Review Summary: Craig Owens brings Pop back to the Chiodos formula
When Illuminaudio was released in 2010, Chiodos showed that they didn't need Craig Owens. Not only did their last album completely annihilate their previous material, it showed that there was some real talent in the band instrumentally. This was exemplified by thunderous drumming and beautifully technical lead guitar melodies. Replacement singer Brandon Bolmer was more than capable to take the band to bigger and better places. They had a solid base from which to grow, and in my mind, I dared them to best Illuminaudio. Then, just when the going was getting good, Bolmer was fired, and Owens was back. When Owens and co. announced a reunion, my heart sank a little, and I feared all the progression the band made without him would be reversed. To a certain extent, I was right. "Devil" continues right where "Bone Palace Ballet" left off, showcasing songs pumped full of punk pop choruses, anthemic verses, and their cheesy blend of post-hardcore riffing and piano arpeggios.
The poppy choruses, the chugga-chugga riffage, and pretentious lyricism reminiscent of Bone Palace ballet have all returned. However, despite the formulaic songwriting, the songs are actually pretty decent. Tracks like "Why the Munsters Matter", and "Ole Fishlips is Dead Now" are classic Chiodos songs. What separates them from previous Craig-fronted tracks is that Craig's vocals are actually halfway decent! It appears that his stint with D.R.U.G.S. actually helped! While some of that old squeal remains, particularly evident in "Behvis Bullock" and the verses of "Sunny Days and Hand Grenades", the choruses of the latter and "3 AM" show massive strides in Owens' vocal performance. Unfortunately, he still is a bit overbearing in large doses, so taking the album as a whole proves tedious. His lyrics stay at his self-set standard, slightly pretentious, with super catchy one-liners, and are easy to digest. Craig is at the height of his capability here, and despite being a little cheesy lyrically (read: whole album), and hitting an off-note occasionally, he's really fun to listen to, and if you're not careful, you'll find yourself singing along, and tapping your toe to the beat of the music.
Instrumentally, it feels like the band has regressed back to their "Pre-Illuminaudio" style. Gone is the reach for the stars mentality with the guitar melodies, and punch you in the jaw drumming style. The first 30 seconds of "Behvis Bullock" punches you in the face much like "Modern Wolf Hair" did on the last record, but being placed halfway through the album, dampens the effect. The piano provides the oh-so-important neoclassical texture to fill out the band's sound. Much like on previous releases, is never overbearing if ever, focused upon when needed and is decently played. Guitar wise the music is identical to BPB, but is tighter and more focused. New lead guitarist Thomas Erak's presence is barely known, and the times where he makes his presence known are few and far between. His aggressive riffing takes control in the breakdown of "Expensive Conversations in Che". Interestingly enough, that's also the absolute heaviest it gets in the entire album. The rest of the band members are just kind of there, and the rhythm and bass follow Tommy's lead. The drums are definitely a step up from their first two records, but after the fantastic drumming shown in Illuminaudio, are much more hollow and much less thunderous. This doesn't mean that the drums are poor, in fact they are a step above many in the genre, they just aren't as good as they were before.
"Devil" is not the Craig-fronted Illuminaudio pt. II we all hoped for, and despite all misgivings, Chiodos has for the second time, released a solid, listenable, and downright fun album. They are still the Chiodos you all know and love/hate, and if you didn't like them before, this release will probably not change your mind. "Devil" may not have bested, or even come near the heights of Illuminaudio, it destroys the music previously made with Owens, and that's enough to show potential for longevity, and honestly has piqued my interest and curiosity in the band and their future. Touché Mr. Owens, Touché.