by the others never fits the band's sound like Ricky's voice did. The other issue is that there's really no need for them to be there. Sometimes clean vocals enhance a chorus or a certain section, but here they just feel tacked on to add some diversity, which they didn't actually need to do. When you have a lead vocalist with as much range and emotion as Ricky displays here, there's really no need to add anyone else to the mix.
The other problem... Yeah, we're talking about Metalcore, it would have to be breakdowns wouldn't it? They aren't bad, but they certainly aren't great. They don't match the outstanding quality of the rest of the record. Like the cleans, they make brief appearances and only do a little bit of damage.
The immense amount of things this album does right pound it's few mistakes into the ground, when your finish your listen it shouldn't be the little flaws that stick in your head. They're easy to get over and easy to forgive.
On top of everything else, this album really has it's own identity, as I believe all records should. Many bands in this genre tend to stick with an established sound and change very little from record to record, but This Or The Apocalypse have successfully kept their identity and managed to make an album that can catch you off guard, having many differences from previous works.
Dead Years is an amazing album, and the best This Or The Apocalypse have put out yet. Nobody should pass on this one.