Stepping Stone: Emmure // Felony

This post probably seems way out of place among the many pieces I’ve written for Heavy Blog. But for anyone that knows me, bands like Emmure comprised the bulk of my high school listening, and I threw down hard during their set at Warped Tour 2010. That same year marked the peak of my adoration for “-core” music, though, as I started gravitating more towards the old school metal bands that my friend Mark would show me during lunch. My iPod started filling up with songs like “Dead but Dreaming” by Deicide rather than “Dead but Dreaming” by Carnifex, and before I knew it, I was another metal elitist scoffing at the very thought that Emmure used to be one of my favorite bands.

Thankfully, I’ve matured quite a bit since then; not to the point where I’d write an “In Defense Of” post for Emmure, but enough to  ignore any news updates about the band rather than leaving an unproductive shitpost in the comments section (“lol, binary code metal, amirite???”). And as I saw updates on their latest album Look at Yourself, it made me reminisce about my old listening habits and prompted me to revisit what used to be my favorite record of theirs: Felony. The result was the following nostalgia-ridden Stepping Stone for a band I view as both one of the worst and most important bands that defined the trajectory of my growth as a metal fan. It was my full intention going into this to be as objective and honest as possible, and I hope this will read as a fair critique of one of metal’s most polarizing bands.

Before

Re-reading my intro, I don’t think I stressed this point enough—I used to LOVE Emmure. If I had access to my family’s old computer with my original iTunes library, it wouldn’t surprise me to see over a thousand plays logged for their discography. And while Felony didn’t have any of my favorite Emmure songs—like “Rusted Over Wet Dreams” from Goodbye to the Gallows and “Chicago’s Finest” from The Respect Issue—it was my absolute favorite overall, due in no small part to tracks like “Sunday Bacon,” “I Thought You Met Telly and Turned Me into Casper,” “Felony” and “First Impressions.” These songs all had exactly what I was looking for at that point in my life—nonstop, sledgehammer breakdowns topped by incoherent screaming and indiscriminate aggression. Thankfully for me, there wasn’t (and isn’t) much more to Emmure’s music, which is why they filled that niche so effectively.

Yet, even after all these years and my tastes having changed as much as they have, there’s still one song on the album that I think is not only a good song from the band, but also a perfect example of how they’re capable of writing much better music than they typically do:

Complete with an actual riff and some genuinely well-written melodies underneath the chugging, “A Lesson from Nichole” is the only track on the album that hints back to the melodic metalcore that former guitarist Ben Lionetti used to weave into the open note romps of their first two albums. To be clear, bands like For the Fallen Dreams have done this style of chug-heavy melo-core infinitely better, and even back in the day I felt the track—like the entirety of Felony—was too short and underdeveloped. Still, there’s no denying that this is the most fleshed out song concept on the album, and if Emmure made music like this instead of their standard breakdown-laden affair, I have no doubts that all the hate they receive would virtually disappear. Of course, this was a clear highlight within an album I already loved when it first came out, and I played most all of these songs daily during my sophomore and junior years of high school.

After

It’s been years since I listened to Felony in full, or any Emmure album for that matter. As open a mind as I tried to maintain throughout this nostalgic reunion, one thought persisted song after song—these guys are bad. Like, really bad. Lyrically, technically and compositionally, there’s not a single great song on Felony, and most of them barely pass above decency. While I still think “A Lesson from Nichole” is a good song coming from Emmure, it comes too late in the album to really salvage the mess that precedes it.

By this point, some people might be pointing out how the band are just making “fun” music, and perhaps arguing that  I “shouldn’t take it seriously.” Even if these points were valid—which they aren’t, in my opinion—it doesn’t change the fact that to me, this is far too mindless and shallow to be anything I’d still consider “fun.” Music doesn’t have to be overly simplistic and poorly written to be a “fun” listen, and I’m truly sorry if you think otherwise.

It’s far beyond cliché at this point to criticize Emmure for their excessive use of breakdowns, but it truly is one of the main downfalls of the album. To take a relevant sidestep for a moment, here’s the prime example I often use to demonstrate how to effectively incorporate a breakdown, courtesy of Cryptopsy:

Even if you just listen to this short snippet, it’s clear that the breakdown is breaking down the song with a heavy passage amid an actual composition that’s interesting in its own right. Save for a few brief attempts here and there, Emmure do the exact opposite of this on Felony, with songs composed entirely of climaxes without anything building to or from them. Worse still is the homogeneity that develops from this—the faintest transition and compositional variation distinguishes “Sunday Bacon” from “I Thought You Met Telly…,” and both limp by in blurs of chugs and lazy nu-metal guitar effects. Whereas a band like The Acacia Strain will piece together actual riffs and intricately-written breakdowns, virtually none of the breakdowns on Felony are memorable, and even the ones that are can’t stand out because of the over-saturation of chugs throughout every song.

Yet, something I noticed while re-listening to the album were the number of songs I barely recognized; tracks I almost always skipped over even back when I enjoyed the album, all of which present actual (failed) attempts at writing fleshed out songs. “I <3 EC2” opens with a half-hearted riff and eventually moves into a bland melodic passage, only to fizzle out with lazy panic chords and breakdowns layered with vocalist Frankie Palmeri performing what sounds like a vocal parody of deathcore screaming. And after “You Sunk My Battleship” sloppily slaps together mid-paced nu-metal worship and bland tough guy hardcore, the song fades into an incredibly unnecessary interlude filled with half-baked guitar playing and Palmeri’s vocals wandering around aimlessly in the mix with effects layered of them. Though these tracks are the most egregious offenders, this is more or less what every track has to offer—tough guy, NY hardcore mixed with watered down nu-metal guitar effects and an overabundance of breakdowns and panic chords.

I’ve saved detailed commentary on Palmeri for last, because his vocals and lyrics are easily the most cringeworthy aspect of Felony, even surpassing the shoddy compositions and performances of his bandmates. At any given moment in a song, you’ll be subjugated to one of his many vocal “talents,” including incoherent shrieking, bland death growls, wimpy singing and—of course—his signature style of rapping, or more accurately, atonal talking that reeks of cocky self-importance. It’s genuinely difficult to pick a low point on the album in terms of his vocals, because he cycles through all of these aforementioned styles continuously on almost every song. And that combination of inconsistency and terrible delivery makes even the decent, mindlessly-heavy tracks on the album unbearable, like the obnoxious cadence of his rapping on “Felony” and his sloppy transition from breathy, faux-creepy spoken word to random shrieking on “First Impressions.”

And while I didn’t care about lyrics in general back in high school, Palmeri’s writing on Felony is just plain awful to me now. On the one hand, you have his violent meathead lyrics, with gems like “And now you’re looking down the barrel of a gun/Son of a Gun/Looks like you’re not having any fun” (“Sunday Bacon”) and “Blue Moon bottle/Right across your head/I broke your face/And all you did was snitch/You little bitch” (“Felony”).

And then you have his “emotional” side, which ranges from uncomfortably honest and self-deprecating to straight-up misogynistic. “I Though You Met Telly…” is a perfect example of this, with opening line “I’m probably the worst fuck you ever had” followed by awkward, breathy female vocals moaning “I want you cumming inside me.” By the end of the track, Palmeri politely informs his ex that “You’re the reason I got tested/And because of you I’m at the clinic hoping, praying,” adding “Please God/Let me be negative/7 years bad luck/A never ending gift/From the filth you fucked.” His pitiful side might be even worse, with “Don’t Be One” being cringeworthy throughout:

These dark days/I spent them all alone/And I lie here awake/Wishing you’d just answer the phone
1-718-No-You-Won’t answer anyway/Why do I even bother?
Would it matter to you if I died tonight?/Would it matter to you, that you never got to say goodbye?
Just know that I loved you more than life/Follow your heart and do what’s right
We never got to say goodbye
Here I go walking alone into the light
Pick up, pick up, pick up, before I enter the light

 And finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the laughable Acacia Strain dis-track “R2DEEPTHROAT,” otherwise known as “let’s call out a band for ripping us off when they do our style of music immeasurably better and had already released three full-lengths before we dropped our first EP.” There’s no shortage of bad lyrics on this track, especially the awkward Carly Simon reference slapped into the midsection (“You’re so vain/I bet you think this song is about you/Don’t you”). But the delusional nature of the song itself is by far the most eye roll inducing part of Palmeri’s diatribe. In this regard, the final line of the track truly says it all: “Your career is flipping/So do me a favor/The next time you see her/Ask your girl what my dick tastes like.”

Conclusion

This was definitely a lot more negative than I intended on being with this post, but I can’t deny that my opinion of Felony and Emmure in general has soured pretty dramatically over the years. As I mentioned above, I don’t bother shitposting on news posts I see about new music from the band, and I feel as though this post is more than enough venting on the band for the rest of my time with Heavy Blog. In all honesty, I do owe quite a bit to these guys and other “-core” bands for helping me transition into enjoying heavier music than Slipknot and the like. But after my first few listens to Felony in some time, I can safely say that transition has long passed by now, and other than the light appeal of a heavy breakdown once in a while, I can’t see much value in anything Emmure has to offer.

"In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there's something stronger - something better - pushing right back." - Albert Camus