Photo Credit: Bryan Kirks
Quantity doesn’t equal quality is undoubtedly an adage born out by the ongoing pop/rock-punk revival – we’re getting more releases from the genre than at any time since its mid-2000s peak, yet whereas the genre’s standard bearers were once My Chemical Romance and Avril Lavigne, it’s now Machine Gun Kelly and Blackbear (both of whom spent their most recent LPs coasting on Travis Barker’s production without adding any distinctive personality to the music).
Virginian, metalcore-meets-pop-punk quartet Bad Omens try to differentiate themselves from the hordes of middling punk nostalgia acts by combining sounds usually foreign to the genre. So much so that the first two and half minutes of their newest LP, The Death of Peace of Mind sounds like the work of an entirely different band. The heavy synth-pop of the “Concrete Jungle”’s first act places them closer to the likes of Chvrches and Tame Impala than it does to the giants of either punk or metal (albeit without the indelibility of those acts’ best songs).
But after two minutes and fifty seconds of “Concrete Jungle”, the band jarringly opts for the rock-punk and sludge-metal sound expected of them. It’s the sort of switch-up the band opts for at multiple points during their third album – most notably on the title track, which alternates between low-key, synth-heavy arrangements, an EDM chorus, and screamo sludge-metal. It sounds like three songs in the campaign of one. You can imagine the band listening to these songs and being impressed at their incorporation of such an eclectic sonic palette. But as Rina Sawayama’s disappointing sophomore effort, Hold The Girl, reminded us last year, there’s a difference between combining multiple genres into one satisfying whole and just awkwardly placing them side by side. Indeed, The Death of Peace of Mind more often than not does the latter rather than the former.
As a result, the LP’s most enjoyable moments occur when the band commits to staying in one lane for a song’s entirety. Emblematic of this is “Nowhere To Go” – the song’s fundamentals are tried and true pop-punk, but the band’s metal leanings add an intriguing heaviness to the music. Meanwhile, the mix is more spacious than most 2020s pop-punk (which is often uncomfortably claustrophobic). The melody is one of the album’s most instantly compelling, and the cries of “You’ve got nowhere to run // you’ve got nowhere to go,” add a tangible sense of urgency to the song.
It’s just a little disappointing, given that this is only the album’s second song, that there aren’t more moments like this. “Like A Villain” has an interesting lyrical concept – documenting how two people in a relationship can be slowly, irredeemably drawn apart from each other – but it exploits its copious metaphors and similes (“a clean slate”, “a new page”) to the point of saturation and just generally labors its point to a degree that deprives the song of all subtlety (“Look into my face, then look again // We are not the same, we’re different”).
“Bad Decisions” is another number that had the potential to be a career highlight for the band but is instead undermined by awkward sonic choices. The verses are filled with straightforward confessionals (“I’m only human, but I’m afraid // I may never learn from all my mistakes”) that speak to the band’s oft-overshadowed humanity. But the smooth, Weeknd-aping chorus subsumes the song into a tired, impersonal sonic palette. Once again, the band’s scattershot tendencies undermine their best qualities and blur their vision. The surprisingly pleasing verses, however, are a testament to a fundamental truth about The Death of Peace Mind – though the band seems to feel they need to cover all conceivable bases within 50 minutes, they come the closest to making a great record when they strip their music down to its core essentials.