Review Summary: Excellent singles, good album.
Usually, Hollywood Undead's albums contain about twice as many songs as New Empire Vol. 2 does. Also, I've noticed that usually the tracks they put out before the full LP is released are not as good as the songs that follow (for example, Nobody's Watching, Bang Bang, and Your Life were all better than most of the singles in regards to Five's tracklist). Having less songs gives each one more weight in regards to its effect on how good the album as a whole is, but I expected this to be Hollywood Undead's best release yet based on how excellent the singles were. However, unusually for them, the singles were better than the album as a whole and thus my expectations were not fully met. It is still a good album, but it's got some awkward lyrics and filler songs that weigh it down a bit.
I'll mention some singles, which gave me high expectations for the album, first. Idol is a fascinating song and Tech N9ne's appearance on it fits perfectly. The musical style is a mixture of hip hop and dubstep. The band has included several songs that incorporate dubstep (see Pray, I Am, and Usual Suspects as some examples) that have worked quite well in previous releases and it is good that Hollywood Undead is still utilizing that genre in their music. Also, the way that the mixing is done so that it feels like J-Dog J3T, and Tech N9ne are coming in and out of focus during the verses creates an intriguing dynamic to the song. There are two alternate versions of this track that feature other guest vocals, but the original one with Tech N9ne is the best of the three.
The alternate version of Heart of a Champion, which was perhaps the weakest track on Vol. 1, is now one of the best songs that HU has ever released. J3T's alternate verse is significantly better than his original one, the mixture of singing and rapping by Jacoby Shaddix that replaced what was originally the bridge is spot on, and the vocals by Spencer Charnas that accompany/replace Danny's add to it as well. The original version, despite its impressive instrumentals, suffered from some mediocre lyrics in Johnny's first verse and a so-so bridge. Vol. 2's remake fixed those issues. Gonna Be OK, is a celebration of introspection and hope that is mixes rock and dubstep flawlessly in an energetic way. It is similar in quality and energy level to past songs they've done like Renegade, Tendencies, Live Forever and Bang Bang, even though the lyrical/musical aspects of it differ from them.
Once the whole album dropped, some flaws became apparent. Medicate and Unholy are fillers, with Medicate being the better of the two. It's a fairly generic pop/rock song that's not unlikable but doesn't serve much of a purpose either. Unholy, the worst song on the album, has the "I'm bad to the bone" theme that Idol employs but utilizes it in a far less lyrically interesting way and isn't as good instrumentally either. Monsters is perhaps the most creepy/chilling song that HU has ever made and the successful haunting effect of Killstation's guest vocals really help make this song work well in that regard. Some of the lyrics are a bit awkward ("I said, Lord, are you even there? Maybe you'll show up if I wreck this Buick"), but this is one of the better songs on the album and it has a uniqueness to it that causes it add to the album's diversity of sound.
Ghost Out is the only song on the album that utilizes Funny Man's vocals, is also the only party song on the album, and is better than most of the songs in that style of music that they've released. Lyrics like "I got a room where my weed grow, it's bigger than my ego" accompanied by catchy instrumentals are a reason why some people like Hollywood Undead, and there's nothing wrong with that. 'Comin Thru the Stereo features a well executed verse by Hyro the Hero, and Worth It is a romantic hip hop song that contains some awkward lyrics ("All alone and I'm getting nervous, But when I come around, you can feel the curse hit... You kept my letters, But you burned my sweater, I know I said forever, We will die together"), but is intriguing simply because love songs are not the norm as far as Hollywood Undead material is concerned. To be fair, it's kind of a messed up love song and I would assume that it was intentionally made to be that way. Thus, someone's capacity to enjoy/appreciate it may come down to whether or not someone relates to and/or emphasizes with the messiness in the lyrics. The same principle could be applied to other awkward/messy lyrics in the album as well.
To conclude, this is a good release for Hollywood Undead despite the singles setting the bar a bit higher than the rest of the album was able to clear. They're letting go of lyrical themes such as getting laid and writing about subjects like romantic relationships, struggling with being viewed by some as a role model, and the benefits of introspection. In addition, they've been collaborating with other artists more than usual, which is a smart idea for a group that is to some degree liked because their material features more singers/rappers than you normally get from a band. Imperfections aside, New Empire Vol. 2 is a worthwhile addition to their discography.
Idol (feat. Tech N9ne)
Gonna Be OK
Monsters (feat. Killstation)
Heart of a Champion (feat. Papa Roach & Ice Nine Kills)