When Ohio-based metalcore unit The Devil Wears Prada tackled the undead apocalypse in their 2010 Zombie EP, that release turned out to be one of the best horror-themed music projects of that year, even from a band not otherwise known for tackling horror themes. While those zombies have been (at least temporarily) vanquished, the band's creative energy was still coming from a similarly dark place when they dropped the full-length album Dead Throne the following year, accompanied by the music video “Vengeance” which made its world premiere on FEARnet (you can still watch it here). This year finds them very much in that same ominous groove with their album 8:18, which drops today from Roadrunner Records. There's not a zombie in sight this time around (although some more horror references do surface), but many tracks summon a dark and haunting mood, with the band often opting for a more suspenseful build than bursts of outright violence.
8:18 is also not a huge sonic departure from the previous two studio releases (or the band's first concert album Dead & Alive, which debuted last year), but this didn't really present a problem, since I felt they had clicked into their niche with the darker, deeper tones and themes established in Zombie and Dead Throne. While this is the first TDWP record without James Barney's distinctive cinematic keyboards (he left the band last year), Jonathan Gering slips into the role ably enough to smooth over the transition, with his best work coming through in tracks like “Gloom” and “Rumors.” The other musical elements are still firmly in place, with Mike Hranica and rhythm guitarist Jeremy DePoyster sharing vocal duties (harsh and clean, respectively), beefy dropped riffs by DePoyster & lead axe Chris Rubey, and bassist Andy Trick & drummer Daniel Williams laying down the rhythms. But while it may musically pick up where Dead Throne left off, there are also more complex and evocative moments to be found on this record that suggest a deliberate shift in tone, and hint at some possible new stylistic directions.
The mood of 8:18 is ominous from the outset, with eerie, pulsing synths enveloping the opening cut "Gloom” before Hranica cuts loose with his flesh-rending heavy vocals (which unlike many harsh vocalists of the genre, sounds less monstrous and more psychotic), but it's with "First Sight" that we encounter a more complex progression of intensity, balancing passages of pensive, delicate guitar work with bouts of crushing heaviness, including a particularly potent vocal delivery. The symphonic, sweeping track "War," the wailing, agonized guitars and piano of "Transgress" and the ghostly melancholy of "Care More" – the latter featuring exclusively clean, pop-style vocals from DePoyster instead of the traditional good cop/bad cop style exemplified in “Rumors” – present a much wider musical spectrum and allowing the sound to evolve over the course of a single song beyond the standard verse-chorus-breakdown model that dominates less memorable cuts like "Sailor's Prayer."
The title track is based on a mellower, more down-tempo groove, which is a brief but cool departure from the model as well, but the most potent offerings on the album go for a more jarring, varied and unpredictable approach; this comes across most powerfully in the frantic industrial-strength metal of "Black and Blue," which repeatedly and unexpectedly slams on the brakes and changes direction, interjecting jarring noise effects; a similar intensity drives "Martyrs" (which may not have been inspired by the French extreme-horror film of the same name, but captures the same mix of horror and despair) and the excellent "Home for Grave."
While overall 8:18 reasserts motifs that have remained basically unchanged across the past few TDWP releases, there are some key moments of experimentation and variety offered here that bode well for the band's future. They continue to embrace most of the standards of melodic post-hardcore, but break out more frequently from that mold than I've heard on the past two releases, offering more varied textures, disturbing rhythmic changes and slow-burning crescendos that bring a brooding, haunting overtone to the album as a whole. But rest assured, they can still bring the power, as demonstrated in the lyric video for “Martyrs” below.