Review Summary: Almost.
After a horrendous dunking by the bully that is known as bad innovation mixed with a little bit of greed (an attempt at humor to say sophomore slump), I See Stars desperately needed to revitalize their sound, or they were simply going to fade away. Digital Renegade
had to be the remedy for the sickly sweet tone of The End Of The World Party
and bring back the successful tone of 3D
. Did it? Almost.
Singer Devin Oliver still relies some on auto-tune, but thankfully, it's not near as prevalent as it was on TEOTWP or really even 3D
, as epic opener "Gnars Attack" displays some of his best vocals yet. Screamer/progammer Zach Johnson thankfully isn't as censored as he was on the previous album, bringing some strong harsh vocals to the table all album. His programming is much more tasteful this time, sounding a lot less gimmicky and even a little pleasant to the ears (the chemistry between a raucous chorus and calmer verses on "NZT48" is especially delightful). Losing the pop/punk influence that they had last record, both guitarists are back in full force. Rhythm guitarist Jimmy Gregerson especially took a hit during the Party, reduced to simply strumming power chords. This time, he chugs and riffs throughout the album, both undercutting and occasionally taking the spot-light. Lead guitarist Brent Allen doesn't get to show off quite as much, but it's much better for ISS to have both guitarists on an equal playing field. Drums and bass are still pretty much mediocre.
"Endless Sky" is a fantastic song that builds with some calm synth before sky-rocketing (pun intended) into violent guitars and bruising screams. "Underneath Every Smile" will remind long-time listeners of "3D" with it's perfect blend of heavy and light. "Electric Forest" is also strong for the same reason, featuring a fantastic guest spot by Cassadee Pope and Devin seriously pushing his range, and succeeding. The songs mentioned here and in the paragraph above are truly greatest hits, and almost on the level of songs like "Project Wakeup" and "The Common Hours."
Truly, the weakness of this album is the excessive filler, another problem that plagued TEOTWP. With the exception of "iBelieve", the songs not mentioned sound very samey and can get boring on repeated listens, with the exact same song structures used each time. As for "iBelieve", it tries to be a successful electronica ballad, but comes off much too hard as a rockier Owl City.
Lyrically, ISS tried to get more serious this time, but it didn't quite work for them. They proved on their first album that they were much better being a little more light-hearted than contemporaries, but pretty much dwelled on stick-it-to-the-man topics this time that both don't work well for them and is done much better by said contemporaries (ahem... ADTR). Well, it's surely better than The End Of The World Party
but it surely isn't 3D
. The standouts are worth a shot, but the rest of the album is a miss.