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  • Ryan Ward

Seven years later; Pierce The Veil are finally back with their fifth album, 'The Jaws Of Life'

Seven years have passed since San Diego based Pierce The Veil last dropped an album, which was their 2016 release ‘Misadventures’, and it goes without saying a lot has happened during that time period. From political upheaval to COVID, 2023 is a very different world, and music has responded accordingly. Emo is back with a vengeance, possibly out of a nostalgia for a time it didn’t feel like the apocalypse was forever on our doorstep, and many former titans of the genre have come back in big ways recently.

From My Chemical Romance’s world tour, to the critically acclaimed new Paramore album, even to the return to form from Fall Out Boy, it seems like the alternative scene is thriving better than ever before. So what better time for Pierce The Veil to be reborn, following the removal of drummer Mike Fuentes after sexual misconduct allegations, and show the world what they are able to create as a three-piece?

From a time of so much instability, both within the band and in the world at large, comes Pierce The Veil’s fifth album, ‘The Jaws of Life’, accompanied by one of the worst pieces of album art in recent memory. That aside, however, the band had set this album up pretty decently, with two good singles in ‘Pass the Nirvana’ and ‘Emergency Contact’, both which illustrated the tone of the album pretty decently. However, the third single, ‘Even When I’m Not With You’, unfortunately does not live up to the same standards, and perhaps even more unfortunately perfectly encapsulates the fatal flaw of this album that prevents it from being anything more than a pretty decent listen.

‘The Jaws of Life’ is a confusing album. Swinging wildly back and forth between moments of punchy emo goodness and bland, beige soundscapes that sound how the album art looks, the listener will be hard pressed not to hit that skip button at least once. And it’s a real shame, because things actually start off on a phenomenal note with ‘Death of an Executioner’. Swaggering and moody, this bombastic opening number packs a bouncing bass line fills the track with an insane amount of groove, whilst synths punctuate the track with moments of 80’s cop show drama, as vocalist Vic Fuentes grapples with the demands for perfection from the internet, and the crowds that eagerly anticipating the use of any misstep as a reason to bring him down.

The aforementioned lead single, ‘Pass the Nirvana’, is also a great track, well-received by fans and critics alike. Gloomy and grunge-laden, ‘Pass the Nirvana’ deals with the constant trauma experienced by the American youth over recent years, with a track that couples droning riffs with raucous, aggressive chrouses. Whilst the lyricism of Fuentes is sometimes a little too on-the-nose, his vocal delivery provides the track with plenty of melodrama and teen angst.

The pace is not kept up with, however, with ‘Even When I’m Not With You’. A messy affair with trap styled hi-hats, insipid vocal delivery, and bland guitar lines that repeat ad nauseum. It’s possible to appreciate what the band attempted here, a larger than life declaration of love through all odds, but the execution is unfortunately incredibly flawed. ‘Emergency Contact’ thankfully picks things back up somewhat; a simple emo banger that is drenched in 90’s radio friendly tropes to create a deeply nostalgic vibe that translates pretty well. The simple bass lines and riffs, accompanied by Fuentes’ slightly nasally annunciation gives an almost midwest vibe to the verses here, whilst the chorus packs more of a big budget punch that will get you singing along.

The album continues to improve from there with ‘Flawless Execution’, which has a dichotomy of simple, restrained verses that launch into grandiose, melodramatic choruses, as Fuentes grapples with the blurred boundaries of love and lust; the lyricism here is, at times, simply fantastic, and the overblown guitar performances add a wonderfully dramatic feeling to the whole affair. The title track ‘The Jaws of Life’ is another track that attempts a theatrical feeling, with loud guitars that move up and down scales whilst drums pound away and Fuentes delivers his best Gerard Way, but whereas it works elsewhere on the album, here the track just feels like several separate tracks glued together with a vision of making a monumental centre-piece of the album, but little else.

From here, the albums hits something of a slump that it struggles to recover from. ‘Damn the Man, Save the Empire’ is another messy song that feels like several songs cobbled together and being forced to work alongside one another against their will; the segues between each section of the track are abrupt and ill-fitting, whilst elements such as the cowbell and the handclaps feel utterly shoehorned in, not even beginning to mention the irritating guitar melody in the choruses that whines away in the background.

With twinkling keys and drawn out, fuzzy guitars, the slowburner ‘Resilience’ has a lovely amount of sincerity and heart, with a real tenderness to the vocal delivery and the construction of the instrumentation, but the lyricism is something that needs some real work, with the earnest, self-empowering lines too often treading into cringeworthy territory, reading a little too like mantras from a yoga instructor. And with ‘Shared Trauma’, again, what is attempted here can be applauded, with the lo-fi nature of the track giving it a distinct feel from so much else of the album, but it ends up just feeling incredibly drab to listen to, with overly simple instrumentation, a runtime that is far too long for such a track, and a positioning in the tracklist that places it in completely the wrong place, following another slowburner.

Things, however, suddenly pick up dramatically in quality, with what is possibly the highlight of the album, ‘So Far So Fake’. An absolute banger, with firecracker percussion that lends something of a dance rock vibe to the whole affair, especially as the monumental choruses explode into life from restrained, brooding verses that swirl with electronics and harmonies. On top of that, the instrumental bridge features a killer guitar riff that acts as the perfect launching point for the final explosive chorus. This would have been a phenomenal way to conclude the album, giving listeners one last hurrah before departing, but the trio had to try and squeeze one more track onto this album, and in doing so, ends up leaving the final note of the album as one with little impact.

‘12 Fractures’ is such a weird way to end such an album, especially after the absolutely brilliant previous track. Once again, here Pierce The Veil decide to strip things back, draining the back end of this album of even more momentum, whilst bringing in vocals from chloe moriondo, whom Fuentes has little to no vocal chemistry with, an important factor on a track that’s all about the divorce of two of his closest friends. The whole track feels undercooked, with barebones instrumentation and little direction, and instead of the album ending with a definitive bang, it fades away with a song that feels like a demo that should have been left for a B-side.

‘The Jaws Of Life’ is arguably the very definition of a musical mixed bag. The highs that the band hit across the span of this comeback record are fantastic highs, with energetic and engaging slabs of post-hardcore and emo goodness that are guaranteed to go down a storm when performed live. However, too much of this album feels like it has been under-thought, or perhaps even over-thought, with some tracks containing very few ideas and very few moments that grab your attention, whilst other tracks possess far too many ideas, leaving little impact on the listener.

After seven years away from the business, Pierce The Veil could have done a lot worse with this record; it’s not one that will alienate fans, and it’s definitely picked up plenty of attention from new listeners. But conversely, you would think after seven years, the band would have had plenty of time to craft a knock-out album. Instead, all we got is one or two great tracks, a handful of bad tracks, and a whole lot of pretty decent ones in-between.

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