This Is War finds 30 Seconds To Mars in the midst of a mighty siege between its tendency for borderline awful and un-inventive rock music and intelligent, showmen-like poetic lyricism and programming. However, the dark side that is lame top 40 modern rock usually wins the day.
“Kings and Queens” and the title track recall My Chemical Romance circa The Black Parade, only they lack any pronounced themes. Album opener, “Escape”, features Jared Leto’s sex-god whispers before it explodes into a chorus of prepubescent, angsty screams. The first part is kind of interesting, and feels like some wonderfully cheesy post apocalyptic sci-fi tribal chant, but then it breaks down into screaming that would make Gerard Way yawn. Meanwhile, “100 Suns” comes off like a bad hangover from “Kings and Queens”. It’s two minutes of acoustic guitar while Leto whispers really meaningful, quasi-intelligent, and emotionally relevant poetry. Sadly, it feels like they’re going for the lowest common denominator and they’ve stripped themselves down too far on an album that proudly touts its effects and technological spin. Plus, the crowd adulation at the end is a clear sign that Leto has some kind of messiah complex.
In “Hurricane”, Leto’s vocals are actually real and earnest; they strain like there’s some actual heartbreak behind them, not mindless screaming done for the sake of developing a character. And while some may drive screwdrivers into their brains due to Kanye West’s involvement, there’s no better combination of talents. Both the band and West have a history of overwrought emotional displays that are borderline absurd. Do you want over-the-top emotional pleas, piled on top of a vague mix of electro and rock, all culled from a broad measure of pompous musicianship without an air of concern? This is it.
Then, of course, there’s “Closer to the Edge” — every boring, bland, and faceless alternative rock song out there. This could easily find itself on a Seether or Three Days Grace release, only here there’s no Hollywood big budget love story behind it and it’s not even slightly interesting. On the flipside, there’s “Search & Destroy”, which takes a more poppy turn, carrying some NIN-esque tendencies with it. Working from a sinister-yet-dancey beat, the vocals come off filthy, at least in the beggining, which would have you thinking the song might turn out at least semi-decent. But, once again, they go off into a direction that is way too bright and bubbly. It’s one thing to shoot for duality, but mixing dark and light sounds and lyrical content should only be done if you stick to that balance completely and definitively. “Alibi” is another step into a direction that is seemingly positive. It’s formulaic (a quiet intro of whispers transitions into verbose guitar and ends with pained howls), but that equation feels more real than any drum circle with a bunch of Hot Topic tweens any day of the week.
“A Call To Arms”, even with the teen/childrens’ chorus, is frantic and filled with movement. It’s sonically interesting before it breaks down after a minute or so into more of the same. Here’s the thing with the whole war against the world theme: Sure it’s been done, but you can do it again and create new imagery. However, with bad metaphors like cleansing rain, the band does nothing to reinvent the whole idea. It’s like a Holden Caulfield-level rage: neat and clean. Rebellion should be more genuine and dirty. The sound doesn’t fit it for the most part, save for a few minutes of what it should be: kinetic and destructive, always moving up and beyond and into some uncertainty and chaos. What we’re offered is homogenized tunes calling for freedom without the grit and passion.
“Night of the Hunter” has a wonderfully synth pop beginning, complete with a pulsing beat of effect-laden keys, and features more of Leto’s genuinely inspired singing with minimalized screaming. Here’s where they can define a whole sound from them — a vaguely alternative rock sound with an emo sensibility that makes great use of tiny steps that bands like Joy Division used: dark and intense imagery, instrumentals with little to no effects, and a healthy dose of the theatrics. “Stranger In A Strange Land” has such a certain cinematic quality to it. Lyrics like “I’ll fuck you like the devil” is pure Hollywood filth you have to love. The rumbling intro leads into an ethereal piano line before exploding again like an angry, majestic mechanical wolf roaming across some arctic tundra. And it shifts again, slowly picking up more speed with the aforementioned piano line. Toward the ending, Leto belts out a moment or two of vocodered singing and a more menacing synth line.
This album bounces between big and uninspired modern rock tracks and flirtations with noise and effects while maintaining a pop-rock integrity and base. While the evils of rock win and pull them toward the bland, the few fleeting moments of inspiration in “Night of the Hunter” and “Stranger in a Strange Land” deserve a listen. Shoot the rest off to the depths of space, where no one can hear you make screamo lite.
This Is War