Due to their previous album, Bone Palace Ballet (title taken from a posthumous collection of poetry by Charles Bukowski), debuting at #5 on the Billboard 200 Chart, you wouldn’t think Chiodos would fool around with their personnel. But here on Illuminaudio, two significant lineup changes have occurred: a new vocalist, Brandon Bolmer (of Yesterday’s [or Yesterdays] Rising, a Deftones-influenced screamo act on Fearless Records, for which Bolmer was the primary songwriter), and a new drummer, Tanner Wayne (of Warped Tour vets Underminded, as well as a brief stint with up-and-comers Scary Kids Scaring Kids). Established member Bradley Bell sees the change as ultimately irrelevant: “We don’t feel like our vision was lost or compromised in any way throughout the writing process.”
Chiodos are very optimistic about, and happy with, the results of “this beautiful monster,” as Bell calls it without the least bit of modesty. Unfortunately, the results, despite a few high points, never really strike as anything transcendent of fodder for the Hot Topic demographic.
The opening title track is a severely failed attempt at setting the mood, an introduction so stiflingly atmospheric and overly dramatic that only Linkin Park’s recent output comes to my mind, which was also busy firing synapses to induce heavy eyeball rolling. But after that debacle, the album jumps into its strongest track, “Caves”, a great mix of blistering metalcore and dark alternative rock that isn’t perfect, but succeeds in the ways it needs to. Following that is the next strongest song, “Love Is a Cat from Hell” (another Bukowski reference, although a variation), which comes across as an exact blend of My Chemical Romance’s doom and gloom and Coheed & Cambria’s prog-pop-metal. The strength is in the sound songwriting and excellent melodies.
It’s downhill from there, however. “Modern Wolf Hair” is derivative of My Chemical Romance (again), and strictly unimpressive. “Notes on Constellations” could be the product of any band on heavy rotation on any commercial alternative rock radio station, even with its failed attempts at being the Mars Volta. “Scaremonger” is predominantly run-of-the-mill screamo, a genre that is, frankly, just dumb, while “His Story Repeats Itself” sports complex rhythms and bolder melodies, but is marred by Bolmer’s embarassing vocal overemoting.
And so it goes for the duration of Illuminaudio, things becoming more and more average as it plunders on. The band has cited influences from At the Drive-In to Queen, but the product we receive mostly meshes metalcore and screamo in a crybaby Deftones fashion, or a weak-willed Haste the Day. The album’s closer, “Closed Eyes Still Look Forward”, ends Illuminaudio just a terribly as it begins: the overly dramatic dross of Linkin Park’s “Minutes to Midnight” that actually borders on plagiarism.
Chiodos have a lot going for them, with songwriting, structural, and technical skills that don’t go unnoticed. However, they only seem to become truly interesting when they go for the throat, at their heaviest moments. They have not yet learned how to fully engage the listener. At least not this listener.