Sound — 8
In the time since the release of 2005's The Beautiful Lie, 30 Seconds To Mars has experienced some less-than-ideal issues with the record label Virgin/EMI. The company actually sued the band for $30 million over contractual issues, but apparently no bridges were burnt because the trio just released This Is War on the same label. Did that shakeup have a negative effect on the band's music? Not necessarily, but vocalist Jared Leto, drummer Shannon Leto, and guitarist Tomo Milievi seem to have more of a fondness for a synth-driven sound than ever before. There are still big choruses fueled by power chords, but 30 Seconds To Mars are also not afraid to utilize the auto-tuning maestro, Kanye West. Leto obviously still enjoys drama, and in a way that does set a distinct mood for This Is War. Rather than starting things off with a big, catchy song worth of Top 40, the band opts for a dramatic, haunting, and quiet interlude Escape. That particular track is rather brief, and not soon after Night of the Hunter pops up and features 30 Seconds To Mars' trademark monster choruses that allow Leto to belt his heart out. Quite a few songs follow a similar format of building up to a big finish, and it certainly works in this scenario. Things get a little odd in Hurricane, however. A collaboration with The Killers' Brandon Flowers and Kanye West, the song begins like your usual 30 Seconds To Mars material, only to be interrupted by West's auto-tuned vocals. If you're a fan of the T-Pain craze, it probably won't offend your sensibilities too much. But when you look at the song as a whole, the auto-tuning aspect makes little sense except to hop on the trendy bandwagon. It's not to say that 30 Seconds To Mars shouldn't broach the pop genre because the final track, essentially a club version of Night of the Hunter, is one of the best moments on the entire CD. This Is War has some interesting elements, particularly the fact that more often than not, the backing vocals are supplied by fans. You can actually hear parts that sound exactly what you'd expect at a concert sing-along complete with giggling girls at the end. While it's cool on 30 Seconds To Mars' part to include their fans in more of the recording/songwriting process, the huge group backing vocals also tend to grate on your nerves after the fifth time or so.
Lyrics — 8
Leto walks a fine line between being incredibly deep and overly philosophical. There are some heavy lyrics within This Is War, and you have to give the band credit for at least raising a few eyebrows. At times there seems to be a war with spirituality with lyrics like, No matter how many lies I live, I will never regret; There's a fire inside of this heart, about to explode into flames; Where is you God? (Hurricane). In Night of the Hunter the themes are a bit more cryptic, but still mystical in nature (I was born of the womb of a poisonous spell; Beaten and broken and chased from the lair). Leto may be laying it on a bit thick, but he is also reaching beyond the typical lyrical content you might be used to hearing.
Overall Impression — 7
The rock aspect of 30 Seconds To Mars has taken more of a backseat to the pop/emo side, but in many ways that transition feels more fitting of the trio. A good deal of delivery is over the top, and maybe that's to be expected from Leto, who still acts fairly regularly. In the end, there is plenty of thinking outside of the box with song arrangement, but everything is so dramatic that ironically it's hard to take This Is War completely seriously.