Are we really still here? Are we really still at a point where, despite being in arguably the worst shape of their career, Hollywood Undead continue to be a draw to not only be in ruder health than they rightfully should be, but reach a point where they’re justified in releasing two albums in one year? This is a band who should’ve died out with MySpace given their crunkcore / rap-rock style really only had that platform, but they’ve been hanging on for an obscenely long time, to where they’ve morphed into more or less another generic melodic metalcore band. And even that’s baffling to witness, seeing as that sound is about as unfashionable as it’s possible to be, but there’s clearly still an audience here that’s keeping Hollywood Undead around. More than that though, they actively seem to getting bigger; this is their second album this year, whereas they usually give off the impression of a band who’d struggle to fill one with much meaningful content. As such, the easiest thing would be to draw the conclusion that they’ve reached this level through enablement and little else, where no one actually cared enough to tell them to stop so they kept going, and ultimately wound at this point where they’ve been claiming success on birthright alone.
As a result, when that’s caused any sort of creativity to drop to an all time low, New Empire, Vol. 2 is really no different. It would be tempting to call it more of the same as Vol. 1, but where that album largely peaked at being boring and impossibly derivative, this one seems to go a bit further. There’s clearly an abundance of resources and budget at Hollywood Undead’s disposal for this one, and the fact that they appear to squander each and every one with such regularity is almost impressive. Because at the end of the day, Hollywood Undead should not be in the position they’re currently in, and the lack of knowledge they have about how to suitably manage a profile of their current size is galling, given how little of this album plays out in a workable way. It’s such a clunky, dated listen on almost every front, with no business being a high-profile release at the tail end of 2020.
None of that is particularly out of the ordinary for Hollywood Undead, but Vol. 2 feels especially keen to show off how crammed full of content it is, even if it barely does anything to show that off in a positive light. It’s a very maximalist, ‘bigger is better’ approach to album construction that bricks out the sound and cuts away any sort of flow, and really serves as the only consistent across the board. There’s an element of genre-mashing here in the way that Hollywood Undead have often indulged in, but the nebulous noise of the production the heavy-handed trudging through its own mire has never masked that more, and it makes for a really uncomfortable listen at times. For one, any defined basslines have been replaced by cavernous, speaking-blowing low ends like on Ghost Out and Gonna Be Okay that are just incessantly loud and grating, and when that morphs into an honest-to-goodness dubstep breakdown on Idol, it pins down just how dated Hollywood Undead actually sound here. There’s clearly the thought that this sounds fresh and cutting-edge, but when everything is so loud and compressed with little modulation – if any at all – it swings back to the gurgling insipidity of the crunkcore the band started out in, and it’s always for the worse. Even when they try and get moodier like on Monsters by showing off more of their hip-hop side, there’s still a tackiness and tryhard nature to it all isn’t any better. Sonically, this isn’t an album that feels as though it was created by humans, and the reliance on either pounding noise or clunked-together passages to drown out anything even remotely organic begins to grate so heavily. At least on the opener Medicate, for as overproduced and sanded-down as it is, you can tell it’s an emo pastiche when there’s at least a pocket of air left for the guitars to breathe in and make themselves known. It still feels horrendously overworked in its mixing, but it’s a relative glimmer of light among everything else.
As for Hollywood Undead themselves, there’s no such hope there. For a band for whom each of their five members provides vocals in some capacity, there’s many one-and-a-half recognisable voices throughout, such is the extent that any personality they might have once had has been grafted away in order to fit the radio-rock rubric. Because that’s what this, and every release from Hollywood Undead over the past few years, has been – an attempt to hold their own among a growing radio-metal wave that’s been reasoned through morphing into a far more boring band than ever. At least on Swan Songs, when they were at their most stupid and bawdy, there was entertainment value to be found there; here, there’s roughly two templates of hard-edged edgelord posturing and some approximation of depth and sincerity, both of which feel custom designed to give the fourteen-year-old whiteboys in their audience a broad enough representation of their own shallow angst. That’s been the MO for a while now, and the fact that Hollywood Undead’s tactic of producing both has no flexibility or nuance between either means this is definitely one of their lazier attempts in a while. The chest-pounding swagger of songs like Comin’ Thru The Stereo and Unholy feels so forced, through a combination flows that are impressively boring and basic, and lyrics like “You think I’m unholy? Wait till you know me” that would be embarrassing coming from anyone, let alone men in their mid- to late-30s. Meanwhile, Coming Home and Worth It flip the script entirely in how they try to be sensitive, only ending up feeling just as shallow. It’s reminiscent of an artist like NF in a way, where there’s clearly a pretension towards depth and a visceral inner monologue on the side of the artist that doesn’t even remotely come through in their work. And on top of all of that, Hollywood Undead aren’t even able to pull something together with their most stacked guest cast to date, given that the majority of it feel as though they’re royally phoning it in; Hyro The Hero might be a naturally likeable presence but his verse is nowhere close to his usual standard on Comin’ Thru The Stereo, while Jacoby Shaddix and Spencer Charnas add nothing to Heart Of A Champion, and it’s almost impossible to tell that Tech N9ne is even on Idol.
At the end of the day, what it all comes down to is New Empire, Vol. 2 being another dud for Hollywood Undead to add to a steadily growing list of them, but there’s something more about this one that distances it from the usual low standard. It sounds notably worse, sure, but there’s a phenomenal lack of effort that permeates all the way through, almost as if Hollywood Undead are beginning to have faith that their name alone can actually mean something when it comes to the success of their output. That in itself is an indictment on an industry that’s kept these clowns around for far longer than they should’ve been, but that level of ego is really something that Hollywood Undead can’t afford to have. They’re not a band who can at least squeak by on talent if they ever do run out the clock, and Vol. 2 feels like the most condensed assessment of that to date, where their own lack of sustainability seems have been compounded and exacerbated even further here. That leaves them to pretty much live and die on the back of fan support, an avenue that they have now but is by now means guaranteed. It’s amazing that they’ve gotten this far, frankly, but if they now think that they don’t even have to try, their hit rate might be nowhere near as successful moving forward.
For fans of: From Ashes To New, Falling In Reverse, Papa Roach
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘New Empire, Vol. 2’ by Hollywood Undead is released on 4th December on BMG / Dove & Grenade.