These days, whenever a young metal band decides to make the jump from aggressive, screamed vocals to more accessible, cleanly sung melodies, it’s usually done cautiously, a melodic chorus tacked on to the odd song. And more often than not, bands tend to safely rely on that alternating dynamic between screaming and singing. While veteran bands like Killswitch Engage and All That Remains have steadily improved in the vocal department, most younger acts sound too careful when trying to incorporate clean singing, their attempts at hooks sounding half-baked at best, bands displaying a hunger to broaden their sound, but coming off as unwilling to completely embrace the power of the vocal hook. While strong vocal melodies can still be found in metal music, it’s still often a far cry from the glory days of the 1980s, when the pop side of heavy metal was all about the hook. Sure, pop metal was trite, but it was often gloriously so, and when those of us who grew up with that music hear a bunch of metalcore kids attempt to execute a big-sounding chorus, it’s often too awkward to bear.
Incredibly, In This Moment gets it. The fact that the Los Angeles quintet is capable of strong hooks is not much of a surprise, as their 2007 debut Beautiful Tragedy, predictable as it was, walked the line between catharsis and introspection remarkably well at times, thanks to the charismatic vocal performance of Maria Brink. So it wasn’t out of the question to expect a slight improvement in the vocal department on the follow-up. However, there was no way anyone could have expected the metamorphosis we hear on The Dream, as In This Moment have so completely shed the “metalcore” tag and headed full-bore into that Big ‘80s aesthetic that anyone would be hard-pressed to call them “metal” at all. It’s a bold move, and one that’s going to annoy many on the metal side who’d rather distance themselves from the pop metal of 25 years ago. But for the rest of us who aren’t afraid of a finely-crafted, gigantic hook, The Dream is an absolute pleasure.
For a band looking to explore their more accessible side, producer Kevin Churko was the perfect fit. Having served as Mutt Lange’s engineer for several years, the Canadian Churko might not have the same bombastic touch as his mentor, but he certainly knows what makes a pop song great. His studio sheen, while coming off as ostentatious on Ozzy Osbourne’s painfully slick Black Rain, suits Brink and her bandmates to a tee. The Dream unleashes a string of single-worthy tunes, starting with “Forever”, which melds chiming, new wave-inspired guitar accents with more conventional riffing, Brink launching into the first of what will be many gigantic choruses, this one echoing 1987-era Lita Ford. “All For You” and “You Always Believed” are even more upbeat, faithfully adhering to the generic hard rock formula of 25 years ago (and to quote Loverboy, lovin’ every minute of it), while “Lost at Sea” takes on a more brooding tone, impressively reminiscent of the power balladry of Dokken.
“Her Kiss” is the most adventurous tune on the album, as the band goes for a more down-tuned, goth-inspired sound similar to that of Lacuna Coil. But those big choruses still manage to creep back in. In less capable hands, the song would have been an outright failure, but Churko is able to go from one extreme to the other with astonishing ease. “The Great Divide” is the one song that briefly reverts to the sound of the first album. Brink brings back that feral scream of hers, but this time around the clean chorus is far more confident than anything on Beautiful Tragedy, while the overall band performance is ferocious.
The album’s only slight mis-step is the piano ballad “Into the Light”, which perhaps plays up the pop a little too heavy-handedly. Then again, considering In This Moment’s current musical direction, such a song shouldn’t be unexpected. Whether you dig the syrupy ballads or not, you can’t deny that The Dream is one hell of an audacious album. It’s not merely a case of a band “selling out” and deliberately sounding trendy. If they wanted that, they’d sound like Paramore. Instead, they’ve done something far more uncool, making an album that appeals to parents of Paramore fans, one that will have them remembering just how flat-out fun hard rock and pop metal was two decades ago. And with hooks like these, the kids just might realize the same as well.