For Fans Of
Wage War is one of those bands that are good for an occasional listen whenever you’re in the mood for something mindlessly heavy. When seventeen-year-old Johnny has a bad day, he always knows he can turn to his trusty ‘Blueprints‘ and let the breakdowns melt away all of his teenage angst. Yet the problem with Wage War is that’s all they’ve ever really been good for. Their music has never provided that much substance, outside of Briton Bond’s mental health-focused lyricism, as it musically serves as something akin to metalcore junk food: just an occasional, cheap listen for pure fun. So with new album ‘Pressure‘ on the horizon, and a shiny change in sound, have Wage War broken the bars of the generic metalcore cage that they’ve locked themselves into? Well, no, not really.
The problem with ‘Pressure‘ is that while it is a very different album from the previous two, it simply trades one generic sound for another: typical metalcore for middle-of-the-road rock and electronic-pop. It’s likely that Wage War honey-dicked their fans with ‘Low‘ and ‘Who I Am‘ as the first two singles, given they’re two of the only few heavy songs present. As the vast majority of ‘Pressure‘ instead sees Wage War diving into a done-a-million-times radio-rock, with songs like ‘Forget My Name‘ and ‘Take The Fight‘ sounding like B-sides from an early 2010s Three Days Grace album. However, there are moments where this sound does work for Wage War. ‘Hurt‘ carries strong, melancholic melodies over a twinkly, beautiful instrumental foundation, with a huge chorus and an amazing back-and-forth between Briton and guitarist Cody Quistad. Briton, who formerly stuck to screams on their other records, actually sings a lot on ‘Pressure‘; a change-up that I Prevail also did with ‘Trauma‘ and it works well here too. He even takes over the majority of the vocal duties on the mediocre rock ballad ‘Grave,’ which sadly, features one of the most irritating repetitions of lyrics in a refrain I’ve ever heard: “you will never change“, over and over, again and again.
That isn’t to say that Briton shouldn’t sing; the guy has a beautiful voice that surprisingly hasn’t seen the light of day until this newest album. He definitely should share this side of his voice moving forward, as it could one day do wonders for the dynamic of this band’s sound. However, his vocal talents are quite bogged down by some tired melodies that come off as quite emotionless and stale. C’mon guys, give him an interesting hook and some meaningful lyrics and I’m sure he could make some real magic with it. Which now brings me to the most laughable aspect of ‘Pressure‘ in my own mind, and that’s the bottomless pit of meaningless one-liners and overused metaphors that Wage War have filled their lyrics with. (The rather boring metalcore dressings and generic pop-electro that surround such lyrics also didn’t help.)
I know that absolutely no was out there was expecting Silent Planet levels of deep thought and layered, metaphorical lyrical content from this band, but simply put, this is just bad at worst, contrived at best. The sentiments expressed and the words chosen should match up, yet the latter seriously let down what Wage War/Briton is trying to get across; discussions of personal pressure, feelings of perseverance, mental health issues, and more. So many lines on this album seem like they were written to merely fit the larger rhyming scheme of any given track, rather than the actual meaning behind the actual bloody song. So then every song feels like it was written simply because it just simply had to be written. It’s almost as if they were out of ideas and topics to write about, so some form of imaginary “you” or some fictional “them” was conjured up to be pissed at; the band trying to be relatable so that listeners can take ownership of these new songs and apply them to their own lives and experiences. (Which will no doubt work.) Of course, Wage War has never been the best poets on past releases – some might like that simplicity, though not me – yet the lyricism on ‘Pressure‘ is the laziest it’s ever been.
Dull lines like “I’m trapped in my own skin, this is my prison” (‘Prison‘) and “is it me against myself, I feel like someone else/cause I can’t find my way back home and I don’t wanna do it alone,” (the downright atrocious pop-punk number of ‘Me Against Myself’) plague this record with their lack of genuine emotion. Well, no, hang on I actually do think that these lyrics have meaning to Briton and the band. It’s just how they’re voiced – how they’re conveyed to us as listeners – that misses the mark and makes them sound and feel meaningless. Things could’ve gone a lot further is all I’m saying. As there’s a level of specificity that is just missing here; a level of deeper ideas that’s absent in place of what feels like quite generalized thoughts to appeal to the most basic and broadest market possible. That’s cynical, yes, but it’s laughable when Briton declares that no one knows “low like I do” on ‘Low‘ when so many of their fans connect with what he’s screaming about in Wage War’s music. So yes, people do understand how he feels, as they feel it too, hence why they’re attracted to this bands’ music. It’s not rocket science, guys.
While the majority of the album is softer in tone and genre – seven lighter songs out of 12, to be exact – there are some enjoyable heavy moments too. ‘Ghost‘ is likely going to get crowds circle-pitting at all future gigs, with its massive feet-moving riffage and crushing breakdowns. This track really is sporadic and urgent, like a pre-schooler telling their teacher that they’re about to piss their pants. ‘The Line‘, whilst not an entirely heavy track and featuring little screaming, is easily the standout piece, with its back and forth shifting between their two music extremes of heavy and soft; of metalcore and pop. Seriously, that intro guitar riff will have you fucking hooked! The breakdown is also particularly noteworthy, being stupidly heavy first and foremost, but in also being filled to the brim with weird glitchy electronics that help to draw you in further.
On the flip side, however, there are also less than stellar heavy cuts mixed in with the good ones. Like the wannabe-djent snoozer ‘Prison‘, complete with saccharine singing hooks and millennial whoops, and the outright boring ‘Fury.’ It’s a shame too because the good moments on ‘Pressure‘ are actually solid, but that inadvertently makes the weaker tracks all the more noticeable. So the scales thus tip more towards the negative end.
To me, ‘Pressure’ is a tragic event, as it is a huge missed opportunity for Wage War to create something unique for themselves. The good songs here are great, and you can tell that they could’ve made a great rock/metal album (or a shorter EP) with the new electronic additions. Instead, it all winds up as a confused, contrived, confidence-lacking mess that feels like it’s reluctant to step too far away from its generic metalcore roots. A fantastic example of a band doing just that is Northlane and their masterful new record, ‘Alien.’ With all the problems this new Wage War album has, the good songs (‘Hurt,’ ‘The Line’) are still very much worth a listen. But it leaves me upset that I just cannot say that about the rest of the record. I also do strongly admire the fact that Wage War wished to push themselves in a different direction, and don’t get me wrong, that’s pretty damn cool. More bands should only be so bold in willing to change. But ‘Pressure’ misses the mark entirely for a new, worthy change, instead leaving me with a void that not even a good breakdown can fill.
Who I Am
Me Against Myself
Forget My Name
Take The Fight
Will We Ever Learn
‘Pressure’ is out August 30th.