We've been keeping an eagle eye on the latest activities in the world of Hollywood Undead, including a cool walk-through of the band's tour bus (with a rare look at the band unmasked) and the premiere of the funky lyric video for the track “Pigskin”... and that was just the appetizer. The main course, the band's latest studio album Notes from the Underground, is finally here, and not only picks up the groove where their previous full-length venture American Tragedy left off, but manages to introduce other musical flavors beyond the roof-raising blend of party rap and melodic metal that's been their weapon of choice. While the band continues to mine creative fuel from the source once tapped (and nearly drained dry) by the likes of Limp Bizkit, Korn and Linkin Park, they've been keeping the material fairly fresh, with one boot planted in simple, catchy party rap – especially in their breakthrough record Swan Songs – and the other in a grittier, more violent world amped up by thrash and industrial riffs, taking many of its best lyrical cues from horror movies. For me, that formula is HU's hook, and the infusion of heavier guitars and more haunting melodies pushes this album further to the dark side than I expected.
The playful material is pared down to a minimum this time around, with “Pigskin” and “Up in Smoke” representing the only genuine party tracks (the latter is sure to make the rounds, if you know what I mean). While those are totally catchy, most of the other songs are moodier and often much more aggressive, reaching a ferocious peak with the speed riffs, bass punch and heavy beats of "From the Ground,” probably the heaviest track HU has ever released. The creepy-crawling demonic nursery rhyme "Dead Bite,” which manages to name-drop The Shining, Creepshow and I Spit on Your Grave all in one breath, the defiant, anthemic single "We Are" (be sure to catch the video below) and the flashy, danceworthy "Another Way Out" represent the band's strongest fusion of hooky melodies and aggressive attitude.
A surprisingly melancholy tone resonates through “Lion,” a path the band follows to more pop-friendly turf in the acoustic guitar-based tracks "Rain” and “Outside,” and the pensive harpsichord-style piano of “Believe.” But don't worry, the Undead aren't going all touchy-feely on you; they still bring plenty of balls-out musical violence, especially in cuts like "Kill Everyone,” which is exactly what you think it is (although I'm gonna assume they're speaking metaphorically here). The “Unabridged” version contains three additional tracks: “Medicine,” a stripped-down light guitar piece with a tight, dub-flavored central beat; the dark kicker “One More Bottle” (basically a laid-back companion to “Up in Smoke”) and the synth-buzzing vintage hip-hop of “Delish.” While interesting, these extras don't pack the same punch as the main album's power-packed first half; Underground is a keeper on the strength of that section alone.
Fans of HU's darker side, which was just beginning to emerge in American Tragedy, will find much to love here, but this album also serves as a decent intro for newcomers to the band's effective blend of late '90s-era rap-metal and even older modes of hip-hop. It would still make just as sweet of a party record as Swan Songs, even if the more pensive tunes may cool the room a little too much (save those for the bedroom, baby). It may represent the band at their moodiest, but there's always a positive undercurrent that keeps the energy high.
The Undead crew are kicking off the Underground promotional tour tonight (in Hollywood, natch), and continuing through January 23rd, so be sure to check here for an updated list of venues. But before you go, be sure to viddy the official clip for “We Are,” directed by Shawn “Clown” Crahan, percussionist and visual chronicler for Slipknot.
[Note: contains NSFW language]