Review Summary: Does an above average release from a below average band make for a not-so-average listening experience for the average metal head?
Eleven years is a long time on the metal scene. Six albums into their career finds boilerplate metal act The Devil Wear’s Prada (TDWP) swinging with an average above .500 for once. Even in a genre stuffed with mediocrity, they were a band that firmly trod the middle ground. The lingering question here is does a step above their usual formulaic approach equal an excellent album? It certainly sounds like they have spent some of that time exploring their musical horizons. Maybe it is the influence of new guitarist/backing vocalist Kyle Spiress (former guitar tech for The Ghost Inside, and guitarist for God Alone) helping to further mature their sound. Regardless of the source TDWP has stepped it up a notch in 2016. From a band with a track record of stupid song titles (Big Wiggly Style, You Can’t Spell Crap Without C, and HTML Rulez Doo), inconsistent albums and some overall terrible music they have evolved. Transit Blues is an excellent metal record that should be better received than it will be due to the band’s past.
First and foremost the recording on this record is quite beautiful. It balances that line between studio polish and raw aggression. Producer Dan Korneff takes the band away from some of its over-saturated pop-metal past to develop a slightly more progressive appeal. That is not saying the band has dropped their “radio friendly metal” roots altogether. Some tracks still carry that over hyped “hey look we had a song on “pop goes” feel. Which is fine; any band this far into the game should not abandon their past completely. Sonically this is the best I have heard TDWP. I love the bass and drum mix. The former has that brighter, punchier tone and the latter are just heavy as hell (without having to result in studio breakdown tricks to sound so). The guitars carry the appropriate crunch and the minimal key usage is tasteful when needed. Vocally Hranica sticks with a normal layered scream for the most part. The intriguing tracks are when DePoyster breaks into clean singing (Daughter) or Hranica drops into a more sinister spoken word type of delivery (Home For the Grave, Pt. II). Of course those songs that feature the most departure into clean vocals are those with a higher pop appeal. Those enamored with the bands older work may feel most at home with those tracks. Those same fans may find this album lacking for a TDWP release; which is a good thing for the rest of us.
Listening to the opening track the first thought that came to mind is “I wonder when they’ll throw in the breakdown”. After a minute in, with the drums building to a crescendo I thought “here it is” and to my surprise? They carried into surprising bridge section! Ahhh, it’s coming sometime right? No. Even after numerous ‘let’s break this down’ clichés (pick slide, staccato drumming, chugging strings) it never came. Good for them. Praise Poison is a decent opener and is a good preview of what is to come. Flyover States is thus far my favorite track here. Slower and layered with a post-hardcore aesthetic in places it has found itself quickly in heavy rotation. As a whole Transit Blues feels familiar; like when you have read a story years ago and vaguely recall the characters and bits of the plot. It is fresh at points but lacks originality to make it ground breaking. This is still a worthwhile release and is by far the best music the band has ever released. What happens when average takes a step up; you get a solid 3.6.