For Fans Of
‘I Am Human‘ is the exact kind of album dynamic you’d expect from Escape The Fate in this decade.
You’ve got the overtly poppy rock songs that only exist for that style-over-substance sing-along factor. There’s a couple heavy songs included, ensuring their older (and now alienated) fanbase are still listening in. There’s an acoustic track because hey, why the hell not? There’s an awfully dumb and over-polished party club tune about getting royally fucked up that’s just as bad as it sounds. And you can’t ever forget the sappy, try-hard power ballads or those simplistic but riffy and “edgy” rock tunes about how wild and animalistic Escape The Fate are when they go out to hit the town.
I expected this dynamic before heading into ‘I Am Human‘ as I’ve been reading the writing on the wall that gets clearer with each new release, but I was sincerely hoping that I’d be wrong. Because if I was wrong in my original pre-listening assumption, then that would mean that Escape The Fate – a band I loved back in the day and one of the first band’s that got me into heavy music – was growing up, evolving their sound to be bigger and better, and really progressing forward as time passed. Alas, my initial negative thoughts on what Escape The Fate’s sixth (and worst) album would offer were all correct. So let’s properly break down this album dynamic I mentioned.
Produced by Howard Benson (because of fucking course it is) from the onset, the intent of ‘I Am Human‘ is pretty damn clear: cram in as many big guitar harmonies and vocal hooks as possible for syndication purposes first, write genuinely good songs second. The album’s first four tracks – ‘Beautifully Tragic’, ‘Broken Heart’ (which sounds way too close to Papa Roach’s ‘Help‘ for comfort), ‘Four Letter Word’, and the pop-punky but forgettable ‘I Will Make It Up To You’ – are these slick but saccharine rock songs that only have a few catchy melodies to offer and nothing else. They’re akin to oldies like ‘Something’ or ‘Ashley‘: it’s all about those radio-friendly rock choruses, baby!
Now, maybe five or so years ago these songs would’ve been more than fine, as Escape The Fate have definitely written some great choruses and also some pretty solid songs in their time together. But the problem here is that the level of emotional impact that the quartet are aiming for doesn’t hit anywhere near as hard or as they think it does – not in these first four soulless tracks or in much of the record’s remaining run time either. With the exception of one or two songs here, this album’s emotional depth just sounds and feels so fucking stunted and so utterly skin deep. ‘I Am Human‘ has been touted by their label and other outlets as being the band’s “most personal” record yet, but shit, they sure could’ve fooled me.
In one such example, and in trying to make a poignant statement about the balances between one’s heart and mind that this album’s cover hints at, we have the album’s titular track. It’s a glossy, mid-tempo rock song that’s a desperate attempt at being universally inspirational about how we’re all human, how we’re all different, how we all make mistakes and how we all should embrace our real selves. Which is a very true statement, yes, but is also a very moot point to make. Sure, Escape The Fate’s music has never been all that deep, but this is a new level of bland surface level rock for the Las Vegas group. Plus, the orchestral arrangement that sits behind the mix here with pianos, strings and higher-pitched backing vocals that play-off Mabbit’s voice and harmonize with him at various points are all pretty played-out.
Basically, this 14-track album is like glass; you can see right through it.
‘I Am Human‘ doesn’t reveal any essence of Escape The Fate’s heavier tendencies until six songs in with the groovier and riffier ‘Do You Love Me?’. And it’s fine. But that’s all I can say about it when this band’s past repertoire contains far more memorable and better written heavier cuts (‘My Apocalypse‘, ‘The Flood‘ and ‘Ungrateful‘ anybody?), and this track just can’t simply hack it. Similarly, ‘Recipe For Disaster’, which guest vocal features Joe Cotela from DED, also tries to rekindle their metal side with large chugs, bigger nu-metal-like leads and easily the grooviest rhythms of the whole release. It’s an okay song to be sure, but it’s too little too late by this later point in the record. Although, not two tracks later we get the album’s most pissed-off and self-deprecating moment – ‘Digging My Own Grave‘ – and while it’s really not saying much at all, this is one of the highlights of a lowly record from a band who can and has done better.
Whenever I hear songs like ‘Digging My Own Grave‘, all I can think is that if Escape The Fate had chopped down this album’s length and set their sights on creating a heavier and darker LP overall that dropped their musical and lyrical cliches, we’d have a better release on our hands. Not a perfect or amazing record; just something better than what currently stands. Because it seems like ETF fully mined out their strongest heavy material for 2013’s ‘Ungrateful‘ – their last genuinely decent record as it now turns out. And no, I haven’t forgotten that 2015’s ‘Hate Me‘ also featured more metal-focused songs like ‘Just A Memory‘ and ‘Les Enfants Terribles (The Terrible Children)‘, yet that previous record only fares slightly better than this new one so the less said about it the better.
‘If Only’ is this record’s sole acoustic track, and guess what? It’s actually good! It’s a simple, mellow but honest and stripped back acoustic piece where frontman Craig Mabbit lyrically laments not having more time and energy for someone close to him who is sadly no longer alive. It’s a seldom moment for ‘I Am Human‘ where the songwriting and the band’s lyricism actually show real feeling and real heart. If there’s one song here that I’m going to come back to and enjoy, it’s ‘If Only‘ by a country mile.
However, all of this released emotion goes out the window but one song later with the hedonistic ‘Empire’, complete with these really gated guitar riffs, couple bass drops, rattling trap hi-hats, lyrics about drinking, doing drugs, and just being a complete trashy mess 24/7. This was actually one of the album’s first singles and I just cannot understand why a band or label would want this as people’s first exposure to a new release. Because ‘Empire’ is much like Sleeping With Siren’s ‘Cheers’: god-awful and shallower than a kiddy pool. Now, maybe – just maybe – you could see this song directly following ‘If Only‘ on the track listing as a narrative flow of one trying to fill up an inner void left behind by a friend or family members passing, but I think that’d be some gymnastic stretching right there and giving the band more credit than they’re due for this album.
As for those pesky ballads, there’s the slow-moving ‘Bleed For Me‘, which has all of the bright power chords and sad-sounding strings and piano melodies in all their usual places. Here, Craig Mabbit sings in the chorus “Bleed for me/like I bleed for you“, and my god, the song sounds like what a parody YouTuber would write to try and mock bands like Escape The Fate. Except this isn’t funny nor is it a parody. The album later wraps up with ‘Let Me Be‘, which is Escape The Fate’s lovey-dovey take on the One Direction realm of pop music. Now, if that name sounds familiar, that’s because ‘Let Me Be‘ was originally released back on ‘Hate Me‘ three years ago, yet it’s the exact same version of the song’s first iteration tacked onto this record’s. As it turns out, their record label apparently forced them to included the track on this new album. Why? To make us all suffer through it again? To try and cynically turn it into a new single now despite it being three years old? Who the fuck knows!
Elsewhere, the album’s shortest track is ‘Riot‘. This song is jam-packed full of massive guitar harmonies, high squeals and cool divebombs (Kevin Thrasher’s guitar work is easily the most exciting thing about this record) that fire off amidst lame-ass lyrics about “spilling liquor on the floor” and how “we’re gonna riot, riot, riot“. And oh man, don’t even get me started on ‘Resistance‘. I mean, Jesus H. Christ, when ETF did this kind of overblown rock star schtick back on ‘10 Miles Wide‘ and ‘One For The Money‘, at least those tracks were halfway fucking decent. Here, it’s all just so phoned-in and ‘Resistance‘ and ‘Riot‘ both sound like these four guys don’t care anymore. Which actually sums up a huge portion of how this new record sounds and feels.
‘I Am Human’ has been out for just over a week now by the time of me finishing this review, and yet only a few weeks back Escape The Fate announced an Australian 2018 tour that’s dedicated to their 2008 sophomore, ‘This War Is Ours’ – a good record, for sure. Already, they’ve sold out the first Melbourne show and have added another, which in all sincerity, is great for both the band and promoters Destroy All Lines.
Yet this is a similar move as to what New Found Glory did for their 2017 Aussie tour, which despite having a new album out at that time (‘Makes Me Sick‘), they cashed in on nostalgia and performed their older/ better albums as part of 20th anniversary, only performing one or two new songs in the process. Which is more than likely what Escape The Fate will do come their own Australian tour in May and June – racing through ‘This War Is Ours’, pump out a new song or two, play some older singles and then maybe pull out a deep cut. Because Escape The Fate themselves probably knew that this upcoming tour just wouldn’t sell as well if it was in sole support of ‘I Am Human’ and that most fans will mainly want to see and hear the old shit. (While they aren’t doing a full album tour of ‘This War Is Ours’ anywhere else – at least not yet – their 2018 setlists have been heavily dominated by that record and not ‘I Am Human’).
So where does ‘I Am Human’ fit into this forthcoming tour celebration of ‘This War Is Ours’? In all honesty, it doesn’t really. This new album is, unfortunately, a sad and sobering reminder of how far this band has dropped off over the years. If I was a 13 or 14-year-old teenager, getting into heavy music for the first time, maybe I’d have loved this record. But as a 23-year-old man now, I just cannot fuck with this in the slightest.
- Beautifully Tragic
- Broken Heart
- Four Letter Word
- I Will Make It Up To You
- Bleed For Me
- Do You Love Me?
- I Am Human
- If Only
- Recipe For Disaster
- Digging My Own Grave
- Let Me Be
‘I Am Human’ is out now. Also, while I don’t like the song itself, the new music video for ‘Broken Heart’ is actually very cool and has a pretty clever setup, which I can really appreciate in this day and age.