Sound — 5
Chaos theory may not be the most stable method to use for speculation (ironic, huh), but many can agree that had Jonny Craig not been involved with Emarosa, the Kentucky-based band wouldn't be as popular as they are today. Starting out as a metalcore outfit, founding member and vocalist Chris Roetter would leave the band (though he would land on his feet later on with the founding of Like Moths To Flame) and quickly be replaced with Jonny Craig, who had recently split ways with his fame-claiming gig as frontman of Dance Gavin Dance. Craig's style coincided with the post-hardcore direction Emarosa wanted to travel, and Emarosa would garner a sizable fanbase due to Craig's popularity before the release of their debut album, "Relativity." Both "Relativity" and their follow-up self-titled album proved to be worthwhile albums, with the collective post-hardcore talent from the band and Craig's distinct vocal style separating Emarosa from the pack sufficiently. Craig would end up reuniting with Dance Gavin Dance after the release of "Emarosa," but after another episode of his ongoing battle with drug addiction, as well as being caught in an internet scam, Emarosa would cut ties with Craig to distance themselves from his caustic publicity. After an extended period of time touring without a permanent vocalist, Emarosa would take in Bradley Walden, and finally make their third album, "Versus."
Shortly after Emarosa's post-Craig era began, the band told Alternative Press that, in regards to finding a new vocalist, they weren't looking for a "Jonny 2.0," but within the first few tracks of "Versus" (especially the elongated ending note on "A Hundred Crowns"), it's pretty clear that Walden is contorting himself to properly fill in the Craig-shaped hole in Emarosa's lineup; however, there's nothing wrong with that, and in fact, it may have been for the best. Like Chiodos circa "Illuminaudio," where Brandon Bolmer's vocals emulated their original vocalist, Craig Owens (who was also kicked out for being a loose cannon - what is it with the name Craig?), Walden's similar vocal performance to Jonny Craig's keeps "Versus" from a jarring difference in sound that - employing chaos theory again- could have otherwise affected the album adversely.
Though the case of the replacement vocalist ended on a good note, "Versus" ends up having trouble in general with its sound. The opening "People Like Me, We Just Don't Play" taps into the energetic spirit found in Emarosa's previous works, with Walden's erratic "ahh, f--k it" beckoning a spontaneous shift from the lighter verse riff into a stronger - albeit stock - post-hardcore section, but the energy overall in "Versus" is lacking, and that's due to Emarosa's post-hardcore bite being lost. Instead, Emarosa opt to dive into softer sections more often this time around where the delicate verses in "A Hundred Crowns," "I'll Just Wait," "But You Won't Love a Ghost," and "Say Hello to the Bad Guy" crest into louder choruses, but those delicate parts don't conjure worthwhile intrigue, and those crests don't boast anything remarkable, and would be considered shrug-worthy on "Emarosa" and disposable on "Relativity." The lead guitar melodies in "American Déjà Vu," "Cliff Notes" and "1996 on Bevard" help these songs rise above the previously mentioned songs, but they're interchangeable with one another, which further points to the formulaic problem that hangs above "Versus" like a dark cloud. Only does the penultimate track "Same Tight Rope" captivate with its distinctiveness, where its subdued nature drawing you in closely to display beautiful blooms of glittering tremolo lines and synth swells - but even with Emarosa properly hitting the nail on the head with this song, it also begs the question why it took them so many more boring attempts at lower-gear composing to get it right.
Lyrics — 6
Emarosa's lyrics have always been fueled with depicting relationship issues, and while the debut "Relativity" laid that groundwork, "Emarosa" upped the ante with a loose concept and callbacks to its predecessor. In "Versus," Emarosa once again go back to that well of subject matter, drawing up another arching concept of a toxic relationship where the narrator understands his incendiary faults will make his relationship with his partner fall apart, yet struggles between ending things for the well-being of both of them and staying in this relationship that will ultimately be destructive. But just like the narrator's feelings being stretched in two opposite directions, the lyrical value of "Versus" may leave listeners with ambivalence. On one hand, the full-spanning storyline throughout the album has a stronger cohesion than the one in "Emarosa"; but on the other hand, the lyrics feel very similar to earlier Emarosa lyrics, essentially harping about the same thing in the same way, and in the numerous cases of lyrical themes that echo from previous albums (from the often-occurring scenes of lying in bed to the losing of faith), they come off more like bouts of unwitting repetition rather than coordinated motifs.
Overall Impression — 5
While Emarosa handled their vocalist situation with grace (and frankly, it doesn't seem like they'll ever need Craig anymore), "Versus" ends up being a stumble in the band's career that goes beyond the lack of Craig's presence. While the intention of spending more time in lower gears on "Versus" isn't universally damning, the overall restraint shown on the album highlights the fact that the post-hardcore roughness of Emarosa has been declawed, and unfortunately, the band doesn't fill in that void with anything really worthwhile. On its own, "Versus" comes off as trite, and in comparison to Emarosa's previous albums, "Versus" comes off as lackluster. All in all, "Versus" is the least exciting Emarosa album thus far.