Sound — 7
Being one of the many candles of the alternative metal scene that were lit by the influential likes of Tool and Deftones, 10 Years may have been outshined by bigger alt-metal names - whether Three Days Grace, Shinedown, or the sonically synonymous Breaking Benjamin - but it still didn't take away from them burning strong. After two self-released, minor-distribution albums, they would get their big break by signing with Universal Records to release their third studio album, "The Autumn Effect," which hit #1 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart, as well as containing their most popular single, "Wasteland." After the buzz generated from their major label debut, their fourth studio album, "Division," would be their best-selling record.
While their following albums didn't top "Division" in sales, they did top it in terms of energy. Their fifth album, "Feeding the Wolves," had 10 Years shining the spotlight on heavy riffs, faster tempos, and harsh vocals that hearken back to the band's style of their early years. Though this reinvestment in a stronger metal sound may have been the reason the band and Universal Records parted ways, 10 Years would be quick to land on their feet by creating Palehorse Records, their own label imprint with Warner Music Group, to promptly release their sixth album, "Minus the Machine."
Now on their seventh album, "From Birth to Burial," 10 Years are pretty set in their ways with their metal. Their main songwriting tropes return again throughout the album - from the contained bass-driven choruses that bloom into loud metal choruses (see "Vertigo" and "The River") and the 6/8 to 4/4 measurement changes (see "Selling Skeletons" and "Ashes") to the lower-geared ballads (see "Luna" and the hearth-wrenching "Moisture Residue") - but the album does a better job blending these two gears within songs rather than constantly alternating, making for better cohesion. Frontman Jesse Hasek is the only one to throw some curveballs into the formula: he tries out some rap-style vocals akin to Mike Shinoda in the titular opener, though only briefly; and his bona fide harsh vocals, which are still a rare occurrence for 10 Years, make "Triggers and Tripwires" stand out as one of the strongest metal tracks on the album.
Though formula is strongly adhered to in "From Birth to Burial," the rhythm elements of the band are still growing stronger. Basslines continue to be a strong leading and melodic force throughout the album (hitting an impressive apex in "Miscellanea") and Brian Vodinh's drumming touts even more nuanced syncopation and activity, which can both be scene-stealing (like in "Crimson Kiss") and tastefully contained (like in "Survivors?").
Lyrics — 8
Whereas "From Birth to Burial" is pretty fit-to-form musically, more difference is found in the lyrical aspect. Within the past few albums, Hasek's lyrics have gravitated strongly towards haranguing post-modern life and vapid mentalities with strong, pro-Christian undertones, which arguably hit a zenith in "Minus the Machine." Hasek still takes some shots in that same fashion here, but now, religion seems to be in his crosshairs of criticism, as heard in "Triggers and Tripwires" ("Where's your verse, your verb, proverb, lesson learned / Are you out of words, out of time, out of mind?") and even more strongly in "The River" ("In the land of scatterbrains who will lead the way / Chaos comes from the cross / Monetary masquerade / Religious rat race").
However, the main subject matter, and recurring theme, in "From Birth to Burial" bears much more personal weight to it as opposed to earlier records. The opening songs makes a few allusions to Hasek enduring divorce ("There's no loyalty in shooting stars / Just lawyer fees and failure scars," "So say goodbye, you loved me for the night"), and numerous songs throughout the album continue to chronicle the aftermath of heartbreak - from the relationship autopsy of "Vertigo" ("No love and no hate / Just phantom pains / Too soon, too late to amputate") to pining for a return to being recklessly-in-love in "Crimson Kiss" ("Out of our minds / Naïve and younger / Inspiring the hunger inside / Invincible as a lie / Chasing horizon lines to feel alive / Your disease cures me"). Despite the album not bearing a full-blown concept from front to back, symbolism pertinent to this personal topic establishes linearity - the theme of the moon is first established in the brooding spite vented in "Luna" ("I spoke to soon, but you hung the moon / And don't even have a clue"), which then carries over into the love-grieving depression of "Survivors?" ("Lost in the moonlight / You crash into my coast / I'm waiting for your high tide / To wash away my sore-eyed soul"), and the symbolism of being taken by the water reprises in a self-admitted surrender in "Moisture Residue" ("I'd rather sink than swim / Give up, give in, and let the demons win again").
Overall Impression — 7
"From Birth to Burial" may not be making much musical progress for 10 Years or for metal at large, but that doesn't utterly nullify the potency of the album. The band's instrumental muscles still flex impressively - especially in the rhythm department - and a more evocative and personal series of lyrics further helps the album from feeling like a total fold-over of past ideas. "From Birth to Burial" may have its feet planted in the band's comfort zone, but it's still a fairly strong album.