On their seventh long player, which is simultaneously their second release for this year, Hollywood Undead do what they always do: the quintet merges genres of rock and hip-hop. However, this time around, they switch things up a little bit and add some spicy trends from both scenes, mainly trap and emo-rap, to keep things fresh. In this review, you are going to see whether or not they do so successfully.
Hollywood Undead Version 6.2
Usually, you can differentiate between two types of Hollwood Undead songs: rock tracks and party songs. However, on this LP, this distinction cannot be made as clearly and that is a positive thing.
Yes, there are still songs that lean more into heavier genres, while others are softer but all in all, the band’s sound feels more homogenous on this release. At the same time, it feels fresh because of the various features (half of the album’s songs are features with modern rap-rock, emo-rap and trap artists). This mixture keeps things fresh but at the same time, the record does not feel like a random mesh of different styles.
The opening track Medicate is a poppy rock tune with a catchy chorus, in which the band’s notorious gang shouts return. This is somewhat reminiscent of the second LP American Tragedy, however a little stripped back and softer. This is not the most spectacular opening track but it is not bad either.
Enter Hyro The Hero in Comin’ Thru The Stereo. What sets off with a beat typical of Hollywood Undead‘s earlier work and thus giving you some major throw backs, picks up in its pace and turns into a rock song. Hyro’s vocals are great in this and add energy to this song, making it a good mixture of rap and rock. Charlie Scene’s vocals have improved over time and this is the first track, where he shows more of his vocal range. That’s also a positive thing, as it hints at growth as opposed to stagnation.
Ghost Out begins with an almost house-ish beat. It is then carried by rapid changes between the band members during the verses. This is a fun track with some questionable lines and flexes like ‘I’m stuffed full of needles like a fucking Saw sequel’. but overall, it is another solid track.
In Gonna Be Okay, the band again strikes the balance between rock and electronic music and there is an interesting bridge with an energetic, fast-paced base drop. This however, is followed by one of the highlights on this record: Monsters, a feature with Killstation. This is a serious, melancholic track, dominated by electronics. This paired with the lyrics and Killstation‘s guest entry turn this into a fun emo-rap song with Lil Peep-vibes. That makes for an great combination and the band cleverly integrates modern hip-hop into their sound.
Now, the record reaches its climax with Idol (feat. Tech N9ne). This track has strong trap-vibes. Its beat is really hectic and the guest vocals add to these vibes even more. Apart from that, the band merges a nice and heavy base-drop in the style of The Prodigy with a hard-hitting, yet minimalist Rammstein-riff. This came really unexpected for me and I loved it. Idol is one of the most dynamic tracks on this LP and it has a great sound. You could almost think that the band decided to include it three times because they thought: ‘Oh, this is sick!’. Yes, this song made it three times onto the extended version, yet it still works but more on that later.
Coming Home feels a bit weaker in comparison, but Danny shows more of his vocals on this catchy emo-rap-rock-ballad. – What an Unholy mixture of genres. The beginning of the next piece, which is fittingly called Unholy, almost has a Scarlxrd feel, as there is a basedrop accompanied by distorted vocals. The beat is very old-school Hollywood Undead and this piece is quite interesting but in comparison with other tracks, it just does not quite stick out. This unfortunately also goes for ‘Worth It’, another emo-rap track that does not really add anything that has not been done by earlier songs on this record.
A Gift To The Fans
If Heart Of A Champion had been released ten years ago, I would have died of fanboydom. This feature with Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach is a wet childhood dream that came into reality just a little bit late for me personally. The singer of Ice Nine Kills also gets a part in this.
This might be the highlight for fans of the band’s original sound, as it is what comes closest to the older sound of Hollywood Undead on this record. It is a mixture of rap and rock with singing and rapping of Shaddix and vocals by Spencer Charnas, which makes for an epic alternative rock team up. Heart Of A Champion might excite some of the band’s fan base but to me, this feels a bit underwhelming in comparison with the rest of the album. However, the next song feels all the more exciting.
On the extended edition, there are two bonus track, which are both revamped version of Idol. The alternative version of Idol featuring Ghøstkid, the former singer of Eskimo Callboy, adds an interesting touch to the original version. This one has strong Scarlxrd energy, as Ghøstkid whispers and shouts over beats, which gives this version an entirely different vibe. Likewise, the version with Kurt 92 changes the mood of this track yet again. His vocals remind me a lot of experimental rappers like JPEGMAFIA and Keith Ape, as he is almost yelling in parts of his verse. Thus, he shifts the song around competely and turns it into a different experience. I did not expect that I would but I thoroughly enjoyed all versions of Idol.
The Toll of 2020
Apparently, this past year had an impact on the band, as the sound of New Empire, Vol. 2 differs from its precursor and older work of the band strongly, especially when it comes to the lyrics.
Most pieces on this LP revolve around personal struggles and ‘facing one’s demons’, which is a bit of a trope at this point and can be seen in Medicate and Monsters, in which we hear lines like: ‘I never had shit, so how could I lose it?’ (Monsters).
Some of the lyrics are a bit corny as above, while others are more clever and fun but all in all, this is a decent and coherent experience. Additionally, the lyrics are not nearly as outlandish as they used to be. I could include a quote from the track Dead In Ditches here but I’m gonna let you do the research if you’re interested in the song. Just look at the lyrics, they’re the reason I don’t cite it here. This album is definitely a step up from that, even if some of their older stuff was not to be taken seriously.
Consequently, the tone between individual songs does not shift as much as it used to in older work of the band and it feels more well-rounded despite the various features that obviously add diversity and make it more challenging to keep an album’s structure intact. Accordingly, the more consistent and sombre tone of the lyrics and songs makes this album feel quite well-structured and while the features add more diversity, they do not disrupt the flow of the album.
Maybe, 2020 took its toll on the band and they didn’t feel like writing weird stuff anymore or maybe it is a part of their evolution as musicians. In any case, Hollywood Undead sound a little more mature on this record.
New Empire, Vol. 2 is a decent album, on which the band enriches their sound with great features. Instead of focusing on the heavier side of their music, Hollywood Undead put more emphasis on the pop- and hip-hop accents in their craft and thus mix things up a little. I frankly did not expect to enjoy this record but I did and it stuck out to me how cleverly the band has tackled this project. If you can get away with having three versions of one song on a record, you have achieved something.
All things considered, I give this 8/10 points. The diversity and amount of features as well as the way in which they were all integrated in one album surprised me with their execution. Apart from that, as an old fan of this band who is no longer that invested in this band, it was a nice throw back to hear something new from them. If you are an old fan of this band and their metal sound, this is most likely not going to be your cup of tea. However, if you are a fan of modern hip-hop sub genres, you might want to give this a listen.
Regardless of these aspects, Hollywood Undead appear to have found their style and it is commendable how they refined and modernised it on this album.
As always, thank you for reading.
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