Sound — 6
The conglomerate sound of post grunge/hard rock/alt metal may be what it is today due to a myriad of influential contributions, but drawing inspiration from too many of those sources will prove to be cluttering. Pop Evil suffered this in their major label debut album, "Lipstick on the Mirror," where general influences of Alice In Chains, Staind and Godsmack were tenuously garnished with excessive bits, like Eddie Van Halen-style guitar solos, and turntable scratching in attempt to emulate the nu metal likes of early Incubus.
Pop Evil did find their footing afterwards, however, and the next couple of years would prove more fruitful than ever. Not only would their follow-up album, 2011's "War of Angels," bring forth more successful singles - including "Boss's Daughter," which featured Mötley Crüe guitarist Mick Mars, and "Last Man Standing," which was featured in a promo video for UFC fighter Frank Mir - but the band would also get the pleasure (and in their eyes, honor) to make a rally song for their beloved University of Michigan football team, "In the Big House."
It may have been this success in the "sports hype music" market that persuaded the band to double down on their metal side (or neglect their post grunge side, for the glass-half-empty crowd) in their more aggressive third album, "Onyx," but now on their fourth album, "Up," Pop Evil are trying their hand again at juggling a plethora of rock styles. They go big and simple arena rock in the opening "Footsteps," add a splash of thrash in the metal cut "Vendetta," go stark grunge rock in "Ways to Get High," get warm and folksy in the elaborately acoustic "Seattle Rain," and channel blues rock in the rough and tumble "Take It All" and the finishing power ballad "Til Kingdom Come." Though this sample platter array of styles reads similar to the scatterbrained "Lipstick on the Mirror," Pop Evil prevent themselves from making the same mistake twice by keeping one foot in familiar territory, whether it be in the alt metal cuts of "In Disarray," "Lux" and "Dead in the Water," or the well-layered pop rock cut of "Ghost of Muskegon."
Cluttered it may not be, "Up" is still saddled with issues. There's still the identity crisis of frontman Leigh Kakaty's copycat singing style, which goes from sounding like Layne Staley in "In Disarray," Aaron Lewis in "Til Kingdom Come," and Wes Scantlin in the country-tinged "Footsteps" and "If Only for Now." Repetition in songwriting also pops up a few times - whether in a general sense, like "If Only for Now" sounding like any other acoustic-driven ballad Pop Evil have made before, or more specific cases, like the flickering guitar textures in "Footsteps" and "Lux" that were originally used in the "Onyx" song "Beautiful," or the Leslie effect guitar in "Ghost of Muskegon" that sounds similar to that heard in another "Onyx" single, "Behind Closed Doors." And the poppy production value also ends up doing more harm than good in some cases, like the cheesy pitch-ascending build in the reprise of "Take It All," or the synthetic percussion sullying the acoustic richness of "Seattle Rain."
Lyrics — 7
Kakaty's previous batch of lyrics "Onyx" sculpted a loose arc of emotional turmoil, being his most downbeat lyrical effort heard in any Pop Evil album. As the title may suggest, "Up" shows Kakaty putting forth more bouts of positive lyrics - from the fire-stoking motivational messages in "Footsteps," "Core" and "Take It All," to the lovey-dovey ballads of "If Only for Now" and "Seattle Rain" - but contrary to judging a book by its cover, it's Kakaty's more sullen lyrics that take the spotlight on the album. Though some of those cuts are pretty simple and nondescript (like that of heartbreak and loneliness in "In Disarray" and "Dead in the Water"), Kakaty seizes more personal distinction by evoking his home. "Ghost of Muskegon" portrays Kakaty lost in reflection, pondering the past within his Michigan hometown (though the line "I made more waves than the ocean" is a scathingly elementary simile), and "Til Kingdom Come" gets even more existential in the grand scheme of post-modernity, with his line referring to those struggling in economic times ("Broken glass, this working class, built to simply be shattered") not only channeling the poignancy of Bruce Springsteen, but also remarking on the significant economic misfortune Michigan has suffered in the past several years and is still trying to fully recover from.
Overall Impression — 6
After the pinpoint focus on alt metal heard in "Onyx," the wider array of rock genres heard in "Up" makes for an ambitious step forward in terms of Pop Evil's catalog, as well as this wider array being executed better than that heard in "Lipstick on the Mirror." But with the many subgenres brought forth on the album easily tying back to their influences, "Up" still shows Pop Evil emulating their influences to the point where it eclipses their own sonic identity. "Up" is a decent offering for the realm of rock it thrives in, but its "echo chamber" agenda keeps it from being anything truly standout.