It’s frankly ridiculous that Hollywood Undead’s recent upswing only seems to be continuing to go in that direction, not less because this is a band who rightfully should’ve flamed out about a decade ago. Between a rap-rock / crunkcore hybrid on Swan Songs that’s aged like a milk to the bafflingly sterile modern metalcore that’s characterised their newest material, the trends that ultimately define Hollywood Undead’s work don’t even feel contemporary to the time, and despite drawing that much attention to how perennially dated they sound, they’ve managed to pick up a shockingly severe second wind off the back of it. There’s no reasoning for it, nor does it explain why it’s been going on for as long as it has, or the fervour of the fanbase behind it that seems to be stronger than ever. But nevertheless, here’s New Empire, Vol. 1, an album whose title alone seemingly finds Hollywood Undead pushing their luck with how much longer they’ll have their spotlight, especially if the over-produced early-2010s metalcore that now forms the basis for their sound continues to engulf the entire thing as it has been doing for the last few years now.
That’s a notion that only feels compounded by the album itself; it’s probably the only Hollywood Undead full-length that doesn’t have at least something entertaining, whether that’s good or bad, and where the stopgap EP Psalms served as a harbinger for far blander things to come, …Vol. 1 kicks that idea right into action in predictably underwhelming fashion. Of the nine tracks here, approximately zero are memorable, and even if there’s competency that’s often been hit-or-miss with Hollywood Undead, to find it affixed to material with this little of an individual character feels like a profoundly wasted opportunity. Even if this is what the fans want, it can be done a lot better, and when pulling from the most widespread and rinsed-out scene tropes feels as though it act as a means of placation and nothing else, …Vol. 1 ends up as a lot more hollow and disposable than it already appeared.
That’s even while acknowledging that Hollywood Undead have never been particularly gifted musicians or songwriters, but even that’s been reduced to the broadest archetypes of these sorts of songs with precious little weight or deeper meaning behind them. As emotional and heart-rending as Already Dead and Enemy try to sound in their channelling of inner demons and angst, and for as much as Heart Of A Champion wants to be triumphant and inspiring, the garden variety language and reliance on overwrought, thudding tropes creates nothing of substance behind it, exacerbated by the universal stop-start clunker of a flow that really only picks up any sort of dexterity and character on the final third of Nightmare, i.e. the very end of the album. And for a band in which all five members contribute vocals to some capacity, you’d have a tough time picking any sort of standout presence within Hollywood Undead, such is the degree that every vocal performance congeals together and honesty sounds the same. Danny probably stands out the most for giving the choruses a bit more oomph, but it’s not like it’s any different than the majority of run-of-the-mill scene acts looking to inflate their own sense of bombast with similar tactics; it’s why the guest appearances from Sleeping With Sirens’ Kellin Quinn on Upside Down and Good Charlotte’s Benji Madden on Second Chances make sense, even if they contribute next to nothing. Honestly, for as blaring and obnoxious as it is, Killin’ It probably fares the best as the sole braggadocious chest-beater for at least bringing an individual streak to the album, even if it’s not all that enjoyable or creative.
Granted, this is probably the wrong place to look for creativity, and Hollywood Undead seem perfectly fine with embracing that notion on …Vol. 1. This is the sort of album that’s been tailor-made to slink back into the crowd and have its entire existence forgotten about in an instant, such is the lack of ingenuity on display here. It’s all the same ponderous, open-ended scene-metalcore that’s had anything worthwhile to say about leached out a long time ago, and yet Hollywood Undead are still jumping on it like it’s the most exciting thing ever put to record, even if they themselves have no flair to add to it. Again, falling back on the hip-hop side of their repertoire on Killin’ It and Nightmare is a bit more distinct, but smashing together quaking bass drops, clattering, plastic percussion and synth-horns to taste on the former and a lazy, stock beat over some admittedly cool ghostly synths on the latter isn’t much to write home about all the same. And as for the rest of the album, what is there to really say? There’s maybe a bit more aggression on Enemy, but even that’s still as canned and processed as everything else, with the same faux-epic production and uninspired instrumental passages that have honestly become a joke within the scene at this point. It makes Hollywood Undead feel like hangers-on above anything else, as they try to crowbar themselves into relevance with a sound that couldn’t be further from that, and that they rarely even attempt to put their own spin on to at least give the illusion of doing something for themselves.
All of that makes for an album for which the strongest reaction to it is a nonplussed shrug, as Hollywood Undead drill in a level of irrelevancy that, for some reason, is still going unheeded. Even at their worst and most flagrantly tasteless, they’ve had more to them than this, and it leads to the assumption that …Vol. 1 only exists to be their safe guarantee of a success streak sticking around just a little bit longer. It certainly doesn’t serve any other purpose; there’s surely no creative fulfillment that’s come out of making an album like this, and when there’s a billion and one others that sound exactly the same or better, that’s doubly true for listening to it. It’s not even worth hating it as much as it is pitying it, as this truly does feel like the last gasp of a band selling whatever soul they had left for a quick paycheck and a few moments more of longevity, only to have nothing to show for it in the end.
For fans of: From Ashes To New, I Prevail, The Amity Affliction
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘New Empire, Vol. 1’ by Hollywood Undead is released on 14th February on BMG Rights Management.