Album Review: New Years Day – Unbreakable
“I believe that one defines oneself by reinvention,” once remarked punk rock hero Henry Rollins – a man who has been no stranger to testing the limits in his numerous forays through music, television, activism, spoken-word performances, publishing and beyond. On their fourth full-length Unbreakable, New Years Day are a band in the midst of reinvention themselves. And in doing so, they very nearly end up at their own defining moment.
You wouldn’t necessarily know that from opening track Come For Me, however. Its three and a half minutes showcase little sign of growth; all the flavours of New Years Day remain exactly where you’d expect. It takes limited guesswork in that regard – there’s an almost formulaic sense to how its machines whirr into life before nu-metal rhythms battle mechanical synths, as the backdrop of Halloweeny horror builds in suspense before that call-to-arms, beatdown chorus.
Second track MissUnderstood is where this beast begins to mutate, with a guitar-free intro and verses built on Arctic atmospheres that feel more electro-pop than the metallic force they’ve favoured in the past. The defiant lyrics, however, are infinitely more haunting than the spooky Halloween themes of old, as singer Ash Costello plays up to the duality of her iconic half-head hairstyle, disguising her vitriol during its calmer verses before eventually roaring her lungs out. It’s exactly the kind of earworm that will get New Years Day heard by new audiences without compromising their metallic edge – if anything, those earth-quaking riffs wind up feeling that much more destructive when they do finally materialise.
A further taste of this new noise arrives in the form of Skeletons – a song which borrows more from the Linkin Park songbook than any of Rob Zombie’s robo-exorcisms, teeing up its subterranean guitars with ambient keyboards and classical pianos. It also showcases Ash’s finest hour to date, skilfully weaving through major and minor tonalities in much the same way as Chester Bennington. Follow-up single Shut Up, released last month, expands on this even further, with lyrics like ‘Don’t try and tell me what a girl wants, shut up and give it to me’ revamped by a slick dance-pop production that evokes Bring Me The Horizon’s treatment of their most recent creative exploits on amo.
The second half of the album is also not light on ambition, with songs such as Poltergeist and My Monsters introducing new atmospheres and dynamics to synthesise a dark pop similar to that exemplified by PVRIS on their White Noise debut. But there are occasional heavier moments that, much like the opening track, lack danger and fall more within the realms of predictability. Working with two producers rather than one may very well have been a double-edged sword, the combined expertise of Mitch Marlow (Papa Roach, In This Moment) and Scott Stevens (Halestorm, Shinedown) perhaps also countered by some natural degree of compromise. Ultimately, however, credit must be given where it’s due – as they say, if you risk nothing, then you risk everything. On Unbreakable, New Years Day have, at times, risked something, and in the moments where they have done, it’s definitely paid off. This reinvention is yet to be fully realised or defined but it shows some big steps in the right direction.