ALBUM REVIEW: Pierce The Veil – ‘The Jaws Of Life’

Artwork for Pierce The Veil’s ‘The Jaws Of Life’ - a piece of machinery shaped like an arrowhead

The last decade of activity for Pierce The Veil has really been uncharacteristic of the sort of band their breakthrough framed them as. Collide From The Sky in 2012 pinpointed a band who could unquestionably front the Warped Tour post-hardcore scene, and with its big single King For A Day, both frontman Vic Fuentes and guest vocalist Kellin Quinn were inextricably linked as its etched-in-stone faces. But between the two, the divergent paths since have been wildly different. For Sleeping With Sirens, they’ve since released five albums of shockingly fluctuating quality, the latest being last year’s Complete Collapse that no one was probably aware even came out. As for Pierce The Veil, they released Misadventures in 2016, a fairly good album whose trajectory was nowhere near as meteoric as its predecessor, but kept their upward movement chugging along nicely. After that, there were the allegations that caused drummer Mike Fuentes’ departure, but otherwise, barely anything.

As of now, Pierce The Veil’s star is nowhere near as radiant as it was back then, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sure, it’s a natural consequence of the shift of music’s tectonic plates—especially in a genre as ready to refresh its prime roster as post-hardcore—but compared to Sleeping With Sirens, with whom they once stood shoulder to shoulder but have exhausted pretty much every drop of hype they had, the long game might be more beneficial. At least, it is as opposed to churning out albums of vastly diminishing quality, something that has never even been a thought that’s orbited Pierce The Veil. Even in their earliest days, dominated by sheer fringes and Fuentes’ nail-on-glass register, they’ve had more creativity than they might have been given credit for. You’d think a debut literally called A Flair For The Dramatic would earmark that, but amid waves of contemporaries whose output of churned-out scene slop that ultimately gave this sort of music a bad name, that isn’t Pierce The Veil’s forte.

If it were, we probably wouldn’t be getting albums like The Jaws Of Life, an album where it’s possible that even the most avid Pierce The Veil zealot could genuinely hate it. Far be it to underestimate the voracity of a stan army once responsible for some of the cringiest scene edits in Tumblrdom, but that’s certainly the impression it gives off. It’s built on the cues of songs like Floral & Fading and Today I Saw The Whole World, the more tense, grounded deviations of previous albums, deepened and extrapolated across a full body of work. It’s definitely more experimental in how it gives Pierce The Veil avenues to trickle down that results in nothing like what they’ve done before, founded in fuzzy ‘90s alt-rock and instrumental flavours utterly alien to them. It’s not till eleven tracks in, at the penultimate song, when you get something more ‘traditionally’ Pierce The Veil in So Far So Fake, but even its pop-rock surge comes armed with bluesy licks amid a bit more grit and heft.

And honestly, it’s a really cool fit for them. It’s been a long time coming for the band to ascend out of the typical scene eddy, and The Jaws Of Life is the sort of bolt-upright takeoff that’s resoundingly liberated. Death Of An Executioner sets the scene, as the bass snarls and the ripples of production echo around it. That’s followed by Pass The Nirvana, the lead single and likely the cleanest embodiment of Pierce The Veil’s current form, all curdled slacker-rock riffs that aren’t unfamiliar on their own, but binding them to a more progressive framework puts a much more unique spin on them.

For such a headlong dive that Pierce The Veil take, there’s no feeling of apprehension or uncertainty on The Jaws Of Life. Fitting for a band who’ve ridden on their own maximalism since the beginning, certainly, but there’s something inherent more interesting about what’s going on here, and how it’s so far outside a quick-fix solution of alt-pop to win back crowds after such a long hiatus. Even on Shared Trauma—a swerve even for this album in co-opting a heady emo-rap aesthetic with prominent hi-hats and sub-bass—there’s a certain grittiness to how the guitars sizzle and seethe that gives it much more life. The eschewing of overly clean or sanitised creation choices pays off tremendously across the board, as songs like the title track or Resilience can show off the weight of their slower, more methodical builds.

And really, as much as it can’t be overstated how well this works because it’s so different, Pierce The Veil remain anchored to their own creative process is the finish it ultimately needs. That’s even with acknowledging that Vic Fuentes might just be the weakest part of the album overall, as the methodical approach married to an already saccharine voice can widen some cracks that might’ve stayed hidden otherwise. It’s more than compensated for by what’s elsewhere though, particularly in a rhythm section that’s given so much character and prominence, and an overall tone that can get grimier and heavier. It’s universally effective, too; Even When I’m Not With You is absolutely the album’s worst song for its lumbering, clattering plod that’s completely allergic to the concept of groove, but that searing guitar rumble in the background is pretty potent, even when slathered with glitches and squealing keys in the back half.

What’s more, it’s all an effective way to hold fast on emotion that Pierce The Veil often want to extol, and embolden it through something more downbeat and organic. Maybe it’s just the side talking that still gets a kick from overwrought emo poetry (or from the Dazed And Confused sample at the front of Resilience), but it’s much more effective against this format, in giving feelings of anxiety or relationship trauma room to unwind naturally. Like all the rest of The Jaws Of Life, there’s maturity to it, perhaps only in undercurrents but still in a noticeable, meaningful way. And when it all closes with 12 Fractures, a sweet, predominantly acoustic pop-rock song with Chloe Moriondo as a foil, it shows that the room for some of that bedazzled melodrama to slot in.

It’s in a much smaller capacity though, which is anything but a bad thing. Going back to the original argument, it was feeding into the same sort of melodrama that led to Sleeping With Sirens’ indisputable watering-down. With Pierce The Veil, they’ve avoided that by a factor of miles, instead taking their time to drill into what made their music work in the first place, open it out, and simply do more with it. It’s why they remain a satisfying, substantive band to listen to, even after so long. Even if The Jaws Of Life can take some getting used to, it’s where Pierce The Veil should be at this stage—grown and evolved exactly as they should, and retooled accordingly. Add onto that how their grip on melody and hook-craft hasn’t loosened at all, and the fact that they’ve been blessed with perhaps the best production they’ve ever had, and The Jaws Of Life is an indomitable triumph.

For fans of: Isles & Glaciers, older Weezer, Thrice

‘The Jaws Of Life’ by Pierce The Veil is released on 10th February on Fearless Records.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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