No one could’ve been under the impression that Bullet For My Valentine would’ve stayed where they were on Gravity. Not only did it represent their most flagrant of trend-chasing impulses as a feckless, overproduced shell of an album that was all the rage in 2018, but Bullet For My Valentine have always been a band to seek out equilibrium as quickly as possible if it’ll benefit them. It’s the result of having a run like that of The Poison, Scream, Aim, Fire and Fever, albums that would practically define a wave of metal in the late 2000s and early 2010s, and when that clout is under threat by, say, the lukewarm response to an album like Temper Temper (which, for the record, wouldn’t be as hated nearly as much if it was better produced), why not just double back to what worked in the past? That’s what Venom was in 2015, and while it was generally okay as a piece of modern, down-the-middle metal, the implications of Bullet For My Valentine just looking to placate haven’t dissipated since. And right now, here they are again, with a self-titled album as a direct follow-up to a negatively-received divergence, where the likelihood of falling back on past expectations to prop up a ‘return to form’ feels rather obvious, even at an early stage.
On the same token though, the level of predictability with which Bullet For My Valentine operate is almost commendable, given the ease with which an album that’s at very least solid can be chalked up. Because right now, there’s next to no indication that they’re going to return to the quality that their early work held, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be anything there at all. For as neatly as this self-titled album fits the rubric that Venom set, that also includes a certain benchmark of quality to be adhered to, regardless of the flair that might’ve been lost along the way. It also helps that Bullet For My Valentine still have a decent repertoire of metal touchstones at their disposal, most in reliable staples that can easily be converted into something more contemporary, but it’s good to see that still doesn’t mean they’re just carbon copies of their influences. Moreover, this is a bit of a heavier turn for them, perhaps exacerbated by proximity to the nothingness of Gravity, but it’s certainly noticeable from the opening pair of Parasite and Knives, and in the greater stomps of Bastards and Shatter. Most surprisingly of all though, Matt Tuck pushes himself into screams a lot more regularly here, generally as a means of underlining how much more aggressive this is supposed to be (subtlety has never been Bullet For My Valentine’s bag, but they’re too far in to hold it against them now), but it can have some potency to it. It does need to be stressed that a lot of this is relatively speaking; the number of newer, hungrier bands that could run circles around an album like this is practically never-ending, but there’s always been a charm in the simplicity that Bullet For My Valentine play to, and having them back in their regular wheelhouse isn’t a bad thing for that reason.
Then again, they aren’t the sort of band for whom nostalgia blindness is at its most consuming, and it doesn’t take much deep deduction to find that, at the end of the day, this is a modern Bullet For My Valentine album, warts and all. The guitars may be louder but the production still has a modern sheen to it, where it’s less intrusive in some areas, sure, but can still be a bit too restrictive for a track like Rainbow Veins and its wall of sound approach. It also suffers from the issue of a lot of Bullet For My Valentine’s work running together quite easily; at this point it’s hooks or bust, and while this album fares marginally better than their last couple of offerings, it’s in direct competition with some of 21st Century metal’s top-tier world-beaters. There’s actually a spliced-together montage of Bullet For My Valentine’s biggest hits to open the album, and though it’s corrupted in static most of the time, near enough every track shown is exponentially more memorable than what’s here. And to a degree, that’s to be expected, when Bullet For My Valentine have always been limited lyricists and they very well could’ve peaked early as this material shows. They’ve rarely been embarrassing bad, even on their worst albums, but the anger and emo-tinged emotionality is pretty rote on this album. Again, they aren’t standing out, even when in competition with themselves, and regardless of how much of an improvement is, it doesn’t help when the main purpose of this album seems to be re-establishing a stable foothold and little else.
But that also brings into question what more can Bullet For My Valentine actually do, when they seem to be trapped in a self-imposed cycle of hitting the skids when trying something new, and being forced to backslide if for no other reason than to save face. Coupled with the fact that grand swings for the fences aren’t really their business, it feels like a career destined to be comprised of more albums like this, of generally solid displays that pale compared to their earliest work, and even on their own merits, don’t leave a great deal to say. With that in mind, there is a temptation to be charitable; for anyone who’s stuck around this long and is still interested in what Bullet For My Valentine have to say, this is most likely going to scratch some itches. They’re an all-around enjoyable enough band to where that’s likely to be the case more often than not, but at the same time, it’s disappointing to see how they’ve pretty much dug themselves into a hole where this is the best they can do now. If that is the case, at least they’ve pulled themselves out of their latest tailspin, but it’s not wrong to wish for just a bit more than an okay effort.
For fans of: Avenged Sevenfold, Trivium, Miss May I
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Bullet For My Valentine’ by Bullet For My Valentine is released on 5th November on Spinefarm Records.