Sound — 5
Normally with metal bands led by a frontwoman, their sound revolves around a more melody-appreciating power that can complement the voice, oftentimes along the lines of symphonic metal (a la Epica, Lacuna Coil, or Within Temptation); though in rare cases, frontwomen have also shown to be formidable screamers/growlers (e.g. Walls of Jericho, Holy Moses, Kittie). In This Moment, however, decided to balance both tropes in their metal with their frontwoman, Maria Brink, which grabbed the attention of Ozzy Osbourne's bassist Rob Nicholson to take them under his wing as a manager, and helped get them a record deal with Century Records no more than a year after their formation.
After the release of their 2007 debut album, "Beautiful Tragedy," things would ascend smoothly for In This Moment; including being involved in a plethora of notable tours and festivals, and having their follow-up albums, 2008's "The Dream" and 2010's "A Star-Crossed Wasteland," properly expanding on the band's capabilities. Even after the band parted with Nicholson, they kept their momentum, and their 2012 album, "Blood," would end up being their most successful album to date, which would lead to In This Moment signing a new deal with the colossal Atlantic Records.
Now, with their debut album underneath the major record label, and fifth album overall, "Black Widow," In This Moment claim to have made their most unique album yet, and at face value, that's an accurate way to describe it. With "Black Widow" further traveling towards a more industrial/electronica-influenced metal sound that they were dabbling with previously in "Blood," there's a lot more emphasis on the synthetic melodies and beats and less emphasis on the conventional metal instruments - though the lead single off the album, "Sick Like Me," shows otherwise, being the only track that strongly banks on the band's former metalcore style. But for the most part, guitars and drums play more of a supporting role to the legion of synthesizers, drum machines, and post-production effects (i. E. Lots of stutter effect), so don't expect a similar display of instrumental acrobatics found in "A Star-Crossed Wasteland" on this album.
Though it's indeed a significantly new sound for In This Moment, in the grand scheme of things, it's easy to tell what/who is inspiring this new sound. If the overwhelming trend of injecting trap music elements into all kinds of music (yes, metal included) in the past year or so wasn't what inspired the 808-filled verses of "Sex Metal Barbie," then you could also tie that styling back to Mindless Self Indulgence and what they were doing back when they released "Frankenstein Girls Will Seem Strangely Sexy" over a decade ago. "Big Bad Wolf" emulates Celldweller's style of industrial metal, while the following track "Dirty Pretty" not only bears a Marilyn Manson sound, but the rough and swingy guitar riff and the low and throaty vocals unabashedly calls back to one of Manson's most recognizable tunes, "The Beautiful People." Even the old-timey sampling used in "Black Widow" is more or less taking a page out of Rob Zombie's book.
Then, of course, are the expected ballad tracks on "Black Widow" that showcase In This Moment's softer side, which thankfully hasn't been lost, but conjures some hits and misses. Brent Smith of Shinedown makes an appearance to duet with Brink on the power ballad "Sexual Hallucination," and while it may not top "The Promise," the duet Brink did with Adrian Patrick of Otherwise on "A Star-Crossed Wasteland," it still satisfies. "The Fighter" also has Brink in good form, as well as developing a more orchestral feel for the power ballad, with Brink playing the piano which is backed by string arrangements. But the band end up flying too close to the sun of theatrics with the final bout of the album - the penultimate dialogue track "Into the Darkness" comes off like an overwrought project for drama school, which ushers in the final ballad "Out of Hell," where the minimalist formula of the lone piano is cluttered by Brink's flighty vocals and some ham-handed samples of city sound effects.
Lyrics — 6
With the album title referring to the deadly nature of the female black widow spider, the primary theme found in the lyrics of "Black Widow" has Brink playing the independent femme fatale card stronger than in any other In This Moment album; though the choice to really commit to this by the fifth album seems like odd timing, seeing as Brink has always held that image since the band's beginning. Nonetheless, the theme runs strong here, though it also runs into repetition: Brink's one-finger salute to the judgmental haters she's amassed and suffered through in "Sex Metal Barbie" echoes again in "Natural Born Sinner," as well as her self-description as a dangerous anti-role model in "Sex Metal Barbie" also echoing in "Bloody Creature Poster Girl."
Along with the repetition, there are some conflicts in messages that make the album's lyrics not fit perfectly: the fatal attraction fantasy in "Black Widow" bears the context of unapologetic control over whomever Brink captivates, but the similar fatal attraction narrative in "Sick Like Me" expresses a mutual sadomasochistic relationship; and even though "The Fighter" has Brink expressing her independence stronger than ever before (definitely being the best track on the album lyrically), that message gets immediately contrasted in "Bones," where Brink confesses her dependence towards someone close to her that passed away. The boldness and strength Brink broadcasts throughout the album is commendable overall, but the stumbles are evident.
Overall Impression — 5
The most admirable thing about "Black Widow" is the ambition that fueled its creation. It's easy to tell that with In This Moment grasping the higher rungs of the ladder in recent years, they wanted to create a show-stopping album. As the stepping towards a more electronic rock sound has the band stepping away from delivering impressive instrumental work found in their earlier albums, it's only replaced with over-the-top production and no captivating experimentation expected of bands that urge to travel outside of their conventional bounds; even worse, it copies this "different sound" from more influential bands without much expansion. In attempt to make their biggest album yet, "Black Widow" ends up being a lot of sizzle and no steak.