Emmure is one of those bands that will always be met with a barrage of hate. At this point in the band’s career, you’ve most likely already decided what you think of them. While many would simply dismiss their work by using any number of synonyms for the word “bad,” I personally enjoy almost every song in their catalog. I’m not saying that they are musical geniuses or that their music is inherently “better” than anything else, but I will say that for me, they are the best at what they do, which is write extremely heavy songs full of catchy lines and disgusting screams. From a fan’s perspective, it can be said that Slave to the Game takes this formula a few steps forward with more varied guitar parts and exploration of their tried-and-true sound to keep the band’s work fresh.
Intro track “Insert Coin” sets the arcade theme for the record, acting as a lead-in to the first real song of the album in a way that’s unnecessary but doesn’t really detract from the record. Lead single “Protoman” opens with a breakdown that’s classic Emmure, featuring a bouncy riff and simple, declarative lines from vocalist Frankie Palmeri. The guitar parts on this track are somewhat more varied than most would expect from the band, with some interesting dissonant riffs breaking up the chugging. The song makes good use of almost all aspects of Palmeri’s voice, with a variety of different screams and the sort of spoken lines that have always worked well in the past. Minor electronic elements blend well with the heaviness while the drums complement the guitar parts well. Although I wasn’t completely sold on this track when it was first released, I have come to really enjoy it. “She Gave Her Heart to Deadpool” makes good use of stereo sound, with guitar parts trading between left and right speakers. There are some interesting textures in this track, making use of different guitar and bass sounds. As far as lyrics go, Palmeri is a master of making some pretty stereotypically “emo” lines sound tough through his inflection.
“I Am Onslaught” is full of sludgy guitar parts and lyrics that are reminiscent of some that might have been found on Felony, like the repeated “Know my name and fear it.” “Bison Diaries” builds an interesting atmosphere with its intro, which continues as a backdrop behind predominately deep screams and chugging guitars. Many Emmure riffs would sound like breakdowns coming from another band, but they manage to make the transitions from such riffs into their breakdowns sound exciting, building up tension by slowing down the riff to make the hit of the next part feel even heavier. Interlude “Poltergeist” brings forth some religious imagery with words that could have come from a priest. With demonic screams in the background, the religious words from Palmeri have an eerie quality to them. The message of the interlude is almost strangely matched by “Cross Over Attack,” which manages to draw a metaphor between video games and some sort of salvation. There’s a solid variety of guitar parts in this track, and the drum parts are particularly impressive.
With the most unwieldy title, “Umar Dumps Dormammu” opens with one of the album’s best breakdowns. With a slower tempo than most of the other songs on here, it has some decent lines but is broken up by a short (presumably) staged phone call that kills some of the momentum that had been built up. In any case, the song sticks out as being something unique. “Blackheart Reigns” features a great buildup on the repeated line “This is my heart of darkness” that resolves to a breakdown on the line “Welcome to hell.” The lyrics aren’t mind-blowing by any stretch of the imagination, but the setup works really well. This is one of the heaviest songs on the record, which makes the more reserved intro of “MDMA” really stand out. Blending high screams with spoken lines, the track features some of the most emotional lyrics of the record, and it’s easy to see how this track could become a long-lasting favorite for fans of the band.
Immediately following “MDMA” is “War Begins With You,” which finds Emmure bringing back the heavy and matching it with a grind riff and brutal lyrics. However, other than the line “You are the fucking disease,” little on this track stands out for me. The album closes with “A.I.,” which incorporates small glimpses of more dubstep-influenced electronic moments. If there was ever a band that could really pull off mixing heavy breakdowns and dubstep, it’s Emmure. The bits where the two are combined work very well, leaving me wishing the band had written more heavy electronic parts into this record. All in all, this song features a few good guitar parts, and a bass track that doesn’t get lost in the way that so many others get lost in mixes. “A.I.” is certainly one of the stronger songs on Slave to the Game and ends the record on a high note.
If you’ve listened to Emmure before, you have a pretty solid idea of what to expect from any record they’ve written. There’s going to be a lot of heavy chugging. Screams galore. Lyrics that are typically considerably less than serious. Breakdowns on breakdowns on breakdowns. However, Slave to the Game keeps the formula fresh thanks to more inspired guitar work and elements of experimentation with the band’s sound. Five records in and Palmeri’s still concerned with the idea of loyalty, toeing the border between needing it more than anything and scorning it altogether. At the end of the day, I don’t think that this album is really meant to be taken completely seriously. Does that necessarily make it a bad album? No. It fills a certain niche that I, and hundreds of thousands of others, crave. If you disliked Emmure before, Slave to the Game probably won’t change your mind, but if you were already a fan, the record should leave you very pleased. In any case, quit hating and go enjoy a good mosh session. If anything, this record’s perfect for that.