Sound — 8
If you'd have asked for my opinions on The Devil Wears Prada a few years ago, I'd have probably vomited and laughed at the same time. The only good thing I'd have been able to say was that I liked their cover of Still Fly by Big Tymers, but I still liked the original better. On the other hand, I could have easily told you all of the things that I didn't like about them. Their music was lacking in creativity, their singers sounded terrible, they seemed to be more focused with writing clever song titles than good music I could go on. They were the embodiment of everything that went wrong with metalcore. Lead singer Mike Hranica even admits Our early material was dumb, plain and simple.
But somewhere along the line, at some time between then and now, something happened to TDWP. Maybe they were bitten by radioactive spiders, or they fell into a barrel of nuclear waste. Maybe they just grew some balls. Their Zombie EP from last year took the band in a completely different direction. Everything just sounded so much more sinister. It's an odd word to describe a Christian band with, but that's really the best I can put it. Their new album Dead Throne is definitely the heaviest album they've put out to date. The change in sound resulted from a change in the writing process that came about during the writing of the Zombie EP. Guitarist Chris Rubey said, Those songs were written pretty much solely by me on my computer and that's why they sound different. Ironically, they described their Zombie EP as a fun release with brutal songs, giving the impression that the style was simply experimentation. But the sound stuck and evolved into what would become Dead Throne.
I usually like to see bands making music with equal creative input from all of the members, but in my opinion, this is one of those situations where a Dave Mustaine scenario (that is, one member writing most of the music) works much better. The riffs on this album are heavier, more interesting, and definitely much more creative than anything I've heard coming from this band before. Some of you readers may think that isn't saying much, but really, bear with me here, it's definitely an improvement. Once you get past the intro track (which is your standard stereotypical chugfest), things pick up a little bit. What you get is the aggression of Zombie with the melody of Plagues and other previous works. A lot of the riffs have a tough-guy hardcore-esque vibe to them, a la Bury Your Dead, but the addition of little atmospheric bits and better riffs gives them an edge over Bury Your Dead's new material, as well as some of their other peers.
It isn't until the middle of the album with tracks like R.I.T. and My Questions that you can see how far this band has come from the kids that they used to be. Sure, they still use some of the same pedal riff patterns that have been abused over the past decade within this scene, but they're not totally reliant on them. And yeah, there's an abundance of breakdowns across the album, but at least some of them are augmented with ambient parts, be it keys or melodic arpeggiated guitar leads. Oh, also, speaking of keys, don't expect any dance bits like the rest of the bands that may appeal to TDWP's (former) fanbase. There are actually some really good synth bits on here that really enhance the music. Little orchestrated melodies that take more cues from symphonic metal bands than they do Asking Alexandria. Overall, though, the music can end up feeling a bit same-y once you've listened to the album enough times to get over the shock of how different they are now.
Unlike the last few albums, Dead Throne was produced, engineered, and mixed primarily by Adam Dutkiewicz. Personally, I see this as a sign of maturation for the band. No disrespect intended to Joey Sturgis, but everyone from As I Lay Dying to Parkway Drive will tell you that Adam drives musicians hard. There's no record it good enough and align it to a grid later business in his camp. With him, you play it until you play it right. It's not the type of behavior that I'd expect from a band with song titles like I Hate Buffering and Big Wiggly Style, but hey, times change. They've started to take themselves a little more seriously and it's showing. Soundwise it's great. Adam D is one of the greatest producers in the metalcore scene today, and everything he works on packs a huge punch. This is no exception.
Lyrics — 6
In a vocal sense, I was never really a fan of The Devil Wears Prada. And unfortunately, I don't think that will ever change. Something about Mike's screamed vocals just really rub me the wrong way. I mean, his low screams are okay, his shouts are okay, but his highs oh lord, his highs are such a turnoff. He sounds like he's blown his voice out before. I'm almost sure of it, because as much as I didn't like his vocals before, I like them even less now. They definitely have that post-burnout sound to them. There were multiple times throughout the album where I thought "They should just have Tim Lambesis do vocals instead." Because really, next to the occasional bum riff, the shoddy vocals are really a low point here. However, not all is lost; because guitarist Jeremy DePoyster's clean vocals on this album are great. I think he improves on every album. There are plenty of catchy choruses on Dead Throne, perfect for sing-alongs. Tracks like Born to Lose are sure to be crowd favorites at live shows. Oh, and speaking of Tim, he actually does make a guest appearance on the song Constance.
Lyrically, Dead Throne revolves around a central theme of anti-idolatry. Mike Hranica explains in an interview, The record is mostly based on idolatry. There's a lot of different lyrical content. It's not a concept record, but a lot of it has to do with anti-idolatry... it's the idea of putting up our idols, heroes, and entities we worship onto a figurative throne. Those things won't stay up there, and they're not meant to be up there. That idea behind Dead Throne is making kings out of things that shouldn't be kings. It's an interesting spin on the whole Christian metalcore thing, because if you think about it, it's not exclusively a religious concept at all. Denouncing the praise of false heroes can be something that anyone can get behind, whether you're a spiritual or secular person. So I applaud them for picking a theme that can be applied universally but still sticks with the overall message of the band. Real shame about the vocals, though.
Overall Impression — 7
If I had to pick one band for a Most Improved Band of the Year award, I think it would come down to a close call between Born of Osiris and The Devil Wears Prada. Both were bands that I for the most part could not stand in the past, yet both have turned themselves around and surpassed my (admittedly low) expectations for them. However, even though the margin by which TDWP have improved is larger, Dead Throne is ultimately lacking in replay value. This album was great the first few times I listened to it, but once you get over how much they've changed, it's just another metalcore album. Which isn't to say that it isn't a good one. It's definitely above the level of their former peers. Tracks like Born to Lose, Holdfast, and Pretenders have convinced me to never group them in the MTV crabcore category ever again.
This is a good metalcore album in the same way that Parkway Drive's first few albums were good metalcore albums. It has some of the same tricks that we've been seeing for a while, but its execution, while not perfect, is above the industry average. I find it funny how The Devil Wears Prada became heavier as their career went on. You usually see the opposite with bands in this vein, and people end up calling those bands sellouts. Ironically, some of TDWP's fans were actually upset about the new heavier sound when "Zombie" was released. Have the band figured out the opposite of selling out? Changing your sound to appeal to less people? Well, just listen to the album and see for yourself.