A bit of a theme with the last handful of Pop Evil albums is that they’ve all had artwork that’s far cooler and more impressive than the music within really deserves. It’s likely just a coincidence, but it could also point towards a band believing that they’re capable of a lot and failing to deliver it. That’s the case with a lot of radio-rock honestly, falsely conflating grandstanding and commerciality with quality output. It’s why so much is this scene remains so profoundly boring; the goal to meet is to sell, so why not go about that in the most hassle-free way possible? You can always just pretend you care about the music.
Maybe that’s an unfair generalisation, but it’s not hard to see where it comes from. Just look at Pop Evil themselves, whose albums have often been vehicles to ship singles, such is the noteworthy drop-off in quality and effort that’s often found within. But if the previous conclusion drawn does mean anything, maybe they do have a creative vision beyond just playing the game that hasn’t panned out. The fact that Skeletons feels like something of a retooling and adaptation process of previous ideas is a good start—and a severe rarity among their ilk. It’s still standard Pop Evil fare at its heart, but the effort makes it worth being more charitable, if only by a small bit.
Because at the end of the day, Pop Evil are too deep in their ways to ever make a real barnstormer that comes out of nowhere. This is their seventh album, and the fact they’re only now reshaping themselves in a positive way implies anything further will come just as slowly (if at all). It’s not awful what they’re trying out though, now encompassing the radio-metalcore sound of a band like I Prevail, only with some natural hard rock muscle behind it. The fusion is clearest on Dead Reckoning, a collaboration with Fit For A King’s Ryan Kirby who really does run away with the song, moulding it in his band’s own image but simultaneously elevating Pop Evil too. The lower chugs and crunch of Paranoid (Crash & Burn) and Circles are generally in the same ballpark, and the steamrolling clip of Raging Bull feels as though it should’ve been used more than just for the closer.
Evidently Pop Evil’s ways aren’t going away that quickly, given how their usual core is still present wholeheartedly across Skeletons. It’s all about the mid-paced, ready-for-radio hooks, all of which fit largely the same niche of broadness and wide-scale inalienability. To be fair to them, they’re better at it than most, almost entirely due to Leigh Kakaty as a frontman who continues to have a terrific voice for scaling these sky-wide heights. There’s a lot more conviction in his performance than many as well. Anyone else would drizzle out Worth It or Who Will We Become with such perfunctory malaise; Kakaty, meanwhile, genuinely gives off the impression of earnestness and gumption.
Well okay, maybe that’s stretching things a bit. At the end of the day, Pop Evil know what’s proven to work for them, and focusing in on that within their typical format is more smart business acumen than anything else. As has been the constant reflexive caveat throughout this review, things haven’t changed that much. Just look at the production, where some superficially heavier guitars stand, though not without the liberal gloss that adorns basically all of their work (now with some glitchy metalcore sprinkles to boot). At least the worst of it has been tamped back this time, probably at its most distracting on the jingle that runs through the title track that’s seemingly louder than anything else. There’s also Sound Of Glory, an addition to the pantheon of lumbering, wooden jock-jams that totally fails to earn any pretentions to firepower it has, but you expect at least one of them per album, don’t you?
When you average everything out though, Skeletons is more indicative of Pop Evil leaning into the better sides of themselves. What that’s worth is up for individual interpretation, but it’s rather definitively their best album in a while, and the sharpest version of what they want to do. If bands are adamant about latching on to the radio-rock motions, this is far from the worst interpretation of that, mostly because Pop Evil have power and populism they bring to the table fairly well. Let’s not go overboard and prophesy a bold new era for this band, because that’s going much further than they themselves are probably aiming, frankly. For exactly what they’re trying to do though, this is okay.
For fans of: Bad Wolves, I Prevail, Breaking Benjamin
‘Skeletons’ by Pop Evil is released on 17th March on MNRK Heavy.
Words by Luke Nuttall