BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE’S SCREAM, AIM, FIRE MISSES THE TARGET
Invariably in the evolution of a musical genre there falls a pattern. The first wave of bands to pioneer a sound do so by combining their influences to form something new and unique. In the wake of success that follows these pioneering bands, there is invariably a glut of bands that, themselves drawing on the first-wave bands as direct influences instead of the bands that spawned the first wave, create a watered down copy of the original. Regardless of the commercial success of these second-wave bands, there is always a boom of them two to three years after the explosion of the original, and the record labels are more than complicit in snatching them up in the hopes of cashing in on the sound. Regardless of the commercial success of said second wave bands, they never ring as true as the first wave nor does history shine as kindly upon them; there is a Bush to every Nirvana, a Poison to every Motley Crue, a Limp Bizkit to every Candiria. Unfortunately for Bullet for My Valentine, the Welsh quartet are not doing much to disprove this rule. The band members are certainly proficient musicians and able songwriters, but there’s nothing here that hasn’t already been done before and done better in the peaking sub-genre of metalcore. While the band’s debut album The Poison wasn’t earth-shattering either, it at least had instantly gratifying hooks-a-plenty that made listening rewarding and enjoyable, even if in the simplest ways (nothing wrong with a great hook!). While Scream, Aim, Fire lacks in the innovation department, for the most part it also lacks in the hook department, making it an album that should prove largely forgotten once the sun has set on the burgeoning metalcore trend.
Album opener “Scream, Aim, Fire” from which the album takes its name is the best the band has to offer this time around, and it’s actually a damn fine song. At the forefront are the thrash-influenced hammer of the guitars and drums, driving the song forward at full throttle until a half-time, gang vocal pre-chorus kicks in. Indeed, BFMV’s pentiant for gang vocals have always been one of the more endearing aspects to me, and they nail it here, calling their ’80s heroes to mind.
Unfortunately it’s mostly downhill from thereon out. “Eye of the Storm” recycles the same song pattern and beats by way of Maiden-influenced B-reel Killswitch Engage riffs and Matt Tuck’s alternatingly sung and screamed vocals. The song establishes a pattern that holds for much of the album; songs whose beginnings show promise but don’t lead anywhere all that interesting or rewarding.
The band seems to strive for the song-based approach, reaching for the balance of aggression and melody of some of their peers, but often falling short in both categories. There are some interesting riffs, guitar solos and melodies, but nothing reaches the the standard set with Poison staples such as “Her Voice Resides” and “Tears Don’t Fall.” The band lets their Iron Maiden influence shine on Scream, Aim, Fire, perhaps due to the fact that much of this album was written on the road while opening for that very band. The galloping drum beats and twin-lead guitars suggest Maiden around every corner, usually a winning combination to this reviewer’s ears but here coming off as too close to the original to be taken at face value.
In the adrenaline-riffed “Waking the Demon,” as in the pop-punk, upbeat sugar-coated “Hearts Burst Into Fire,” the band chugga-chuggs along but never seems to get too far. When the chorus does finally kick in it’s predictable and cheesey, nothing any other metalcore band can’t do. Chord progressions often follow long-established, tried and true formulas established in alternative rock’s mid-’90s heyday, injected with plenty of palm-muting and double-bass for metal emphasis. But the songs on Scream, Aim, Fire never reach that high of a level of brutality, nor do they deliver the epic chorus necessary to make this kind of formula work.
The balad-esque “Say Anything” is Exhibit A, a semi-promising track that begins with quiet guitars and builds into solid riffing, but when the chorus kicks in it sounds forced and weak, not worthy of the build-up foreshadowed by the beginning of the song.
When the band does go the full-on pop-metal route as on “Deliver Us From Evil,” one of the more memorable tracks, Matt Tuck’s nasally voice distracts from any kind of enjoyment that could be gleaned here. Not only is his voice often annoying in that Blink-182 sort of way, but Tuck’s vocal performance is somewhat weak throughout the whole album. When his scream/growl is beefed up by multi-track layering and injected with a healthy does of vocal distortion it of course sounds fucking bad-ass, but otherwise it’s a living, walking endorsement for pitch-correction. When a cool riff begins a song such as the opener in “Take It Out On Me,” along comes that robot-infused whine like nails on a chalkboard.
Ultimately Bullet For My Valentine are aiming for a winning combination of aggression and hooks, but Scream, Aim, Fire falls short precisely because each one dilutes the other to the point where neither shines through. This isn’t to say this combination can’t be reached, because plenty of bands have done it; in fact, metalcore is so successful precisely because of it. But the result here doesn’t deliver in any satisfying way making for mostly filler, and this is exactly why second-generation bands rarely reach the high watermark set by their first-wave peers. What metalcore had to offer has largely been done by now, and no amount of rehashing is going to push it forward. Bullet For My Valentine is a few years too late and a dollar (or a pound?) short.
(two out of five horns)