The Los Angeles metal band continues its steady ascent with an assured third album.
It goes without saying that there's been a terrible glut of sound-alike metalcore bands coming from the States over the past ten years, but every once in a while you get a band that's just unique enough to stick out. Los Angeles quintet In This Moment made a modest splash in 2007, thanks in part to the presence of statuesque, tattooed lead howler Maria Brink, but mostly because their songs displayed a knack for melody that very few of their peers could match. Beautiful Tragedy played things relatively close to the vest, but the potential was there, and the excellent follow-up The Dream came through in a big way. Produced by Ozzy Osbourne collaborator Kevin Churko, The Dream abandoned the previous record's generic template and audaciously delved into 1980s pop metal and hard rock, proving that it's still possible to put out quality heavy rock while delivering gigantic pop hooks. The songwriting was more refined, Churko's production was appropriately sleek, and Brink put in a very strong vocal performance, proving to be a very adept "clean" singer.
The exuberant yet predictable 2009 cover of Blondie's classic "Call Me" might have played the '80s card one too many times, however, leaving some to wonder just how heavily In This Moment would rely on the style on their third album. As if on cue, A Star-Crossed Wasteland downplays the '80s gimmick, finding more of a middle ground between the aggressive moments of Beautiful Tragedy and the shimmering pop of The Dream, but not before giving listeners a bit of a scare first. Lead-off track and first single "The Gun Show" is the strangest thing we've heard from the band to date, a plodding Pantera/Black Label Society knock-off that sees Brink returning to the feral shriek she utilized on the first album. While not a terrible track -- it pushes all the down-tuned groove metal buttons effectively -- the song doesn't play to the strengths of the band at all, and is a near-disastrous way to start off the record. In This Moment is at its best when the hooks are accentuated, not playing lowest-common-denominator "dude" metal like this.
Mercifully, "The Gun Show" is an anomaly, as the rest of the new album is a huge improvement, more of what we have come to expect from the band. "Just Drive" is a perfect example of the more even balance of aggression and melody, shifting from propulsive riffs and snarled verses to a classy chorus that puts Brink's singing front and center. "Standing Alone" is even better, guitarists Chris Howorth and Blake Bunzel launching into some very good traditional metal riffs as Brink delivers some of the most nuanced melodies we've heard from her yet. Potential active rock hit "The Promise" is an interesting duet between Brink and deep-voiced singer Adam Patrick, and though it shows just how much better this music sounds sung by Brink rather than Patrick's cloying Scott Stapp impersonation, the two play off each other well enough to make the song work.
Despite the emphasis on their heavier side, the band still plunks a couple of straight-ahead power ballads on the album, the strongest of which is "World in Flames", which unabashedly plays the melodrama to the hilt, complete with piano and a climactic solo by Howorth. Still, A Star-Crossed Wasteland consistently churns out the well-crafted rockers during its latter half, "The Road" and "The Last Cowboy" playing up the hooks, "Blazin'" and "Iron Army" focusing a little more on the crunching riffs and double-kick beats. In a day and age where some of the worst bands imaginable dominate mainstream metal (Five Finger Death Punch, Winds of Plague, the loathsome Attack! Attack!), In This Moment remains a welcome respite from the usual dunderheaded, testosterone-fueled fare, bringing a touch of class to a subgenre that has long since stopped trying to do anything remotely creative. First track aside, this album's a gem.