Review Summary: This is a call to arms, gather the soldiers.
As the years trickle by and the wrinkles begin to set in, I ponder over this past decade hoping that, if nothing else, with all the trials and tribulations that I’ve gone through, I’ve at least become a stronger, wiser and better person from these last ten years. It’s a long time, and it zips past so quickly that many ignorantly overlook how far they’ve come in that time. It changes you; events can make or break you as a person – your perception of life, understanding one’s self a little bit more, or reprioritising the things that really matter. The trigger of this life-reflection stems from realising This is War
is ten years old in December, which in turn had me casting myself back to 2009 to assimilate where I actually was as a person, all those years ago. It’s powerful and emotional stuff, and every single corner of your life will change to some degree as a decade goes by, nothing more so than perception. So, I sit down here now, musing over the lofty importance of Thirty Seconds to Mars’ third studio album – a record that didn’t seem all that grand to me at the time – and bathe in a newly reformed appreciation for it like never before. You see, This is War
is not a perfect album, I don’t even think it’s their best album, but it is an album with an unquantifiable importance; a true artistic statement that many musicians and artists don’t even get the chance to earnestly explore in their own lifetime.
The ten years that proceed This is War
have seen a dramatic shift in the band’s own operations; a detriment that now sees the band brought down to a two-piece (just the Leto brothers at the helm), serving up hollow and echoic trend-following pop songs with a pseudo inspirational undertone. But one has to explore the history behind the band to truly understand how they got to this shallow state of ostensible songwriting. Ironically, it’s the very same reason I spent so many years wrestling with the emotional torment This is War
pertained. This is undisputedly 30STM’s most experimental offering to date: the record doubles down on its radio-friendly craft and hones in on sharp, accessible hooks that understandably appeal to broader audiences. If 2005’s A Beautiful Lie
set them up for stardom, This is War
shot them into orbit. This album is filled with precursory millennial woes
– a facet pop music would predominantly adopt in the 10s – Jared Leto’s trademark croons, and a concentrated reliance on electronics over guitar riffs. The pretentious artistry was beginning to latch on more overtly here as well – although nowhere near as gaudy and empty as with This is War
’s successors. Indeed, all of these elements were a crux that prevented me from getting a fully immersive experience at the time, but with hindsight and an open understanding for This is War
, these cons appear minute and innocent in comparison to modern-day’s popular music. Furthermore, these elements aren’t arbitrary and are heightened; contextualised within the base of every song here.
I mean, thematically the album is a timelessly inspiring attack on the music industry and displays a fiery, once determined, band refusing to go down without a fight. This is War
’s tale centres around the crushing lawsuit they were going through with their [then] label, EMI Records; a lawsuit that saw the band being put under the slow cooker for $30 million over a contractual dispute. Cutting a long story short, Jared and co. were signed to an awful agreement that saw the label massively profiting from the band, this saw 30STM self-terminating the contract under a Californian Law loophole that stipulates no contract can be bound for more than seven years. However, the band still owed EMI a record, which subsequently resulted in the lawsuit they found themselves in. This stress-inducing and horrific situation became the creative fuel for This is War
. As such, all of the influences being melded together here bring an intense message underpinned by its own melancholic anguish. The omnipresent millennial woes represent the fight against the corporate status quo – strength in numbers – while Leto’s lamenting croons on the likes of “Alibi” really drive the album’s message home.
Writing an album is a time-consuming and emotionally taxing process, but imagine being sued for that kind of money when you’re trying to create something like this. There’s an ominous spark buried at the core of This is War
, and it’s that very spark which makes this album stand the test of time. With all the sugary pop moments being displayed on the surface, therein lies a wallowing anguish underneath it all – present throughout its entirety. It’s only by the last act of the album that we see the true face of its emotional state; a saddened section of the LP that unearths the cinematic exploration Leto painfully desires with future works, but masterfully executes here. There’s little moments of genius, like the muffled vocal outro to “Stranger In A Strange Land”, that distorts to the point where Jared himself sounds like he’s drowning, or the uncomfortable sonic frequencies that open “L490”, invading your ears with literal unease before cathartically shifting into a beautiful acoustic guitar passage and fading out with chants that put the album to a close. These moments are scattered throughout the album and represent the raw, emotional tribulations of which This is War
is based on. And honestly, if you aren’t really paying attention to these key moments – listening only to the straightforward instrumental work and upbeat chants – then the point could easily slip past you. However, the fact that the album builds right up until the end to take its mask off is a testament to just how talented these guys can be.
After ten years of living with This is War
, can I sit here and say I love or hate this record with clear-cut conviction? Immersing myself heavily in music this past ten years has certainly helped my appreciation for this record, but unintentionally realising I’ve shared some of the happiest and darkest times of my life with this album, it transcends merely enjoying it for what it is. I guess the bottom line is that this was a statement for Thirty Seconds to Mars; a life-driving purpose that pushed their creative worth to its pinnacle, but also pushed their inner self and will to life-changing degrees. Though I didn’t see it at the time, This is War
is lightning in a bottle that represents the importance of art, creativity and sticking to your own convictions. It encompasses all of the darkness and beauty humanity is capable of, to the point where you won’t find many albums that can offer this same kind of narrative with the same honesty and intensity found within. The context of the album is perfectly preserved for future generations to follow, but with ten years added to my belt, I certainly appreciate its sonic exploration with admiration now. The balance of rock, pop, and electronic ambience and experimentation is exceptionally pieced together, and hearing the whole thing from start to finish paints a vibrant and elating journey. The best part about this tale is it concludes with a happy ending; 30STM won their war against all the odds, and garnered critical and financial success with this album. The thing you’ve got to ask yourself now is, what have they become since this album’s release? A The Dark Knight quote may diminish the worth of my point, but as Harvey Dent said, “You either die a hero, or live long enough to become a villain”.
PACKAGING: Blue cover variant, 6-panel digi-pak.
SPECIAL EDITION BONUSES: The 2-disc package contains three bonus tracks, “Hurricane 2.0 ft. Kanye West”, and two BBC live tracks “Bad Romance” and “Stronger”. And there’s a DVD containing music videos, a short film and a making-of.
ALBUM STREAM//PURCHASE: https://www.amazon.co.uk/This-War-30-Seconds-Mars/dp/B0029LHW68