If you lived through anything like my teenage years (and if you’re listening to this music, it’s likely you did), you’re more than aware of Chiodos and why they’ve been important to the rise of this scene. After their widely publicized tumultuous relationship, they have returned with a [near] original line-up, with the exception of guitarist Jason Hale’s replacement with Fall of Troy guitar wizard Thomas Erak in 2012. Considering this is the first with-Craig [Owens] record since 2007’s Bone Palace Ballet, the wait has been long and it’s finally here. Devil is a record of modern throwback, combining all of the over-the-top theatrical stylings of BPB with the friendlier sensibilities of Owens’ last project, D.R.U.G.S.
The record was produced by David Bottrill, who has undertaken the production of several bands’ important records, like Tool, Circa Survive, Muse, and many others. The mix is acceptable, but I feel it’s lacking in the clarity and punch that both BPB and Illuminaudio had. It is relatively bland, but every instrument is present in the right ways and ultimately that’s what’s important; though it just lacks that defining spark or unique definition to the sound.
Devil plays it rather safe; though they’ve stated they tried to break new ground with these songs, I fail to see it. Take ultimately pointless opener “U.G. Introduction”, which is a short instrumental intro that could have fit directly on BPB with no qualms, which, immediately going into “We’re Talking About Practice”, is also in the same position. The song is full of strings, major-minor chord progressions that they exploit to no end, and that larger-than-life feel. This has been the Chiodos method, and it works, but it is what we expected. People looking for the musical dissonance and the playfulness of All’s Well That Ends Well are going to be indefinitely disappointed, because the sound is far matured from those days, even during their frantic breakdown moments (“Ole Fishlips Is Dead Now”, “Behvis Bullock”).
Musically, everything is tightly knit and well written, with the exception of one thing; the restraints on Thomas Erak’s damn hands. The man has incredible guitar prowess, and their reserve with utilizing him really holds the record back from being as unique as it could be. The aforementioned “Behvis Bullock” is one of the few songs where he flexes the muscles just a tad, and with its surprisingly heavy slow-down in the bridge, he pulls some moves I would have expected on a FOT record (which is a good thing). Otherwise, the writing is on par with Jason Hale’s; interesting, but not definitive. Owens sounds exactly how you’d expect: great vocal performances all around, screams that still bring plenty of carnage, and a croon that’s unique and instantly distinguishable.
This new era of Chiodos works best when they’re pulling out all of the stops, like in the instantly classic “Looking For a Tornado” or the “The Words Best Friend Become Redefined”-feeling punch of “Expensive Conversations In Cheap Motels”. The new ground they stated they’re exploring I feel is the more modern alt-rock flair that we saw Owens explore years ago, with everyone else playing catch-up (“3AM”, “Under Your Halo”). The latter of these two is a generic and tired approach to radio-friendly alternative along with “Duct Tape”, but nonetheless they are easily digestible and kids will get that. When settling somewhere in between, they still come out on top (“Sunny Days & Hand Grenades”, “Why The Munsters Matter”), and it still makes sense, so I’m ultimately satisfied but not blown away.
People investing time back into Chiodos probably aren’t all that sure what they should expect, considering their social media-heavy marketing for the record that essentially dropped every song by the end. With this approach, not a whole lot was left to assess at once; ultimately, because the record is a collection of singles rather than working together as a single unit, it ends up damaging it rather than helping it. There is lots of variety, so ultimately if you like Chiodos in any era, you’ll find something to like, but whether or not that’s all of it is in the air. They need to pick a sound and stick with it, otherwise the next record could end up sounding like a compilation rather than a record by one of the most influential post-hardcore bands of the late 2000s. The return is welcomed, and they’re going to do well off of Devil, but the next record is what’s really going to say where this six-piece goes from here.