[11 February 2008]
“Our new album is going to be our heaviest ever!”
Metal fans hear this con from artists feeling the need to cheaply self-promote their new album so often, it’s a wonder everyone hasn’t seen through it by now. Very, very rarely does a band actually shape up to this promise and deliver an earth-shattering, brutal release without losing their character. Far more often the self-important musician behind the above statement will unwittingly fall flat on his or her face, with their bandmates in tow.
There was nothing particularly special about Bullet for My Valentine’s debut, The Poison, except for a few likable, hook-laden guilty pleasures in “Tears Don’t Fall” and “All These Things I Hate (Revolve Around Me)” that eventually found radio play on both sides of the Atlantic. With a lucky break going for them, God only knows why the Welsh quartet think they have something to prove on their sophomore Scream Aim Fire. Not that the album is that much different from their first effort, really, as Bullet for My Valentine’s idea of going ‘heavy’ is to rehash their slick stadium metalcore and add more double-kick to the drums, while amplifying frontman Matt Tuck’s flexible vocals into a tuneless rasp. The man was recovering from laryngitis as recently as the beginning of last year; he should be sketching out the range of his singing tone here, not straining his vocal chords more. In one stupendously ill-advised nosedive, they’ve gone from the UK figurehead of the metalcore scene to yet another ensemble making a tired snatch at credibility by ripping off Ride the Lightning-era Metallica.
Scream Aim Fire’s artwork depicts the austere white pillars of justice circled by vultures and about to be overtaken by a storm, thus satisfying the band’s requisite ‘big statement’ quota. It doesn’t matter that they’re struggling with their own identity and inevitable growing pains—that only makes it all the more laughable that its amateurishness is advertised from the front cover inwards. Such folly is driven by a purpose; Bullet for My Valentine would really like you to believe they have a deep-rooted political standing, when in reality Tuck has just switched from writing emo songs about hating yourself for losing her to writing about nothing at all. “Eye of the Storm” is as literal-minded as its title suggests; it’s actually a description of him experiencing “Mother Nature’s fury” (a pretty elementary one, too, at that).
The lyrics are on a parallel with the music’s one-dimensionality and tonelessness, the choruses are even more samey and interchangeable than they were on The Poison. There is also a greater distance than ever between dreary pedal to the metal numb-rock and equally insipid mushy power ballads, swinging the album’s core into sudden highs and lows throughout like a diabetic. Words are at a loss to describe how jarring it is, after all the obstinate tough-guy posturing, to be jolted into Simple Plan angst about broken homes (“Hearts Burst into Fire”) without a moment’s warning.
Nonetheless, single “Scream Aim Fire” is mindless fun, as long as you don’t follow the lyrics. Tuck is frighteningly insincere, and so focused on being hardcore that he steers his group through an unconvincing breakdown towards the end. He gets to grunt the title over and over, never matching the steely intensity of when the guitars and drums lock in for a few pile-driving seconds in the chorus. The metal tomfoolery stumbles on at its most contrived and generic afterwards: “Disappear” recycles a pissed-off crowd chant in flimsy emulation of Machine Head’s far more visceral “Clenching the Fists of Dissent”, while “Deliver Us from Evil” and “Take It Out on Me” limp on for longer than they have any right to.
I question the intelligence of any band that names a song “Say Goodnight” when their record isn’t finished yet (false hope is a dangerous thing, lads), and that plus follower “End of Days” unsurprisingly succumb to girly-man sloganeering (“With every hour / Give me the power!”). On the latter, Tuck realizes we’re all “born to die” and plugs it for the rest of the track like he’s the new Nietzsche. I’m going to restrain myself from making a sarcastic comment. Nothing could possibly be worse, though, than the snivelling, banal piece of trash that is “Forever and Always”, intended as an in-band salute to each other and all their fans for ‘sticking with it’:
Forget about the shit that we’ve been through
I wanna stay here forever and always
Standing here in front of all of you
I wanna stay here forever and always
If you dare imagine the kind of sop-drenched backing that written atrocity is set to, you’re far more tolerant than me. Even the guitar solo and handclaps rub off horribly stilted. I can only faintly hope that Tuck, who clearly doesn’t believe a word of what he’s singing (he’s about as emotional as Daft Punk), truly knows that he owes those that admire his band more than this vapid, spineless, offensively bad schlock. Maybe in the future these hacks will have something worth saying. Maybe age, experience, record sales or a combination of all three will mature them. The bottom line is: this disastrously inconsistent and lyrically moronic record isn’t it. And that’s Bullet for My Valentine’s sophomore outing in a nutshell. I’d love to pull it apart in more detail, but I’ve run out of adjectives to express my disdain.