It has been my opinion for quite some time now that the electronic-hardcore phase needs to end. It’s been going on for a good five or six years now, and just about every trick has been tried. Most bands that have refused to change with the times have either been slammed by critics and fans alike or disappeared altogether. In a sense, I See Stars are resilient in that they are still fully committed to keeping this subgenre going. I can’t say that I’m thankful for this, but I would be lying if I said that their new record is a complete tragedy. Despite falling victim to many of the genre’s clichés, New Demons captures a few ounces of hope left for a subgenre on its deathbed.
The first actual song on this album (ignoring the unnecessary intro track), “Ten Thousand Feet”, opens with a cheesy synth lead, directly followed by chugs and the notorious dissonant ‘breakdown chord’. Thankfully, this first 40 seconds does not accurately represent the entire record. Starting off an album with such an overused combination is surely not the way to go, but just bite the bullet and get through it. It actually does get a little better. However, the dubstep spotlights and over-the-top synth are still fairly prevalent throughout the album.
A problem this band has is that they rely too much on their electronic side. When there isn’t a creative synth part, there are typically boring power chords and uninspired vocals that could have turned out better with just a little more effort. The lead guitar parts are hardly ever interesting or challenging, and the ending of “We’re Not in Kansas Anymore”, featuring the most yawn-inducing synth lead the band has ever put out, is an indicator of the nightmare this album could have been with just a little less creativity and effort. Still, not enough variety exists to make this record truly satisfying.
This section is dedicated to the lyrics. I don’t expect a band like I See Stars to write the most profound or poetic lyrics ever, but I still expect them to meet certain standards. Sometimes they meet these standards, and sometimes they definitely do not. Therefore, I would describe the lyrical content as ‘not-too-terrible’. From the song “Ten Thousand Feet” Zach Johnson screams “We’re so f*cked // We are the living dead.” This bugs me in particular because of how unoriginal that second line is. Dream On, Dreamer wrote those exact words in their song “Downfall”, and Ice Nine Kills wrote “We are the walking dead” in their song “The Coffin Is Moving”. Can we all just agree to put an end to this metaphor now? It is no longer living or walking; it is just dead.
From “Violent Bounce (People Like You)”, we hear the words “I see right through you” and “You are the scum of the world // And we’ll watch you fall.” Again, these phrases have been written by countless other angsty bands and give off a strong sense of laziness. But, as previously indicated, there are a few redemptive moments in terms of lyricism. One of my favorites comes from “Boris the Animal”:
“Who do I answer to when my blood thins out like twine?
Always searching for myself at the bottom of a bottle
I won’t be hard to find”
Moments like this show that I See Stars certainly have more potential than they often indicate. I would have quite a bit more respect for this band if they showed such maturity more frequently, and in other areas of their songwriting.
Singer Devin Oliver has surely set the bar higher for himself on this record. His voice still often sounds a bit whiny, but I believe this is only because he generally sticks to a higher range. Those high notes sound better than before, and he occasionally ventures into lower octaves that still sound great with his voice. The heavy vocals have also improved considerably, though they are often hindered by glitchy vocal effects. Besides that, the production on this album is astounding. Many would describe the record as “over-produced”, and I mostly agree with that; but by the same token, I would argue that I See Stars’ ideal sound requires heavy production.
In the end, New Demons is still a fairly generic product that rarely treks into new territory. The catchiness level is turned up high, musicianship is turned down low, and lyricism falls somewhere in between. There are silver linings scattered throughout that show a bit of promise for the band, but given that this is their fourth full-length album, I wouldn’t expect to see any major surprises from here on out.