REVIEW: POP EVIL – “Versatile”
Metal needs bands like Pop Evil. Bands that give it that unapologetic, up-tempo shot in the arm to shake things up once in a while. However, this does not mean they’ll hit the mark every time. On May 21, the five-piece, Agro-Pop outfit are back for more cross-genre contrasts with the release of their new album ‘Versatile’. An effort that tempts its own fate, sitting on the knife’s edge of being a force with real substance and a band trying too hard to sound like they matter.
Ushering in the album opener, “Let the Chaos Reign,” guitarists Nick Fuelling and Dave Grahs build momentum with some overtly chunky and chugging guitar textures that define the tone for much of what is to come. With bouncing rhythms that echo back to nu-metal pioneers such as P.O.D and Adema, “Let the Chaos Reign” is awash with retro energy that succeeds in being the great hook any opening track should be. Bounce is soon exchanged for groove with the direct follow-up, “Set Me Free”. An instant standout, this melodic, driving rocker compliments further brilliant moments, such as the ballad “Survivor” and the irresistible “Human Nature”. Offering an impactful performance from singer Leigh Kakaty, and an irresistibly good showcase of drummer Hayley Cramer, who is a pleasure to listen to throughout, even during the album’s weaker moments.
Where ‘Versatile’ falls short is in multiple attempts to promote the band’s enlightened self-awareness and repurposed social commentaries. The prime deadweight being “Same Blood”. Advocating for equality is always commendable, but it does not excuse the message being communicated through an unforgivably weak medium in which buzz words are cherry-picked and littered in place of lyrics, penetrating the experience like a rude smell. Similarly, the bleating cries in “Work” and “Raise Your Flag”, all feel as if they were informed by a Wikipedia search during a quick nip out to the bathroom. If the goal was to promote activism, these songs do it no favors, their high-minded ideals simply not enough to justify them lyrically or musically. Like listening to someone else’s regurgitated opinions, not enough effort was put into either these thoughts or songs. Proving again, how hard it is to write really good activist songs without sounding like the latest charity single.
When ‘Versatile’ works, playing loud rather than preaching poorly, it is among the best alternative metal albums of 2021. For Pop Evil are at their best playing grooving riffs and floating melodies around a narrative that feels heartfelt and well informed. Yet the band’s recurring Achilles heel over the years is their approach to social commentary. Not the commentaries themselves, but that musically and lyrically things collapse for lack of an original thought or idea. Still, if that’s what lights your world on fire, Pop Evil like the way it burns.