Review Summary: This heart of mine, it's shaking like a spinning top
Things I love about Emery: Devin Shelton and Toby Morrell singing together and making beautiful harmonies, passionate songs about life and stuff, memorable melodies that are usually perfect for singalongs, accessibility, heavy sections with screams that have gotten better over the years, and combinations of all of the above - sometimes all at once. Basically what Emery do is take common ingredients of the post hardcore, alternative rock and metalcore genres and throw them together in ways that wind up sounding pretty unique. Let's be honest though: a big reason for that is the trademark vocal harmonies and duets. And I'm happy to report they're back in great measures on You Were Never Alone
, thanks to Devin Shelton's return. A lot of us were still curious, though, about exactly how on their game these 40 year olds can be these days.
Rest assured, long time Emery fans; they're still pretty damn on point.
This is Emery's first independently funded album and it's actually sold better than some of their Tooth & Nail releases. Guitarist Matt Carter handled the production, and creative freedom reigns supreme this time around. We're allowed to see who Emery really is at this point in their lives and career and that's really cool. It's nice to know the guys still aren't afraid to throw down with some crazy heavy sections. Exhibit A: "Thrash". This song takes the extremes Emery have dabbled in over the course of their discography and highlights all of them. Toby learned how to scream out of nowhere in time for We Do What We Want
- and it's a good thing, too, because keyboardist Josh Head handled the lion's share of the harsh vocals for the first four albums and Toby's screams are much better than Head's - and his throaty yells are absolutely perfect on this track. "Thrash" and its blast beats (yes, blast beats) will surprise the hell out of you even if you're a seasoned fan of the band. Just when you get used to it you'll be blindsided again by the song's last minute and a half or so, which consists of a jazzy number that wouldn't be out of place in a grocery store or elevator.
Emery have grown up, though. Opener "Rock, Pebble, Stone" and closer "Alone" provide excellent bookends for a deeply introspective album. And as soon as Devin croons in with his lines in the former, it's difficult for long time fans to not get straight up giddy. Between this and "Pink Slip", we're immediately sent back to the glory days of The Weak's End
and The Question
, although the overall album's identity is closer to In Shallow Seas We Sail
than anything else; the backbone of the songwriting here is very much the melodies and vocal harmonies, just as it was on that album. The biggest difference here is that aside from a couple of exceptions ("Hard Times" and "To the Deep"), there aren't any tracks that possess that massive accessibility that makes Emery so easy to get into even for casual listeners. Emery are very much making music for themselves and not their audience on You Were Never Alone
and the result is a heartfelt experience that will take a bit of time to grow on most.
It's because of the band's creative freedom that we're subjected to a healthy dose of experimentation that wasn't present on previous albums. "Go Wrong Young Man" and "Salvatore Wryhta" are new sides to Emery, while "Got Taken for a Bath" simultaneously treads familiar ground and acts as a microcosm of everything Emery have to offer. The latter is the "Listening to Freddie Mercury" of 2015 Emery. Oh, and "The Less You Say" is one of the best songs they've ever written; it won't leave your head for awhile. It seems even more awesome following "The Beginning", one of the album's two duds (the other being "What's Stopping You"). These two songs rely a bit too much on minimalism and would fall completely flat if it weren't for the two amazing vocalists. Emery only fires on all cylinders when the passion of the song matches the level of the vocal deliveries themselves and that doesn't happen on these songs. However, Toby and Devin definitely take center stage more than ever on this record and that's enough to carry the other eight songs. I love the fact that the bass is mixed loudly, too; its warm tone is a perfect compliment to the vocal melodies.
If you pick up You Were Never Alone
, shift your expectations a bit from the familiar Emery and you'll be fine. The crunch of distorted guitar takes a distant back seat to the singers here (except on "Thrash") and the result is a different version of the band that many of us know and love. The sweeping poetry of Toby and Devin has always been awesome and it's absolutely blossomed now, and that's the best thing about You Were Never Alone
. It's this quality that makes Emery's music timeless in a genre that otherwise has a tendency to grow stale. Simply put, if you're a person that's listening to this album in any context and you don't love most of these songs, there's something wrong with you. :)