[24 September 2008]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Although there isn’t an ounce of originality to Walls of Jericho, the Detroit metalcore band has always been able to make up for its shortcomings by sounding convincing and genuine enough to hold our attention. Infusing traditional American hardcore with the palm-muted riffs of thrash metal certainly isn’t anything new, as everyone from Hatebreed to Terror employs the tactic, but as Walls of Jericho proved on 2006’s With Devils Amongst Us All, they can easily hold their own against metalcore’s top-tier acts. The guitar tandem of Chris Rawson and Mike Hasty consistently dole out riffs reminiscent of Slayer, but it’s in charismatic frontwoman Candace Kucsulain where the band’s greatest strength lies, as the diminutive redhead is an absolute powerhouse onstage and on record, her hardcore roar more than equaling the instrumental intensity provided by her four bandmates.
In recent years, though, melody has started to creep into the band’s sound more and more, as With Devils Amongst Us All felt like they’d turned the corner as far as their music went, tracks like “A Trigger Full of Promises” and “The Haunted” skillfully combining aggression and accessibility, the ballad “No Saving Me” taking that newfound melodicism to a new level, Kucsulain proving she’s just as strong a singer as she is a screamer. Released this past April, the Redemption EP was even bolder, as the quintet focused on more acoustic-based arrangements, Kucsulain’s vocal melodies sounding even more refined. So promising was the band’s progression over the last two releases that it wasn’t unfathomable to expect another significant step forward. Right?
Well, perhaps those of us who were optimistic were getting a little ahead of ourselves. Just like how Alice In Chains went from the laid-back brilliance of 1994’s Jar of Flies EP to the underwhelming drudgery of 1995’s self-titled album, Walls of Jericho has reverted more to its heavier core sound with decidedly mixed results on their fourth album, The American Dream. Granted, the band sounds as tight as ever, and Ben Schigel’s production is considerably heavier than any previous release, but the entire back-to-basics approach, not to mention some very lazy songwriting, makes the whole exercise seem one-dimensional.
The album starts off like gangbusters, though, as the murky “The New Ministry” combines a dark guitar hook with gang choruses, and “II. The Prey” continues the band’s Slayer obsession, kicking into high gear with the kind of central riff you’d expect from Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King. “Feeding Frenzy”‘s somewhat rote, stuttering hardcore riffs are made palatable by some nifty arpeggios, which lead into a contagious, hard-charging chorus led by a ferocious Kucsulain. “Discovery of Jones” plows along like it’s 1985, propelled by a fun thrash riff by Rawson and Hasty, which in turn segues into an effective acoustic outro.
Unfortunately, too often the album goes from enjoyable to mediocre, with invigorating thrash influences giving way to uninspired hardcore gimmicks like boring, repetitive one-chord breakdowns, and venomous lyrics that try to sound profound and populist but lacking a specific target, coming off as shallow in the process. “Standing on Paper Stilts” is intense enough, but when Kucsulain rants, “Who are you to tell me how to live my life? / I’ve given all that I have and there’s no turning back,” we roll our eyes instead of pumping our fists. “Night of a Thousand Torches” doesn’t fare much better, with Kucsulain spewing such rhetoric as, “With liberty we strengthen our own destiny,” like a thousand other bland hardcore screamers before her. The worst offender, though, is the title track, which attempts to be an extreme metal State of the Union address, but all Kucsulain can manage are hackneyed lines like, “Fuck this place, burn it down…Fuck the American dream.” It’s the kind of sentiment we usually hear from boring nu-metal bands, and to hear such ineloquent lyrics from Kucsulain is disappointing.
The American Dream attempts to save some face with the goth-inspired ballad “The Slaughter Begins”, but its faux-Evanescence arrangement rings hollow, sounding contrived and tacked-on after a half hour of straight-up aggression. The band is said to have had problems with label Trustkill Records, who reportedly ordered the band to re-record the album this past spring, and the finished product feels like neither the band nor the label knows which direction Walls of Jericho should head in next. In the end, fans are stuck with regression instead of progression, after the band had shown so much promise.