About two years ago, Palisades were little more than a joke. Clinging onto the already drooping coattails of electro-metalcore, they paired that already basic formula with blaring club beats to kick off 2015 with Mind Games, an album that was ironically tolerable at best and insufferably obnoxious pretty much everywhere else. It screamed of a band willing to ride trends to see where it would get them, and two years later the same looks to be happening again. With the more melodic, clean-sung brand of metalcore mastered by The Word Alive on last year’s Dark Matter that’s creeping ever closer to the fore, early indications of Palisades’ self-titled third album were more of the same, switching their sound up again to fit with whatever’s popular, and leaving initial queries about whether it’s even worth giving this album the time of day.
Well actually, it is, because of all the bands trying to rehash The Word Alive’s formula, Palisades’ self-titled album shows that they’re one of the better ones. It’s not necessarily a great album and still has its fair share of problems, but in terms of an about face to show off a much more streamlined, cohesive and crucially mature sound, Palisades actually manage to pull it off to a solid degree.
While this might be the case, the instrumentation and production are really nothing to write home about, continuing to follow the modern metalcore ruleset to the letter. The crunkcore beats have been scrapped in favour of a more tasteful, understated electronic backbone, but this alongside the overly synthetic production means that the album suffers the usual problem of being far to slick and overstuffed to have any real bite. It’s telling that new studio member Graves’ production saw him cut his teeth in the worlds of mainstream hip-hop and R&B, given how glossy and colourless a massive portion of this album sounds. Topped off with a vocal performance from Lou Miceli that’s impressively slick but dusted with studio manipulation, and as a whole package it lacks warmth and can feel distant.
But where the biggest progression in Palisades’ sound comes is in the lyrics, and without exaggeration, this could be a different band entirely in this department when compared to their last effort. Gone is the utterly obnoxious vapidity, and in its place stands something far more personal and subsequently impressive. It’s nothing massively groundbreaking for this sort of thing, and when the band step into broader territory they can falter (the unspecific portrayal of anxiety in Dark makes for one of the album’s less impressive moments), but beyond that, there’s personality and believability to these lyrics that feel like they actually have meaning, rather than the empty pseudo-inspirational quotes these sorts of bands have a tendency to spew out. Barring opener Aggression‘s chastising of human violence that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the album thematically (though it’s still a sight further than most of Palisades’ peers are willing to go with their lyrical content), this album feels like a thorough exploration of Miceli’s mind, not an entirely novel concept on its own, but one that’s carried out with a level of detail and gusto so that it still manages to stand out. And away from the half-measures that were called content in Mind Games, there feels like actual development here; Miceli confronts his own shortcomings on Through Hell and Dancing With Demons, but also wants to settle down and break a string of casual flings on Fall, and walk away from toxic relationships in his past, be they with an ex (Let Down) or with an absent parent (Cold Heart (Warm Blood)). He’s far more fleshed out and diverse as a main character now, and it makes what’s actually being said all the more compelling.
What’s more, this album has some of Palisades’ biggest, most appealing songs to date. Tracks like Fall, Cold Heart (Warm Blood) and Hard Feelings are grounded in some of the most melodically solid foundations of the band’s career, and the overall streamlining of sound and heavier reliance of clean vocals posits this as Palisades’ definitively strongest era to date. It’s still nowhere near perfect – it’s too smooth to really have a heavier impact, and they could do with a couple more heavy hitters to bolster their arsenal to a more stable degree – but if this is the direction that Palisades are intent on going, and if they keep improving to the level that they have here, then there’s definitely an incentive to keep an eye on them.
For fans of: The Word Alive, Issues, Too Close To Touch
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Palisades’ by Palisades is released on 20th January on Rise Records.