It’ll most likely always be a mystery how Hollywood Undead inexplicably rubberbanded back into relevance in 2017 and 2018. Considering they’d spent the best part of the previous decade as a reminder of scene-kid cringeworthiness and sour MySpace memories, Five seemed to somehow earn them a lot of good will last year, so much so that they’ve been enjoying their biggest platform in years that bafflingly culminated in headlining The Pit at this year’s Reading & Leeds. It’s not even like Five was all that good, but something must’ve twigged that made people remember that they missed Hollywood Undead, and thus, here’s Psalms, a five-track EP acting as victory lap of sorts for a job well done that only gets more unbelievable with each thought about it.
It certainly makes it fitting that Psalms feels like a continuation of Five in that regard, but that also means that it succumbs to the same glaring issues, namely how much Hollywood Undead have tampered with their sound for bland rap-rock with a focus on satisfying the lowest common denominator for how far into hitherto unexplored territory its willing to go. On the bright side, it’s the first to avoid the total tonal whiplash that’s afflicted every Hollywood Undead release to date, and t least there’s a bit more of a necessary throughline in an attempt to make this feel like a single body of work, but the whole idea of rising above adversity that is explored here couldn’t be more played out, and given the band’s notorious lack of executional tact, any sense of triumph is replaced by a Hollywood Undead-flavoured approximation of coming up from adversity in its blandest, most formulaic form.
And it’s definitely worth tackling the writing first and foremost, the aspect that’s always been the proverbial fly in this band’s ointment (well, one of them, anyway), in that they’re really not good at it, a fact that leaves Psalms as the sort of thing you’d expect when this band try to go brighter and jubilant in their content. Of course interesting detail is basically a foreign concept, which is why Bloody Nose and Live Fast Die Young play to the exact beaten-and-broken, nothing-to-something narratives you’d expect, while also happening to be the puddle-deep explorations of such topics that you’d also expect. Even Another Level, the hedonistic party song that Hollywood Undead are typically a lot better at pulling off, feels too sour and oddly violent to really fit that mood, and considering it’s probably the best track here by virtue of some marginally interesting imagery (read: lyrics that do more than scrape the bottom of the barrel), it’s not a good sign.
That’s really what Psalms was relying on to save it in any conceivable fashion, but there’s no way that a Hollywood Undead release is going to start coming through musically now. The strange thing is how oddly downplayed it all feels; considering this is meant to be their moment to celebrate how far they’ve come and how they’re still ploughing ahead, something that an explosive hook or melody could easily convey, that never shows up. Bloody Nose feels like the obvious candidate in its slithering nu-metal guitar line that so desperately wants to break out into huge walls of noise, but never gets the chance to. Nor does Another Level, following their established EDM-party-song mould by hinging it on clattering, needlessly dark drops that don’t sound fun or exuberant, something that the percussive clicks and bassy synth-horns don’t help with at all. It’s not as if modulation is a reasonable concept either, and gravitating towards the opposite extreme turns Something To Believe into a glossy, flavourless pop ballad and Gotta Let Go into a pithy acoustic jaunt that owes a lot more to Twenty One Pilots in the tinkling piano and reggae-adjacent touches than it really should. There’s really no rhyme or reason to any of it with the only criteria seemingly being to make it as overly dramatic and mawkish as possible, and while the band ultimately succeed at that, it’s a fairly dubious honour at best.
Still, it’s at least good to have something to succeed at, and considering that’s basically the sole instance on Psalms, it’s best for Hollywood Undead to take what they can get. Not only is this is a derivative, overworked bore that can never live up to the expectations it sets itself, it just feels totally throwaway, with nothing for anyone besides the most ardent of fans who’ll lap up whatever this band put out. And it’s not like Hollywood Undead are going to convert anyone new at this stage, but they can at least, something that Psalms doesn’t even attempt to do. No one who isn’t already interested is going to find anything to like in this, and while that may be par for the course for Hollywood Undead, it doesn’t make this less of pain to stomach.
For fans of: Sylar, From Ashes To New, Breathe Carolina
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Psalms’ by Hollywood Undead is released on 2nd November on Rise Records / BMG Rights Management.