Album: Look at Yourself
Do you remember your first love? I know I do. I could write an entire article about that experience, but that isn’t where I’m going with this review. I’m not taking this down any one of the lyrical roads paved with love and loss laid by Emmure’s early discography. I won’t turn this into a copy-paste “won’t you be my bride?” Feelings-fest of a review. I bring up “first loves” for one reason: when it comes to heavy music, Emmure was mine. In my early high school years there wasn’t—and even today, still isn’t—much that hit me the same way Goodbye to the Gallows hit me. That album and the one that followed set the groundwork for my foray into heavy music that consumed the next several years.
The bottom line: that Emmure died with Felony. As frontman Frankie Palmeri screeches on “Major Key Alert,” I’m sick of hearing that you want me to be/2007 cryin’ over some bitch, ho please.
While it may not be subtly stated (Palmeri’s strong suit has never been subtle), he makes a valid point—the Emmure that brought us emotionally driven hits in the mid 2000s belongs there, and that statement is finally justified with their 2017 and long-anticipated release, Look At Yourself. After a long and quiet 2016—that ended with a monstrous line-up change that brought on board members from yesteryear’s progressively-infused metal-and-deathcore acts Glass Cloud and The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza, Emmure as back and poised to unleash the groovy, gritty and gruesome product of their time spent silent: Look at Yourself, thirteen tracks and thirty-two minutes of quick, pissed and punchy aggression that takes no prisoners and serves as a stark reminder that, in a year where most change has been for the worse, sometimes, change is good.
I don’t think anyone had any idea what to expect from Emmure in wake of the drastic member change. This curiosity was amplified by early videos of live performances and the marked stylistic differences in the two singles, “Torch” and “Russian Hotel Aftermath.” In a word, the single greatest change in Emmure’s sound is an emphasis on fluidity—the entire album simply flows better than the group’s last couple albums. They aren’t an all-of-the-sudden technical juggernaut, and they aren’t a throwback to 2008-2010 Emmure; the grooves are groovier, the breakdowns hit harder and everything transitions simply that much better—enough to keep the listener firmly engrossed for the album’s moderate 30-or-so minute run-time. Drummer Josh Miller is both bouncy and bold—like a concrete wrecking ball wrapped in rubber. Songs like “Shinjuku Masterlord” and even sporadic songs like “You Asked For It” and “Major Key Alert” see Miller letting off dancy, driving displays of fleet footwork and catchy patterns that work brilliantly with bassist Phil Lockett’s low, gritty and snappy tone to create a ferocious low end that rips the listener’s ears off and beats them with ‘em. This is especially true during the buildup to the climactic breakdown in “Shinjuku Masterlord” or the opening portion of “Smokey,” where Miller is technically at the top of his game and Lockett’s bass is right there, adding punch to every Tom hit and kick drum smack. While Miller and Lockett do their thing, guitarist Joshua Travis (who needs no introduction) adheres to the relatively simple fretwork that makes Emmure the band people know and love—but not without adding his own flares and flashy segments of “what the fuck was that?!” Inducing fretwork. “Smokey,” as well as “Natural Born Killers” are especially demonstrative of that, with sly little snippets of crazy effects and fleet fingers that Travis has spent over a decade becoming practically synonymous with. At the end of the day, Emmure are out for violence and carnal intensity—and “Russian Hotel Aftermath” and “Natural Born Killers” are ample proof that Travis is no slacker there, either.
When all is said and done though, Emmure, in essence, is frontman Frankie Palmeri—and if you had doubts, Look at Yourself will put them to rest. Where Palmeri’s shrill high screams and visceral low bellows on “Torch” and “Natural Born Killers” are nothing new, and his quick, sharp flow on “Flag of the Beast” is also a style we’ve heard before, all of the above are more intense and aggravated—a product of being more in sync with Travis’ fretwork and the low end provided by Lockett and Miller. Even Palmeri’s clean singing—sneaking up on the listener in “Turtle in a Hair” and “Gucci Prison”—is cut and dried to fit well with the moments of barely-lucid atmosphere that surrounds them. The bottom line is that none of the strongly hip-hop influenced and street-smart rapping is as silly or out of place as it was on Felony or Speaker of the Dead, and Palmeri seems to has rekindled his positively ruthless low bellow, making his vocal effort and dynamic on Look at Yourself the best the listener has heard from Palmeri—and the band as a whole—in some time.
As a shameless fanboy of the band’s early work, it certainly would have been easy to sit here and shit all over Look at Yourself. It isn’t the Emmure I fell in love with all those years ago—but that’s more than alright. The band is sharper than they’ve ever been, quick and pissed-off about pretty much everything, and Palmeri et al are better than most are certainly best their peers when it comes to that. Without sounding like a shameless nu-metalcore Korn rip-off and without regurgitating the same thing we’ve heard from the band countless times already, Emmure have made an album that sees Palmeri letting it all hang out atop a crushing and second-to-none canvas when it comes to uncompromising, mosh-inducing and fast-moving instrumentation. Emmure’s statement on Look at Yourself seems bold and simple: this is the band’s revised sound with the same ruthless and relentless attitude. Get with it or get out of the way.