REVIEW: Pop Evil – Skeletons

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When the opportunity knocked to review the latest installment in the album catalog of the Michigan-based arena-rock outfit, POP EVIL, I instantly thought, ”Why the hell not!” For the life of me, I cannot recall whether this bunch made a lasting impression with their 2008 debut, “Lipstick on the Mirror,” or with some later effort, but I do recall a good few bangers they have dropped somewhere along the way. Their seventh studio album, “Skeletons,” was released on March 17th, 2023, via MNRK Music Group. Their previous offering, “Versatile” (2021), seems to have passed under my radar but, then again, I cannot blame the band – it was a mighty good year in terms of quality album releases, so I guess quite a few class-A efforts must have slipped through. The thing is… POP EVIL rolls out such a fine selection of catchy and melodic hard rock with this new outing that I simply have to check out “Versatile” ASAP as well; rumor has it that there might be a tad more electronica on it, compared to this latest endeavor, which is always a good thing. To put it short, the band’s name says it all: the music on “Skeletons” instantly comes off catchy enough to justify the term ”pop,” and yet, the riffs bite hard enough to sound adequately evil.

The album kicks off with a short, 22-second atmospheric intro, entitled “Arrival,” capturing the atmosphere of the opening titles of any big-budget Hollywood sci-fi film of late. The opener bleeds into the single, “Paranoid (Crash & Burn),” and when the chorus kicks in, I cannot avoid an instant flashback to “Parasite Eve” by BRING ME THE HORIZON. Then again, the song is just as much reminiscent of bands as disparate as P.O.D. and FALLING IN REVERSE, so these hard-rock ruffians are definitely on to something diabolically good. On the second listen, I paid more attention to the lyrics and made an observation that perhaps there is some overarching story to these skeletons mentioned in the album’s title. Maybe it stems from the subtly cinematic tone of the album, first sketched in the gloomy intro track and then subtly reinforced by nuances, such as the female voice announcing, “the voice in your head is a threat,” in the opening bars of this leading single. A cautionary tale that you cannot trust even yourself, your own thoughts, is the stuff from The Matrix – and paired with such big riffs, it just works.

The cinematic flavor continues in “Circles,” with the lyrics somewhat paraphrasing the age-old trope of being stuck in a loop, running in circles, or reliving the same day over and over as in the 2014 film, Edge of Tomorrow, starring Tom Cruise. The music tiptoes the fine line between nu-metal and pop punk, by turns channeling the haunting debut of LINKIN PARK and the more mellow side of early KILLSWITCH ENGAGE. In fact, vocalist Leigh Kakaty comes off a rather smooth cross between Howard Jones (ex-KILLSWITCH ENGAGE, LIGHT THE TORCH) and Tom S. Englund (EVERGREY), perhaps most notably on the track, “Eye of the Storm.” Then, on “Sound of Glory,” these merry hard-rock pranksters side-step into the realm of SHINEDOWN for a bit, what with the singalong chorus resonating with the thick air of “Sound of Madness.”

The last three tracks all feature guest vocalists, with Blake Allison of DEVOUR THE DAY first doing the honors on ”Wrong Direction,” adding a few good ounces of pop-punk energy into the choruses. Then, “Dead Reckoning” features Ryan Kirby of FIT FOR A KING. The added grit and growl do pack a good punch into the song. The album closer, “Raging Bull,” featuring the rap vocals of ZILLION, perhaps does not deliver up to the standard – after all, the closer is supposed to be the grand climax on the album and, here, it quite frankly isn’t. The song is not entirely without its merit but it just doesn’t work as a closer, I’m afraid.

The title track, “Skeletons,” is placed in the middle of the selection, almost as if to emphasize its role as the centerpiece. After a few spins, I’m still not sure whether there is some common denominator linking all these songs together thematically, but if there is one, it probably has something to do with the dystopian nature of our modern world. One line of the lyrics puts it rather eloquently: “what doesn’t kill us leaves a hole in our soul.” POP EVIL‘s new album is a rather prominent soundtrack for that inner struggle that we, lonely skeletons, go through in order to fill that hole with more or less dubious things. In spite of the fact that I wasn’t instantly infatuated by some of the tracks, by and large, “Skeletons” is a damn fine selection of banging hard-rock riffathons sprinkled with a good pinch of cinematic flavor.

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. Arrival
  2. Paranoid (Crash & Burn)
  3. Circles
  4. Eye of the Storm
  5. Sound of Glory
  6. Skeletons
  7. Worth It
  8. Who Will We Become
  9. Wrong Direction
  10. Dead Reckoning
  11. Raging Bull

Lineup

Leigh Kakaty – vocals

Dave Grahls – guitars

Nick Fuelling – guitars

Hayley Cramer – drums, percussion

Matt DiRito – bass

Label

MNRK Music Group

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