Sound — 6
Whether you look at its initial impact years ago, how it still holds up today, or how it established a template for modern metalcore to be more melodic and pop-influenced (for better or for worse), A Day To Remember's "Homesick" was the seminal record that shot the band into the pantheon of American contemporary punk/metal. But even though they had reached new heights that they wouldn't come down from anytime soon (with the following "What Separates Me From You" more or less cruising on the newly-gained momentum), ADTR hit a crippling snag when a lawsuit broke out between them and Victory Records (the label they were signed to at the time) as they were gearing up to release their fifth album. They would eventually break away from Victory's grip in 2013 and self-release that fifth album, "Common Courtesy," which, by the huge publicity and anticipation that the lawsuit brought to it, benefited immensely as being a testament to bands going fully independent and being beholden to no label.
Continuing this newfound independence, ADTR's sixth album, "Bad Vibrations," attempts to spin a number of plates to mixed avail. Most noticeably is an effort to reinforce the band's metalcore base, which had been shrinking gradually in their previous two albums that invested more in a pop punk direction. With songs like "Justified," "Same About You" and "Turn Off the Radio" wielding the general ADTR pop metalcore sound, ADTR come out guns blazing in the heavy-chugging eponymous opener, the speedy "Paranoia," the melodeath-influenced "Exposed," or the instrumental onslaught that erupts in the middle of "Reassemble." At face value, this may be a welcome re-calibration for those who liked the band's sound in their early years, but ADTR overshoot the mark in this quest for heaviness. Along with the breakdown in "Bullfight" being a model example of how putting too much shit in a breakdown only encumbers it, nearly every breakdown in the album contains those overwroughtly-produced boom drops utilized by grandiose metalcore contemporaries like The Word Alive and Chelsea Grin; a shallow trick for stronger energy that ADTR never needed to lean on in previous albums.
The other problem with the resurgence of sonic heaviness in "Bad Vibrations" is that it clashes with the album's other goal of tending to its pop sensibilities. Still wanting to craft some pop punk cuts, ADTR throw back from the contemporary pop punk sound this time around, with "Naivety" echoing a more traditional pop punk sound akin to Descendents (the fact that Descendents' own Bill Stevenson produced the album makes it all the more uncanny), and "We Got This" similarly styled to the likes of Blink-182 with its perky tempo and humble piano melody at the bridge - leaving the choice to appreciate or chastise these emulations to one's own discretion, it doesn't mesh well with the aforementioned handful of songs that swing for the fences of utmost aggression. But playing the role of a rousing closer well, the final "Forgive and Forget" escalates the melodic righteousness with every chorus, and the light verses sparsely decorated with gentle guitars and modest violin melodies make a good case for how one doesn't need to worry about making compositional elements as big as possible in order to make them count - if only that could be said for the aforementioned metalcore aspects of the album.
Lyrics — 7
Covering conflicts on a number of levels, Jeremy McKinnon's lyrics in "Bad Vibrations" parses through a plethora of negative feelings in attempt to identify, understand, and ultimately overcome them. The handful of songs dealing with extrinsic conflicts are more cut-and-dried by comparison, whether it be the growing rift in a relationship in "Same About You" and the similarly-themed need for closure in a relationship in "Forgive and Forget," the perpetual discordance that political differences create in "Exposed," and the religious commentary haranguing the sanctimonious in "Justified."
The songs dealing with intrinsic conflicts, however, shine brighter, whether due to them bearing more of a relatable quality to them, or because there's a better sense of resolution. With the opening stretch of songs dealing with mental afflictions like anxiety and stress (in "Bad Vibrations" and "Paranoia"), as well as a pining for the simpler times of carefree youth (in "Naivety"), McKinnon offers more light at the end of the tunnel in the "lean on me" appeal to community in "Bullfight," a message of hope to counteract the hopelessness that addiction manifests in "Reassemble," and of course, a love letter to the collective misfits that make up the metalcore scene a supportive and beautiful thing in "We Got This."
Overall Impression — 6
There's a lingering ambivalence to the intended direction - and consequently, the total output - of "Bad Vibrations." Whereas their previous album was crafted in an attempt to pivot even further towards commercial accessibility, the reinvestment in heavy metalcore elements goes hand in hand with ADTR's newfound status of true independence. But from its ham-handed efforts to sound heavier than their last few albums, as well as wanting to tend to its pop sensibilities just as strongly, ADTR's ambitious desire of capturing the best of both aggressive and pop-friendly worlds teeters precariously in "Bad Vibrations," rather than striking a cohesive balance that they found in "Homesick" or "What Separates Me From You."