Sound — 7
When I first read on Ultimate Guitar.com a while back the KSE article that mentioned their choice for a self-titled album, it threw me off; however, it made me curious and all the more interested when they said it was time for a "brand new start". So I was all for it. A couple weeks back, "Starting Over" premiered on Headbangers Ball, and for the most part, I was happy. Yeah the guitars seemed a bit simplistic compared to their past efforts, but the song itself was catchy and Howard was actually screaming in the music video. So I had hopes, decently sized hopes for that matter. I recently got my pre-ordered special edition copy with the special silkscreened poster and shirt (great job MikeD). After listening to all the tracks, I came down to this conclusion: the music itself is extremely catchy, big sounding, and melodic, some of the tracks bring back the energy that End of Heartache possessed (holy crap, BREAKDOWNS!?), and it also showcases the best vocal takes that Howard Jones has done in his whole career (clean and screaming). However, I feel that the direction taken by the band is a bit too drastic a split from their particular style. The music arrangements are, all and all, too simplified and (ugh here it comes) traditional; it's almost like they went from metal to heavy rock at some points. Comparing the riffing to The End of Heartache to even Alive or Just Breathing, the music has become too minimalist with riff content and ideas. Though I completely commend Howard's right to use whatever vocals he wants with his music, it just doesn't work so well with this, maybe even KSE in general despite the vocals sounding great. All and all, the music seems to take away from what KSE was originally all about. This album doesn't deserve a bad grade, but it's definitely nothing stellar.
Lyrics — 6
Throughout his whole career with KSE, Howard always stayed true to the original optimistic and upbeat messages that Jesse Leach tried to push forward in the first self titled and Alive or Just Breathing, while of course putting in his own touch with tracks such as "The End of Heartache" and "The Arms of Sorrow". However, my biggest fault with Howard is that most of his motivational songs (if you will) always seemed to have multiple lyrical similarities with all the other motivational songs. To all you other KSE fans and lyrical buffs out there, I'm sure you've noticed the same thing. For example, how many times have you heard the phrases "never falter" or "no surrender"? The truth is this: plenty! Also, another pet peeve about Howard's writing is in his personal lyrics, they always seem to center around the themes of heartache and loneliness. I mean, do I really need to list the number of heartache-based songs he wrote? And with almost the same wording!? However, these lyrical faults seem to be overlooked due to Howard's absolutely stunning vocal performances. So that's not too much of a problem, I suppose. With this new album, the band mentioned a more "dark and personal" approach to things, which I was all right with because every band needs to try something new every now and then. However, I find that the lyrics are, for the most part, okay and nothing special. 01.Nothing Left: Nothing Left was all and all, the biggest surprise I've had from this album. It was heavy as BALLS for KSE, had sick breakdown-like grooves, good sense of melody, and Howard sounded awesome. I really liked what Howard did in the bridge with the overlapping vocal parts. Lyrically, Howard is repeating the idea of "I hope you suffer as I have suffered". Repetition of a phrase is fine, but don't let it take up a good part of the song. You find this phrase in verses, chorus, and bridge. 02.Starting Over: Starting Over is the first single off the album, and right off the bat, you can tell it's a heartache song. However, this song all and all sounds absolutely great. Lyrically, it seems a bit cliche' with the rhyming choruses "where we started....can't be discarded". There's a line in the bridge that actually seems related to a line in As Daylight Dies' "Desperate Times"; while Starting Over's line is "But you mean so much more to me. Than anything I've ever known," Desperate Times' line is "But your voice means more to me, than you'll ever know". I mean, I hate to say it, but that's kind of lame. If anything, that was the one thing I picked up on when I first listened to this song. Other than that, it's catchy and Howard sounds great in this. 03.The Forgotten: Probably the most different track on this album because of its slow, southern rock riffing and tempo, this features an almost "call and response" vocal pattern with Howard Jones switching from screaming to singing in the verses. The lyrics aren't as cliche' as Starting Over, even though you can tell that this is probably about another heartache. Once again, and this will return with the rest of these songs, repetition seems to kill this a bit. Towards the end of the bridge, Howard repeats the phrase "I hope it was worth the cost" three times, and In the pre-chorus, he screams "Just look at yourself do you like what you see? I want no more of you, watch me walk away." I mean, there's nothing wrong with repetition, but that just gets a bit too ridiculous. Repetition should be used sparingly so it's not seen as just filling in dead space. 04.Reckoning: very repetitious with the chorus lines right from the get go. Definitely not one of my favorites on this album. I feel like Howard could've done a lot more with this song. That's all I can really say. Seems very average. 05.The Return: The Return is the first of many full-out clean sung songs. Definitely another heartache song. Though the lyrics seem a bit more deep than the others, they still fall under the same cliches. I don't know, it's like after a while, these sort of lyrics start to become lame. And as much a KSE fan I am, I want to be impressed for the money I spend for an album by one of my favorite bands...especially a pre-ordered copy! 06.A Light In A Darkened World: lyrically and musically, this is textbook contemporary KSE. Probably the most boring track on the album (even though it sounds better recorded than live on Youtube), it's also the only song that lyrically stays in touch with the original upbeat and optimistic KSE message. It's all and all very cliche' and chock full of the same stuff we've heard before. 07.Take Me Away: the second clean-singing song on here, it seems to be slightly more interesting than the others. It's not as cliche' as some of the other ones, but is still a little bit on the cliche' side. It's repetitive towards the end with the ongoing "Take me away..." line. The vocal delivery is great, but still doesn't really save it in my opinion. 08.I Would Do Anything: one of the most energetic songs on the album, this is one of the most interesting examples of Howard's writing. I mean with the exception of the repeating line "I would do anything", it's not too bad. In fact some of the lines are pretty interesting, such as "The words die in my throat, and there is nothing I can do. From a child to a monster, and now a child amongst monsters...". Not only that, the vocal delivery just makes this song, for the most part, really good. This song seems to stand out amongst the rest. 09.Save Me: painfully cliche' and repetitive. Will you save me? Will you still believe? These questions pop up in the song like a verbal whack-a-mole game. It starts to get annoying after a while. Reading the album sleeve while writing this review is actually making this a bit more frustrating, to be completely honest. 10.Lost: this clean-sung song I've been able to honestly connect to. If they had to choose one clean song to stay on this album, I would definitely choose this one because this is just gold. Sure it's cliche' but it's good. The vocal performance is great and it meshes well with the music. I agree with Howard that sometimes singing does portray the emotion more than screaming, but unfortunately I feel that this is the only song that it really pertains to. 11.This Is Goodbye: probably my favorite song on this album, with the exception of the rhyme scheme. I mean it works, but I just don't like it. Lyrically though, everything flows very well, especially with the powerful vocal delivery from Howard. What really caught my eye was the bridge: "It's my blasphemy hoping not to wake. Each day is the nightmare, sleep is freedom. You gave but it was not enough. Your strength was not enough, never enough." As I had mentioned before, these darker lyrics have sort of driven away from the original upbeat KSE message, which may alarm some traditional KSE fans; however, I feel that vocalists who don't write what they mean or feel are shitty vocalists with shallow verbal babblings. This is definitely my favorite track next to Never Again. All and all, these are average lyrics enhanced by stellar vocal performances. They definitely could have been pushed more, but then again, how much can you really do with such simple sounding music?
Overall Impression — 7
Mike D'Antonio, whom I pretty much worship as the ideal graphic designer I'd want to be, said that there was no real concept to the album work, except for an iconic approach and ultimately creating a "violent-looking" metal record. However, this album doesn't even really come close to that, either that, it hit the mark but doesn't really soar over it. To be honest, the album just has a very complacent feel to it. I've been a KSE fan for several years, which I know isn't enough compared to all the diehard KSE fans out there who've been there for them since 1998, but even I know and feel that this isn't even close to what KSE is truly capable of. Listening to "Alive or Just Breathing" and "The End of Heartache", I hear a lot of aggressive, ballsy, and catchy riffs that people could really feel, as well as good solid arrangements, while this album just seems to showcase...well...mediocre riffs that seem to undermine the two great guitar players. This vast difference between present release and past releases can be sort of compared to Soilwork: The Chainheart Machine to Soilwork: Figure Number Five. All and all, I would buy this to support the band and their cause because they're still a great band and they've done and still do great things for the scene. However, I honestly feel that this is a very average release.