It’s necessary to start this review with a bit of a history lesson, because, frankly, I’m not really sure anybody who reads our blog has exactly kept up with Emmure‘s turmoil as a band: at the very tail end of 2015, every instrumentalist in Emmure walked away from the band in unison, leaving only vocalist and noted edgelord Frankie Palmeri to carry on the mantle of one of deathcore’s most maligned and antagonized groups. In what could reasonably be deemed a huge middle finger to the four ex-members, as well as a way to definitely make sure he stayed in the scene’s eye, he replaced them with Phil Lockett, the former bassist of The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza, Josh Miller, the drummer of Glass Cloud, and Josh Travis, the guitarist and creative centerpiece for both of those bands.
Leading up to the release of this new album, Look At Yourself, many of us have experienced a mixture of excitement and anxiety: Emmure has not had a reputation for being a particularly good band, nor Frankie a compelling frontman, but the new band behind him has collectively been responsible for a handful of the best deathcore albums, and Travis’ chug-heavy style seemed like a perfect stylistic match to make an interesting band out of Emmure’s essence. Upon hearing the album, though, it’s clear that these veterans have brought their A-game forward, resulting in a release that’s a whole hell of a lot of fun, even if it’s not exactly a step forward by any means.
With the preliminary context out of the way, we can now ask: is Emmure really even Emmure here? Admittedly, Frankie Palmeri’s signature Durstian (is that a word? can I make Durstian a word?) delivery has always been a large part of the band’s sound, but is it enough of the band’s chemistry to make for a current incarnation of Emmure that isn’t radically different from its predecessor? After listening to Look At Yourself a fair number of times, the answer comes clear: yes. Frankie’s raspy harsh delivery may not be anything to write home about, but his rapping, pulled straight from the late-90’s nu metal playbook, has always been a huge part of their formula, and even when the crew manning the Emmure ship is an entirely new one, Frankie Palmeri’s captainship alone is enough to give this album that quintessential attitude so befitting this band.
Travis’ writing style fits neatly into the narrative of a typical deathcore artist upon first listen, but his playing also contains a fairly unique, idiosyncratic sense of timing and melody that is as recognizable as it is inimitable: sure, there’s the usual open string chugs that other bands trade in, but Travis channels his capacity for weirdness into grooves that drift in and out of time, keeping the band one step ahead of the listener at all times. Odd time signatures and polyphony are abundant in his take on rhythm parts; chunky, hard-hitting riffs stay fresh, never strained or overused. His twin usage of dissonant melodic structures and heavy repetition serve as a counterweight to the midtempo chugging rhythms: guitars warble forth sustained high notes or spit rapid panic chords in quick succession, stabbing through the low end to make sure the audience is being assaulted on every auditory level.
Neither of the creative parties involved here—Frankie or the trio supporting him—really had to edit their style much to make Look At Yourself work in just about every way. Fans of Emmure’s previous work are going to find a band that hasn’t changed a whole lot; followers of Travis and company will be ready to accept this album into their collective canon of releases. Admittedly, there are concessions on the latter part: Travis’ penchant for weirdness has been dialed back a bit to make for a more streamlined album, and there are certainly no seven-minute riff monoliths similar to, say, “Paul Bunyan and the Blue Ox” to be found here. However, the core of the sound has stayed pretty consistent from where Travis left off with TDTE and Glass Cloud, and it’s certainly for the better. Fresh blood has done wonders for Emmure here. From a technical perspective, his vocals still aren’t cream of the crop by any means, but it certainly works: Frankie’s ability to re-situate himself against this backdrop has allowed him to gain back the momentum and enthusiasm he lacked on recent previous outings.
Ultimately, Look At Yourself isn’t going to change the deathcore game or provide some sort of epiphany to those who didn’t find the chug-heavy stylings of either Emmure or the bands they now share members with to their liking. But it isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, either: this album is stupid fun, and there’s certainly no sense it wants to be anything beyond that. Those who decided they didn’t like Emmure before probably won’t find themselves liking Emmure a whole lot more now, but for the people who’ve had their interest piqued by the involvement of Travis, Lockett, and/or Miller, there’s a lot to love about what this triumvirate brings to a more simplified, streamlined sound. This is the best Emmure has ever been, honestly. Look At Yourself goes pretty fucking hard, and that’s really all there is to it at the end of the day.
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Emmure is dropping Look At Yourself through SHARPTONE Records on March 3rd. It’s available to be preordered digitally at all the usual spots, and can be preordered physically on the official Emmure website.