Sound — 5
With other post-hardcore bands like Glassjaw, Finch and Saosin falling apart into indefinite hiatuses or worse on such short notice, the fact that Escape The Fate is still running after what the band has been through is pretty surprising (making their band name quite apt). Of course, the biggest color detail of the band is how founding members Ronnie Radke and Max Green were somehow involved in the death of an 18-year-old, resulting in Radke ultimately going to prison for the crime while Green continued to operate the band by getting Craig Mabbitt to play the role of vocalist (much to Radke's contention). Green eventually left the band for his own out-of-hand debauchery, and with the founding lead guitarist Monte Money leaving the band recently, the only tenured members left are Mabbitt and founding drummer Robert Ortiz. Again, how they've managed to float throughout this time is a bit astounding.
Aside from the lineup changes and sensational drama, Escape The Fate's sound has also gone through a ringer of expectations throughout the years. After hitting the bulls-eye of emocore with their debut album, "Dying Is Your Latest Fashion," the band would take a sharp turn into more of a pop punk/hard rock territory in 2008's "This War Is Ours," spurring outcries from many critics and listeners who rued the change in style. This schism within their listenership has resulted in Escape The Fate continuing an ambivalent juggling act between retaining their emocore roots and continuing in a pop rock/metal lane. After their heavily-produced, genre-dabbling self-titled album in 2010, 2013's "Ungrateful" sought to try threading the needle between their heavy side and poppy side, with production duties being split between Monte Money and Atreyu's Brandon Saller, and renowned rock producer John Feldmann, but with lukewarm reception, it didn't succeed in its mission.
On their fifth album, "Hate Me," Escape The Fate are still wrestling with this duality of being both heavy and pop-friendly, pulling harder from both sides. With the chug-happy opener of "Just a Memory" and the obsessive pinch harmonics in "Les Enfants Terribles" being stronger metalcore efforts than what has appeared in the band's last few albums, their pop rock side also antes up even further into the simple grandeur of arena rock, heard in the elementary riffs in "Live for Today," the anthem-desperate singalong in "Remember Every Scar," the stomp-clap section in "Get Up, Get Out," and the dubtstep-tinged eponymous song. Yet in this increased strength of those two poles, much of the middle ends up being stuff heard before, quite noticeably - the swingy muted strums in the industrial metal cut "I Won't Break" derives from the "Escape The Fate" song "Zombie Dance," the verse riff in "Remember Every Scar" feels like a lighter variation of "The Aftermath (The Guillotine Part III)," and the acoustic-to-power ballad closer "Let Me Be" conjures the same saccharine vibe as the penultimate "This War Is Ours" song "Harder Than You Know," with the cheesiness increased threefold.
On a redeeming note, the band's new lead guitarist Kevin "Thrasher" Gruft acts as a saving grace to an extent - being a formidable replacement for Monte Money, his solos breathe some much-needed skill into "Alive" and even more so in the 4/4-to-3/4 measurement switch in "Breaking Me Down." But even though Gruft sufficiently fills this hole of lead guitar duties, other guitar bouts of his in "Hate Me" end up being emulations of Money from earlier ago, like the opening neoclassical tapping riff in "Just a Memory" being a similar opening burst as the "Ungrateful" song "Live Fast, Die Beautiful"; yet another reminder that "Hate Me" suffers from dishing out things already dished out before.
Lyrics — 5
With the more prominent pop rock flavor in "Hate Me," Mabbitt's lyrical pen follows along with efforts that are much more positive and uplifting. But though the "beaten and bruised but still persevering" messages in "Alive" and "I Won't Break" align with each other well, the positive messages in "Live for Today" and "Remember Every Scar" fundamentally clash with each other (the former promoting letting go of past grief and savoring the moment in front of you, and the latter advocating to never let go of that past grief in order to fuel yourself). Other uplifting lyrics substitute the warm positivity with spitting aggression, like in "Just a Memory" and "Hate Me," but the forceful uprising in "Les Enfants Terribles" is a depiction that's nearly the same as that in the "This War Is Ours" opener "We Won't Back Down."
Overall Impression — 5
In Escape The Fate's continued search for their ideal dual-wielding of pop-friendly metal and unrelenting metalcore, the face value of "Hate Me" shows a strengthening between those two poles substantially, which, if not ham-handedly, gets the job done to a certain point. But the big fault in "Hate Me" is not Escape The Fate failing to truly nail the perfect balance, but that their continuous efforts towards this goal renders the album paddling in circles, with many moments sounding the same as their previous albums. Balance may still be a thing Escape The Fate wish to conquer, but with the escalating staleness and blandness heard in "Hate Me," striving for freshness ought to be their new priority.