For Fans Of
I sometimes think that a lot of heavy music lovers forget that their favourite bands don’t just listen to metal, that their tastes are often more diverse. Just because a band started out playing a certain style of music, that doesn’t mean it’s all that they like nor all that they wish to be known for as artists. The Devil Wears Prada’s latest record, the enigmatic LP that is ‘The Act,’ is a great example of precisely this. (Vocalist Mike Hranica is a big post-metal fan, like Cult Of Luna and so on.) It has its heavier, grittier metalcore moments, yet it’s the most experimental LP of the band’s entire discography. As emotive, alt-rock moods and punishing metalcore sections dynamically bleed over glitchy electronics, sampled voices, churning LFOs, with some of the most melodic moments of their entire career, and everything else in-between. Similar to Issues latest, this is a leap of faith for the band; a weird, different but exciting record that shows their sound evolving.
Now 14 years in, The Devil Wear Prada is truly existing in a golden-era as a band. Ever since 2010’s ‘Dead Throne‘ proved that they can work and play harder than the Myspace-era metalcore scene they’d been birthed from, they’ve been creating their best and most ambitious works. 2013’s ‘8:18‘? A solid deep cut. 2015’s ‘Space‘ EP? A killer little EP a la ‘Zombie.’ And 2016’s ‘Transit Blues‘? A bold career highlight that resulted in one of their most compelling songs: ‘Daughter.’ It’s crazy to think that ten years ago, TDWP was crabbing along to tracks like ‘Danger: Wildman.’ Their trajectory musically in the years since is rare and so interesting, and it pains me to see close-minded listeners not giving them a chance because of the dated style of their earlier records. But there’s honestly no better time than now to re-discover them and see what they’ve been creating lately. As The Devil Wears Prada’s growth over the last decade has seen them continue to barrel forward into unexpected artistry, especially with ‘The Act.’ This album really is leaps and bounds ahead of anything the band did on 2007’s ‘Plagues,’ and I think it’ll age better than any of their earlier releases too.
Just as the albums front cover art misleadingly infers a brutal death metal record yet is anything but, the music here does something similar in subverting expectations: it keeps you guessing, more so than anything else they’ve been thought capable of previously. The Devil Wears Prada is turning over an experimental leaf with shades of metalcore, post-hardcore, and post-metal but also butt loads of electronica. Produced and polished up by keyboardist/programmer, Jonathan Gering, and with these tracks coming from songwriting ideas originally mapped out on the piano (hence the heavy usage of piano), ‘The Act‘ leads with a vastly different sonic characteristic than it’s predecessors. It’s its own thing; never once sounding concerned with giving people more of the same.
In a way, it’s almost like a live album. If you think of the band’s 2018 Audiotree performance where they opened with their awesome rendition of Julien Baker’s ‘Sour Breath,’ that’s the direction that this new record fits into. And that’s for the better! The dry, snappy drums sound real, the guitars and synths blend seamlessly, and the human nature of the vocal performances are raw and aren’t hiding anything. It feels like you’re standing right there in the room with the five-piece as they rip through this new batch. The way the album is mixed and how every piece of their sonic puzzle sits comfortably into the space of these songs is so well-matched – inviting, even. It’s still “produced,” as it still has its over-dubs, but there’s this in-the-moment quality – a dire urgency – that TDWP has wonderfully captured here. There’s often so much going on with this records ebb and flow, and it demands keen-eared attention.
This album runs the gamut of sounds and moods. Opener ‘Switchblade‘ is a melting-pot track: TDWP teeing up everything they’re trying here. It’s got that metallic edge of their hardcore/metalcore parts, but also has the samples and weirder electronics that they explore on the remaining tracks. ‘Wave Of Youth‘ blends a slow-burning hardcore stomp with gloomy post-rock layers, with real chemistry between the dual-vocal relationship of Mike and guitarist/co-vocalist Jeremy DePoyster. Add in some subtle tremolo and keys, and its one of the eeriest songs TDWP has to their name. Apparently inspired by Nelson Algren’s Never Come Morning novel, written about mid-20th century Chicago, ‘Please Say No‘ hinges on a moody, hypnotic sample set under Mike’s narrative-driven, pained screams, before giving way to this low-key, numbing rock refrain that’s as romantic as it is moving. It’s a vocally and instrumentally in-sync piece, where post-metal guitar leads hit like a tsunami of feelings alongside the perfectly matched vocals.
Splattered with piano and a great pop-vocal lead, ‘Chemical‘ draws out heavy emotional responses with exceptional tension-and-release songwriting and structural pay-offs; something that many other songs here, like ‘Lines Of Your Hands‘ and ‘Spiderhead‘ achieve just as well. That balancing of various sounds and moods fits ‘Chemical‘ as a song so well, as it’s about a chemical imbalance in one’s brain that brings about depression; about how one comes to grow with themselves and learn about how their mind operates. And TDWP as a unit has also learned precisely how to nail songs like this. Elsewhere, ‘Numb‘ sees their heart-on-your-sleeve, vivid lyricism and poppier, catchier sides morph and twist with darker, heavier shades: a balance they’re scarily on-top of across this LP.
The biggest experiment here is ‘Isn’t It Strange.’ With blaring distorted synths, electro-drums, breathy vocal samples, and synth pads conjuring up this bi-polar soundscape that encases Mike’s unhinged screaming with Jeremy interjecting at various points over striking piano chords. It’s such a bizarre, interesting track, reminding me a lot of Crystal Lake’s ‘Just Confusing‘ except actually good. ‘Diamond Lost‘ reminds me of the closer from Underoath’s ‘Erase Me‘, ‘I Gave Up‘: like TDWP’s take on bleak alt-rock but with an added ominous touch where something doesn’t quite feel right, drawing you back in. The youthful, rock-kicking imagery behind the reverie lyricism of ‘As Kids‘ explodes with walls of distortion and heavy instrumental layers; a volcanic musical revelation that fittingly reflects the revelatory lyrical thoughts of self-criticism and larger perspective that one is only granted in adulthood after the passing of time. ‘Even Though‘ is a story of “what if?“, where hefty vocal build-ups between Mike and Jeremy leads a driving post-hardcore tune that shifts over giant guitars and tide-crashing instrumentals; maintaining intimacy and dynamic in its finale.
Of course, if you want that gravelly, raw metalcore sound from TDWP, then ‘The Thread‘ will be your go-to track. Mike’s venomous screams reveal he’s still got plenty of range, the big-ass low chugs hit hard, and the soaring choruses lead by Jeremy (who gives his best singing performances to date on this album) makes for the classic Prada of old, only now heard through the lens of their current, updated iteration. It’s a gutsy track where the old and new collide in glorious fashion, and it’s one of the record’s strongest moments.
You can also hear the sheer urgency of the record with the galloping punk-rock refrains of ‘Lines Of Your Hands,’ where a love-sick chorus details a lover’s journey, with strong scene-setting lyrical metaphors of routines, houses, and moons. ‘Lines Of Your Hands‘ best exemplifies TDWP’s dynamic as a band of late, with Mike’s raw screams tugging the track forward in the verses as dark guitar figures and synths swirl around steady beats, leading into earth-shaking breakdowns and bridges. Couple that with adept story-telling and concise word-choices, and this is a new gem for TDWP.
Then, the final drop C breakdown on ‘Spiderhead‘ is honestly one of the finest sections of music TDWP has ever cut. But not because of it just being a solid breakdown, but because of how it’s been spliced with other ideas. It really is one of biggest “oh shit” moments of the entire record. The engulfing mixture of glitchy electronics with jagged riffs and lurching drums is such a powerhouse move. It almost begets what ‘Switchblade‘ hinted at earlier as the opener, and the surface-bubbling chorus that follows right afterward is one of their best yet. This is how you end a record, nerds.
‘The Act’ is a grower, not a shower; a fucking weird album that’ll most likely take people repeat listens to truly “get,” yet I think that it’s worth the investment. It certainly took me a few listens to understand it. The Devil Wears Prada have come so far as a band this decade, and ‘The Act’ is the freshest culmination of their evolution and experimentation. It’s a bold artistic statement from a group who ten years ago were chugging along aimlessly as their vocalist screeched “I know a ghost!” It shows how far artists like TDWP can go when there’s real conviction behind their own sense of progress – no half measures. ‘The Act’ has so much going for it; it’s different, weird, heavy and melodic, and somehow, amazingly, still The Devil Wears Prada at its core. This is the sound of maturity, creativity, and urgency. Whilst some may yearn for the older metalcore sound of ‘Plagues’ or ‘With Roots Above, Branches Below’, I say bollocks to that. TDWP has been carving out a new peak since ‘Dead Throne’ hit and I certainly don’t want to see them reverting to older sounds for the sake of a petty throwback reference. ‘The Act’ will probably divide older and newer fans alike, but honestly, the most interesting art often does.
- Lines Of Your Hands
- Wave Of Youth
- Please Say No
- The Thread
- Isn’t It Strange
- Diamond Lost
- As Kids
- Even Though
‘The Act’ is out now.