It’s a tough thing to decide between liking and loving something. Sometimes, everything can be in place to make a record sound great, but there’s just something missing or off. I Declare War’s newest record falls into this category. There’s engaging breakdowns, ample use of melody when needed and solid songwriting in terms of moving from one piece of a track to the next. However, the muddled vocals and lack of truly standout moments hold this album back from being truly great, leaving I Declare War just on the cusp of mediocrity with their self-titled effort.
As far as the music is concerned, the band has left no doubt in my mind that they could one day rise from the depths of the underground. From front to back, this record makes the case of a band that can break it down without getting old, while adding melody in delicately measured portions to spice up the chugfest. Opener “I, Tormentor” flexes between uzi-drumming and lick-laced chugging before kicking the tempo down for a mosh-inducing sludge-down that keeps you on your heels. This is a prime example of what to expect on the record – everything is put together well enough to keep your ears tuned in, but the interest is stopped from peaking the way it should. “Human Waste” and “Clear Head” show further exploration in the songwriting ways of the band; the former uses a slimy riff backed by maniacal double-bass to push its way through bursts of searing melodies as the latter finds success by using similar ways to drive the crunching guitars straight in and out of our heads.
Eighth track “Pale Skin” is the odd one of the bunch, focusing more on a slow burn of drawn out guitars and bursting punches of double-bass to create something abrasive, yet much less frantic in its end product. It is a bit deceiving in that it still comes across as heavy as opposed to embracing the qualities of a ballad as many heavier artists might in their reach for something different. This track gives a look into the flaws of I Declare War’s approach to their craft. While strong as a whole, the tracks give off little to pinpoint when looking for completely memorable moments. If you have to grasp at straws to remember anything specifically, it is difficult to call an album outstanding. Sure, bits like the grooved out chugs of “Final Hour” or the sludge and slam riffs of closer “Weak Minds” make for great bits in their respective tracks, but they are far and few between.
On the other side of things, much can be said about the production of the album – good and bad. Vocally, it teeters between indecipherable and just plain brash, giving little room to even attempt to figure out what is being said without the help of a lyrics sheet. Is it the fault of the vocalist or the man behind the boards? It would be easy to say either, but even in the more extreme music genres, there has to be some room for expressed emotion – and with a dismal sound such as this, there has to be something for people to latch on to. Still, the band has taken a new step forward by adding vocalist Jamie Hanks, who does shine some variety into the vocal stylings the band has been plagued by in older recordings – even if the band’s messages are getting tuned out by the mixture of throat-searing vocals and the need for extra abrasion in the final sound.
While this album lacks in standout qualities, it does an ample job in keeping you tuned to the aural assault of blasting drums and gritty guitars the band has to offer. It might not be the best there is to hear, but there’s something worth hearing on this record that might make I Declare War a bigger name in the near future.