Sound — 6
10 years is an awful long period to rip out four albums, especially for an alternative group whose first three hit shelves in a five-year span, but 12 Stones have always been categorized as "the underdog" so it should only add to their character, right? The only aspect slightly dimming the Louisiana foursome's "Beneath The Scars" is its first single was released nearly nine months after it's intended street date. The upside however, it strips any expectations of an experimental drive by cushioning each chord structure and bass-heavy rhythm with more systematic power. 12 Stones slide through raging alt rock social commentary ("Infected"), rejuvenating pieces ("Bulletproof") and dated but slick cohesive tempos ("Pyscho") that flex the bicep of their ability to craft modern rock recordings. Where the record slips is where it starts chasing sounds outside of its zone; touching foreign waters is a test that also comes as a price and trying to trap chugging metalcore breaks and soft rock ballads question if 12 Stones can manhandle their grit and maintain stamina instead of tripping into an endurance test they seem to fail by taking breaks between trademarks.
Lyrics — 5
Modern rock has an appeal because of its simplicity - lyrics aren't delicate compositions entwined with wisps of metaphors but are instead bits and pieces straight-from-the-soul ("Join me if you dare / 'Cause we're gonna' leave the rest behind"). Frontman Paul McCoy is a songwriter who's cemented a place in his genre, known for writing with a clear head to deliver a clear purpose, but most of his songwriting on "Beneath The Scars" pushes 12 Stones into a vague pop territory. The group's sound is enough to add a rugged texture to any overflow of words, but it doesn't emphasize McCoy's honesty without flashing a softer undertone ("Don't you point the finger / Your words no longer break me down"). The flux of tides in radio-appreciated music may be the outright cause to the dip in lyricism and singing - as there's no real grip on an alternative voice that makes the hairs on your neck beg for mercy so they can flee - but it shouldn't extinguish effort, or for that matter, progression.
Overall Impression — 6
When you take most of modern rock, radio grunge and whatever else you want to call it (FM alternative) and aggressively mold it into a type of sound you want, it should represent aggression, sweat and naked emotions that bite rather than scratch. For 12 Stones, their five-year span sound comes out as the opposite, questioning is grunge a pop term? Is Pearl Jam really soft because of that solo ukulele album? Are radio-born bands too old to slay with rhythmic paces that use to gruelingly shake the insides of our bedroom walls and splice the outer areas of our eardrums? "Beneath The Scars" unfortunately says yes. The common action to take would be to fold, but if there's a spark to cage back that old magic, then the ideal action to take would be to enter the studio, flip on the amps and explore the innards of distortion and older records. It might just sharpen an old tune.