Sunday, 13 September 2015

Bullet for my Valentine's 'Venom' - Album Review

As I said in my review for 2013's Temper Temper (you can read the full thing here): '...time has left Bullet for my Valentine as an uncool throw back to one's angst-filled youth'. In 2015, this statement still seems to ring true. They are also a band that I believe are victims of their own success. Their 2005 debut album The Poison made the band instant stars, and they were elevated to this position quicker than most bands. I always feel that bands that get too big too quickly often suffer in the long run. The hype that is built up around their second album is often hard to meet, and the disappointment that this can cause shows just how many casual 'hanger on'-type fans the band had amassed. While I'm not certain this situation 100% describes Bullet for my Valentine's particular career trajectory, I feel that a certain element of this has been present throughout. Each of the band's album's has been criticised for 'not being as good as The Poison' (or, more accurately, 'not being The Poison') and the lack of lots of 'screams' (clearly the only thing that makes a song worth hearing..). While the band remained very popular, it was very rare to see good reviews of their albums. I was always confused by this. I have always enjoyed the band's first three releases a lot. The Poison, 2008's Scream Aim Fire, and 2010's Fever are all solid albums in my opinion, full of powerful metalcore anthems and some enjoyable guitar riffs. Temper Temper is definitely weaker, but even that contains a few decent songs. It is undeniably uninspired, but it is far from awful. Given all of this, you can understand why I was shocked when I started reading reviews of the band's fifth album Venom. Coverage was almost universally positive, and critics and fans were falling over themselves to proclaim how good this new album is. I was excited to hear Venom, as I assumed it would be something like the band's first three albums, so you can imagine my disappointment when I played the album and it sounded exactly like Temper Temper. Now, Venom is not a bad album, but I really do not understand the hype of the universal love this album is receiving. It is just as bland and generic as Temper Temper, and actually has a very similar sound and production quality - despite some enjoyable songs. Hype and public opinion can be a totally unpredictable entity. I am not sure if there is something I am missing here, but repeated listens have not revealed anything special about this album. It is certainly no Fever

After a short instrumental intro called V, the album gets underway with the song No Way Out. This is one of the better songs on the album and definitely contains all the hallmarks of the band when they were at their best. Matt Tuck's vocal performance is strong here, mixing strong screams with melodic clean vocals well, something which is somewhat a trademark of Bullet for my Valentine's sound. Tuck and Michael Paget's guitar riffs here have quite a large thrash influence, and roar along at a good pace. The song also possesses a great, memorable chorus which helps to make the song so strong. Army of Noise follows and continues on the pacey strength that was established by No Way Out. Despite some rather strange lyrics, this is a very enjoyable song, and one of the better ones here. The choruses are particularly strong, with some galloping riffing and some tight vocal harmonies. There is a pretty good guitar solo too, that is extremely fast which suits the urgency of the rest of the song. Worthless is next, and slows the pace down somewhat, and presents itself as a heavy, mid-paced crunchy number. The verses have quite a sinister feel to them, with some loud whispered vocals in places and some staccato riffing. There is another enjoyable chorus too, that has just enough melody to make it memorable and interesting. After two faster songs, Worthless does well to change the pace up a bit and keep things varied. With You Want a Battle? (Here's a War) the album starts to take a downward turn. The vacuous, angsty lyrics that are shouted by a gang vocal choir from the outset, should be enough to warn you that this is not going to be a good track, and the band does nothing to prove you otherwise throughout it's duration. The verses are sung above some moody clean guitar lines that pale in comparison to things they have done in the past, and the choruses have no energy at all thanks to the slow gang vocal sections. Songs like this show Bullet for my Valentine at their most uncreative, and probably sum up what non-fans do not like about their music. Broken gets things back on track somewhat with a tasty fast riff. Tuck's vocal delivery in the verses do not seem quite right however, and I cannot put my finger on why. Things pick up however just before the chorus. A heavier screamed section contains a lot of power and discordant guitar lines that lead nicely into the memorable chorus. Tuck's singing is much better here, and the melodies are strong. There is another good guitar solo, that is helped along by Michael Thomas' fast drumming.

The album's title track is up next, and it is another song that I really enjoy. It is quite understated, which I feel actually works in the band's favour. The verses are quite quiet, with some trippy clean guitars and prominent bass guitar (which, I believe, is played by Tuck despite new bassist Jamie Mathias being credited with bass guitar in the sleeve notes along with Tuck). It is an easy song to like, with a strong chorus and interesting guitar patterns. It just adds something to the album with some good variety and a strong mood. The Harder the Heart (The Harder it Breaks) is a song that, once again, takes the album on a downward turn - one that lasts for three songs. There is just nothing interesting about this song at all, and it just seems to me as if the band were trying a little too hard with this one. The chorus lacks any standout melodies, and the verses have no bite at all to them, making them just pass you by without requiring you to actually take any notice. This continues on with Skin. Despite a good intro riff and a strong verse, the song never really seems to go anywhere. I was expecting a really strong chorus to explode from this song, but instead what we get is a short, weak offering that kills all expectations after the pacey verse. There are plenty of good things about this song, but the lack of a powerful chorus really disappoints. In my book, that is one of the cardinal sins that a song can commit, and Skin has committed it big time. It is a shame as, with some work, this song could be great. Hell or High Water is quite similar too, but the other way around. In this song, the chorus is quite good, but it is the only interesting thing about the song. The riffing is bland and the verses have no bite to them at all. Again, it just never seems to get going, and sits at the some boring pace throughout. It is a rather unremarkable song, and again passes by without grabbing your attention. After three weaker songs, it is a good thing that Pariah comes along and ensures that the album ends on a positive note. This is a really enjoyable song with some powerful bass guitar riffing and a really catchy verse melody. When Bullet for my Valentine write fast songs that mix clean and screamed vocals well, they usually produce good songs, and this is another one. I like the chorus too, which has some great loose drumming from Thomas and some strong vocal harmonies. It is a very enjoyable tune, and one that brings the album back around after a fairly poor second half. Overall, Venom is a decent enough album, but one that fails to live up to the hype that surrounded it. I doubt that Bullet for my Valentine will ever produce another essential album, but this is enjoyable enough for the most part and contains a handful of really strong songs.

The album was released on 14th August 2015 via RCA Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Army of Noise.

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