Unleashing your demons never sounded so good.
Wherever you look, storm clouds are gathering. As the world convulses with hatred, fear and prejudice, it’s more crucial than ever to establish a sense of community, and an outlet for our shared frustrations.
For A Day To Remember – just like so many of us – heavy music has always fulfilled those roles, so perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that ‘Bad Vibrations’ is their darkest and most emotionally turbulent record to date.
Instead of trying to recreate the fist-pumping, arena-dominating glories of 2013’s ‘Common Courtesy’, the kings of Ocala are paying homage to their punk and metalcore roots, and baring their scars along the way.
It’s clear from the outset that ADTR are not fucking around here. While ‘Common Courtesy’ opened with euphoric underdog anthems ‘City Of Ocala’ and ‘Right Back At It Again’, album six explodes out of the gates on a knife-edge. Together with ‘Paranoia’ (a rager of the highest calibre, but you knew that already) the title-track sets a tone of claustrophobia and high anxiety that never truly fades. Whether drowning in self-doubt on the expansive, cinematic and utterly crushing ‘Reassemble’ or yearning for the simplicity of younger days on ‘Naivety’ – a hybrid of ’90s-style Orange County punk and stadium-friendly songcraft – vocalist Jeremy McKinnon comes across as a man with demons to exorcise. From the thrashing old-school metalcore of ‘Exposed’ to the downcast alt.rock of ‘Justified’, the soundtrack is equally bathed in shadow.
These are songs born from the pressure cooker environment of a practice space rather than the comforts of a home studio, and that urgency shines through. Even the mid-paced ‘Bullfight’, which initially feels like a jaded grind, hides a sting in its tail as a punishing breakdown slams in. If it’s ever unleashed on the festival stages, surroundings will be disrespected.
That being said, on the whole ‘Bad Vibrations’ feels less focussed than its predecessor – stripping ADTR’s signature sound back to its individual elements, or throwing up new (occasionally jarring) sound-clashes. Out-and-out crowd-pleasers in the vein of ‘All I Want’ are few and far between, though there are a couple of promising candidates. ‘We Got This’ is an unabashed tribute to the lost and downtrodden, Jeremy pledging that, “Things do get better / Trust me I’ve been there” and relating his own history of finding comfort in sound. In his hands the sentiment feels more endearing than cheesy, providing a brief flash of PMA.
Further down the line, ‘Turn Off The Radio’ offers up a plea for unity that – ironically – sounds primed for airwave domination. And if you’re after a lighters-aloft moment, string-laden closer ‘Forgive And Forget’ should hit the spot – complete with some choice “whoa” action and heartrending reflections on love gone bad. It sounds huge, naturally.
So, while it’s not the career-defining milestone that some were anticipating, this album still offers up enough melancholy mayhem to keep ADTR ahead of the chasing pack. Honouring where they came from, yet still capturing the spirit of our times, they’re coming out swinging once again. You have been warned.