Review Summary: Hey, who misses frosted tips, wallet chains and razor blade necklaces? Chris Cerulli does, apparently.
As someone who is able to enjoy the simplicity of ‘80s B grade horror, gothic aesthetics and Breaking Benjamin, I thoroughly relished what Motionless in White was peddling circa Creatures and Reincarnate. I would unironically blast said albums out my car window with glee on a gloomy night, given the opportunity. However, after the lacklustre effort that was Graveyard Shift, I distanced myself somewhat from my late night MIW joyrides. So when Disguise dropped into my feed literally out of nowhere (seriously, I didn’t see any promotion for this album at all), I decided to dust off my eyeliner and studded wrist bands and go for a drive.
Right out of the gate I was put on edge by just how "nu metal" it all felt. While MIW have never really hidden their influences in previous releases, Disguise wears its nu metal pins squarely on its snapback, and in the worst of ways. While the nu metal revival is something I’m fairly ambivalent towards (given I grew up in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s), this album brought back memories of the hideous aspects of the much maligned genre I’d rather forget. The edgy, angsty and repetitive lyrics, the angry white male posturing verses thrown in randomly over simplistic riffs, and the worst possible aspects of electronic music, these songs sound like they were ripped straight out of a 12 year old’s album collection in 2002 (you know, underneath all of the Zoo magazines and Lynx Africa). Songs like “/c0de,” (oh, we’ll get to those song titles) and “Holding On To Smoke” have an uncomfortable amount of Linkin Park, The Used and Staind vibes, respectively, and they’re not the only ones.
Production-wise, the vocals obviously take precedence over everything else, while the synths, drums and guitar struggle for attention amongst the layered singing. This, previously, wouldn’t have been a problem for me, as I was quite a fan of Chris Cerulli’s vocals. From his Marilyn Manson impresssions, to his…Ben Burnley impressions, to his phlegm-filled screams, I never took issue with his vocal delivery or variety, but I do on Disguise. The guitar tone also feels like it’s lacking a distinct punch that was present in previous albums. It feels like they listened to Rob Zombie’s The Sinister Urge, and said, “give me that.”
The overwhelming issue that permeates every song on Disguise is not the vocals, or the guitar, or anything really to do with the production, but rather just how awfully corny everything is. The lyrics, the schizophrenic crooning and posturing of Chris’ vocals, those embarrassing song titles (the aforementioned “/c0de,” the cringeworthy “Thoughts & Prayers,” and the obligatory sequel “Undead Ahead 2: The Tale of the Midnight Ride"), and the overall tone of each song just wreak of cliché and cheese. This isn’t an inherent problem, as both can be used to great effect when tongue is planted firmly in cheek (see Scotland’s pirate metallers Alestorm, or even Tunisia’s Myrath), or when you’re so proficient at what you’re peddling, people just don’t care (a la gore enthusiasts Aborted or whatever Infant Annihilator is). MIW lack the self-awareness and technical proficiency to compensate for just how awfully cheesy these songs are.
Stylistically, this album is a confusing mess. MIW have always brought a diverse range of influences to the work bench, but Chris & Co can’t seem to hang onto a single aspect for long enough to create a cohesive, complete product. Indeed, a jack of all trades is a master of none, and MIW have attempted so many school projects with so many different tools at the same time that they’ve taken their gothic leather seat to the belt sander, assaulted their mosh pit diorama with an angle grinder and launched a hammer through their Marilyn Manson portrait.
You want schlocky, ‘80s horror-themed metalcore? Go listen to Ice Nine Kills. At least they can pick a theme and stick with it consistently.