There’s been a distinct feeling with Emigrate’s more recent output that they’re really trying to overcompensate. The original selling point with their self-titled debut in 2007 was that this was the big, new side-project of Rammstein guitarist Richard Z. Kruspe, something that mustn’t have gone as well as planned considering it would be another seven years before a new Emigrate album would be released. That album was Silent So Long, and established itself as an okay alt-metal album elevated all the more thanks to its calibre of guest appearances, spanning Peaches to Marilyn Manson and Jonathan Davis to even the late Lemmy Kilmister. It’s probably fair to assume that not many people really went to that album for the music, rather to see how Kruspe was able to cram such legitimate icons into one album. Clearly it wasn’t going to be an effective resource in the long term though, especially when A Million Degrees only highlights how blatantly Emigrate have blown their load too quickly; sure, Billy Talent’s Ben Kowalewicz and Ghost’s Cardinal Copia have their own appeal, but the onus is really on Emigrate this time to deliver the quality to match up on their own.
And if there’s one thing that A Million Degrees does really well, it’s prove that Emigrate have the shiny hard rock and alt-metal framework down, but very little else, and without their big-name friends to plug in the gaps and do the predominant heavy lifting, there’s not much to see here. It’s not like this is an incompetent listen either – Kruspe has too much experience under his belt to make an album that fails at every conceivable juncture – but something as processed and flavourless as this album turns out is really difficult to get onboard with, particularly when Emigrate should, by all rights, be doing better than this. It’s not even as though the guest vocalists can act as a boon to weaker tracks either, because that isn’t really the case; Kruspe’s fellow Rammstein bandmate Till Lindemann probably fares the best with his authoritative baritone and native German lyrics lending a something of a regality to the creeping Let’s Go, but it’s not as if either Ben Kowalewicz or Cardinal Copia bring much more than some glorified backing vocals to 1234 and I’m Not Afraid respectively, and you begin to think that they’re only there to get their names in the credits for some leverage. The only other guest performance comes from Margaux Bossieux on Lead You On, and while there’s a decent level of sensuality in her vocals, it just seems a shame that, for such a regular collaborator, she could have been given a lot more to do on this album; she could easily be promoted to a full member at this point for a far more interesting dynamic within the band, but that fact that she isn’t feels like a missed opportunity.
Instead, it only puts an even greater onus on Emigrate themselves, as well as highlighting the limitations they demonstrate here. The main one is easily the production, following the lead of so much modern hard rock in compressing the guitars and lathering an oily, greasy film over everything that, at its least intrusive, can clog up tracks like War and Spitfire so that they’re not unlistenable (particularly the latter), but feel more overweight than they should and are stripped of any real rawness of firepower that’s an invaluable asset. At worst though, there’s sweetness and saccharine quality that interferes with any time Emigrate venture off the beaten path, with the radio-rock ballad You Are So Beautiful or the already puzzling carnival stylings of We Are Together falling victim the hardest in how so much of their hard rock groundings are yanked away from underneath them, and what’s left is a wet, weird mess with little to go off. It’s enough to feel like a fluke when it does go right, but the returns to a more palpable industrial grind on Lead You On and Let’s Go and the gothic camp of I’m Not Afraid at least have enough bombast and solid hook-craft to resonate as unashamedly large and uncomplicated rock tracks that don’t really need any greater depth to work. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for a lot of other cuts here, and while hard rock in this vein doesn’t particularly need to be intensely lyrical to thrive, there’s nothing interesting about what Emigrate are saying here, boiling down to the genre’s tired tropes yet again without doing anything to grab that attention in any meaningful way.
It really does highlight how little of a presence Emigrate are in modern rock, and if this was a different band without the benefit of Kruspe’s name attached, they’d never make it to their third album, let alone be releasing it in as flaccid and bland a state as this is. It’s not really worth making a fuss about – there have been far worse albums released this year, after all – but in some way, an album like this being boring is just as big of a sin, especially in a genre where that doesn’t fly anymore. And sure, A Million Degrees will have its audience, whether that’s from the overspill from curious Rammstein fans or simply a wider hard rock audience looking for something that’s accessible without being too challenging, but it’s hard to believe that anyone will ultimately stick with it. It’s not like it takes much effort to find something more compelling.
For fans of: Linkin Park, Audioslave, Rammstein
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘A Million Degrees’ by Emigrate is out now on Universal Music Group.