'Villain' is a record that's written for fans and haters alike. Loved the last few Attila albums and just want more? Boom, here ya go! Loathe their metalcore/deathcore/white-gangsta crossover sound and every single word that comes out of Chris Fronzak's big mouth? This will fuel your dislike for them even further. Attila are truly a band that thrives off not just the praise they receive from fans, but any slither of hate or controversy that comes their way - warranted or not. Their success and name in heavy music this past decade has really made them the poster kids for the old saying: "any publicity is good publicity". However, for someone who's really in the middle about this band, I honestly feel that it's hard to get too worked up about 'Villain', or even become somewhat invested in it, for a couple of reasons.
Nearly everything this band does is clearly over-exaggerated that it's difficult for anything here to feel properly offensive, edgy or confronting. I've interviewed Fronz before and he was quite the polite and professional interviewee. This is something I've heard from other writers in regards to their conversations with the frontman. He's had his loud-mouthed moments online and his in-person lash outs, for sure, but he's often a courteous enough guy and a smart business man too, from what I hear. (The successes of Stay Sick Recordings and Attila are proof of that last part.) I know people who have met him at shows and have been surprised by his calmer demeanour, compared to what they see of him on-stage and in their music videos. On top of that, I also know some people who have worked with him in the studio and have had nothing but good things to share when speaking about their experiences with him and his level of professionalism. (Huh, it's almost like most of this is just a persona or something. Crazy.)
So, with all of that in mind, when I hear an album like 'Villain' - featuring equally lame and silly songs like 'Still About It', 'New Addiction', 'It Is What It Is' (the worst phrase in human history), 'Blackout' and the title track - it's hard to a) take it seriously and b) feel like any of it is genuine, in any sort of sense. Much like this entire band's career-long shtick, this is just intentionally over-the-top douchebaggery for the sheer sake of it; all written for the laughs and their faux-obnoxious image. Nothing more, nothing less. Which results in my general response towards this new Attila LP being a tamed shoulder shrug.
That, and the fact that it's literally just another paint-by-numbers Attila album. Absolutely expect the expected here. Because along with a few pitched-screams in 'Subhuman' and 'Bad Habits', as well as some occasional electronic percussion, 'Villain' is just the typical nu-metal-tinged, metalcore-deathcore experience from Fronz and co. On one hand, it's a mere continuation of what they've been doing since 'About That Life' (2013), right on through to 'Guilty Pleasures' (2014) as well as 'Chaos' (2016). On the other hand, a lot of it's also just eerie chords and dissonant intervals set over big chugging breakdowns, clearly taking influence from Emmure's last album, the killer 'Look At Yourself' LP (2017). Which is amusing given the supposed beef between Fronz and Frankie Palmeri. Yet 'Look At Yourself' is indeed the superior release, in not just songs, but in lyricism and emotional maturity too. But I digress.
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The fast transitions into the odd blast beat section are all there, as are Chris Linck's booming drop B guitars and quick pinches, as well as the band's archetypal breakdown executions. The edited, higher-octave guitar melodies placed over their core-loving sounds are all present and accounted for. It's not terrible; it's fine, it's functional. Yet it's never really anything that gripping or interesting. No matter how many times they throw in a guitar solo, electronic elements, or even some "whoa-oh" sing-alongs (see the 'Bad Habits' chorus) or more ominous instrumental passages (like the bridge in 'Subhuman'.) Again, for the most part, it's their usual groove-focused metalcore mixed with nu-metal licks and deathcore parts. All with huge amounts of wax-lyrical towards "lit" parties, casual female objectification, being called "daddy", acting like a "VIP", and various forms of hedonism and shit-talking lyricism that are the group's norm. Yet it's all so try-hard that it has no impact, as you can see right through it. Of course, if you fully understand the act, and only care about the music, then more power to ya!
Fronz's vocals are a massive factor in the sound and appeal of Attila. Love him or hate him, the dude's got some raw fucking talent! I don't think anyone can dispute that. While there's seldom any substance to the words he spits, Fronz does have a strong rhythmic flow to his vocal delivery, and his syncopation with the instrumentals (like on 'Blackout') are well done. His lower growls are super heavy, and they haven't lost their weight over the years; he's really maintained his range and ability. His rapid “super-duper-trooper-booper-cooper” scream-rapping props up occasionally; a signature Attila trait. Even when he's doing a David Draiman-esque vocalisation at the start of 'Toxic', he's got one of the most distinctive voices in the scene today. Because when you hear him do a guest feature for another band, you know it's him instantly without even checking the song credits. Although, his more aggro mid-range yells on this record do make him sound like a pissed-off, yee-hawing cowboy who just stubbed his toe really hard. Which just makes me chuckle every time they come up.
On a positive note, the mix and production of 'Villain' is polished; it's tight sonically and clean-sounding throughout, never once feeling too sterile. Plus, you can distinctly make out Kalan Blehm's bass lines during each song; a bonus for any band of this ilk. Another small mercy is that their cringier joke songs of late, like 'Callout 2' and 'Pizza', aren't included here. That's a win, not having glorified meme tracks clog up this record any further. Then again, it is a bit weird on my part to talk about the positives of an album due to what it lacks, rather than what it actually contains, so do with that shinfo what you will.
What's perhaps most frustrating thing about this new Attila record is that we get these smaller glimpses of a more personal, honest Attila. Well, right before their usual lyrical gimmicks come back around to snuff out those more interesting moments, that is. Personally, I'd love to see Fronz really open up more in their music on future records; becoming more forthcoming with his lyrics. Not just as a frontman, but as a person too. As we only get bits and pieces here on 'Villain'.
On 'Toxic', he rages about either an ex-partner, former friend, or an old business colleague - it's never made abundantly clear which - and how that person was, at the song's name suggests, highly toxic. So he cut them out of his life due to their bullshit. During 'Manipulate', he screams about wanting to make the target of this song bleed the way that they first made him hurt; to put it all back on them. There's even some hints of self-loathing on the darkened breakdown-fest that is album opener 'Perdition' ("I destroy every single thing I touch"), as well as the semi-self-aware 'Bad Habits' too. And with 'Subhuman', via some slightly more melodic pitched-screams, he shares that "My demons sing me to sleep/I'm way too fucked to feel a thing." It's never super deep or overly emotional, but there is a more introspective side to Fronz, and it's a shame that that wasn't excavated any further for this album. As it would've hit so much harder if that was the case. Because if Fronz is the supposedly troubled "villain" that this record is trying to paint him as, it didn't go far enough in communicating that, with things maybe getting too caught up in the band's own gimmick and aesthetic.
Look, if someone like Ronnie Radke can put out a record like 'Coming Home' (2017), an actually emotionally mature LP that had no white-boy rapping, zero tongue-in-cheek attitudes, and contained equally solid and palpable songs, then Attila can surely do so too. Even Whitechapel, a deathcore band who once wrote songs about hacking up women during 'The Somatic Defilement' days (2007), are now about to release their deepest and most personal record yet with 'The Valley', so surely Attila can do even half of that. Fingers crossed the act will one day drop and a deeper, better record will arrive.
When it comes to 'Villain', it's kinda hard to get into it knowing full-well about this band's put-on image and their intentionally obnoxious act. It's also simultaneously difficult to condemn or trash it, when it's at it's very worst, just fine and functional. Because those are precisely the highly-opinionated reactions that Attila have thrived off for so long. Back when 'Rage' (2010), 'Outlawed' (2011) and even 'About That Life' dropped, those extreme opposite responses helped made them be the band they are now, giving them the platform that they currently posses. Even so, now it all just feels even more forced and tacky; sometimes giving us real glimpses behind the partying-loving tough-guy persona before closing off to that honesty completely. If I sounded uncaring or disinterested in this review at times, it's because it's hard to care about the album in any strong way; hence the mid-range score. Because on the end, as my above album summary indicated, all that this new Attila record ever truly elicits from me is a mere shrug of the shoulders. Depending on the kind of humour you enjoy, the heavy music that you like, and how much of Fronz you can stomach, your mileage may severely vary with 'Villain'.
'Villain' is out now.