Review Summary: One of the best to come from the 2010s hard rock scene.
For the most part, XXI’s Inside Out
went fairly underground upon release. A few outlets picked it up here and there for review, but by and large, Inside Out didn’t make media waves. Moreover, the reviews that were written, while often favorable and scored the project above average, largely undersold the album as just another modern hard rock record. This is quite unfortunate, because this record is one of the best to come from the 2010s hard rock scene.
Granted, the men of XXI do not introduce any new instruments or vocal techniques to the genre. There’s guitars, drums, bass, screamed and sung vocals, and some electronica sprinkled in. That fact notwithstanding, one would be remiss to ignore the group’s talent in using these instruments and vocal techniques. The guitars are thick and punchy, steamrolling through many of the heavy moments, but also crisp and clear, beautifully shimmering under delay pedals through the slow moments. The drums push hard and fast, slam through aural walls, and even lend some groove and funk. Both vocalists in the band are extremely talented and unique, effortlessly covering a range of lower mid-tempo vocals to higher pitched vocals, and mid-pitch, groveling screams. The programming is never overdone but enriches the atmosphere and fits in well. It should also be noted that the production on the record is stellar; crystal clear and clean without going too far into a candy-coated mess.
also contains some excellent songwriting, in its own way. No, this isn’t Coheed and Cambria or Dream Theater levels of progressive song-building, but a different type of talent entirely. XXI utilize the typical pop song structure as a base, but then build upon and morph that base to fit their purpose. Maybe it’s an unexpected breakdown that works as an adrenaline-fueled jump scare, perhaps it’s the guitars surging up of out of nowhere, possibly it’s proficient use of quiet/loud dynamics. It’s simple, but elegant. The group also effectively inserts gang chant sections through many of its songs, but rather than come off as cheesy or overly amicable, they add emotional depth while remaining accessible. Genre-wise, the band definitely has a base in hard rock a la RED, Breaking Benjamin, and Anberlin’s hardest moments, but they (similar to the aforementioned groups) expand upon said base. There’s some punk influences, a bit of R&B/hip-hop sprinkled in, roaring metal sections, a fair helping of alternative rock, and even a muted opera section.
Lyrically, the title of the album is more than fitting. This is a raw, honest record, tackling everything from determination in trials, to struggles with addiction, to relationship frustration, to dealing with death, to forgiveness. The lyrics are ambiguous enough to apply to anybody who is hearing them, but clear enough to provide structure and weight.
isn’t perfect. It lacks a bit of that “star power”, that all-important quality that to some extent influences reviewers to rate albums as perfect. It’s difficult to put a finger on, but something about this album just doesn’t push it all the way to perfection. That said, Inside Out
is a must-have for fans of boundary-pushing hard rock that is both emotionally and intellectually satisfying.