One of the biggest things that feels inevitable is the somewhat dreaded idea of change. Everyone changes in life; from personality to appearance and from tastes in food to music, it’s nearly impossible to say that as people grow, they will stay the same. When it comes to the thought of change, some run away from it, trying to prevent it for as long as possible, while others wholeheartedly embrace it, accepting it for what it is. After 9 years, multiple albums and a slow shift in sound that culminated with a fan favorite album, electronic hardcore outfit I See Stars have underwent this oft-dreaded thought when it was announced that unclean vocalist Zach Johnson and rhythm guitarist Jimmy Gregerson were asked to leave the band last year. Now, with their new album Treehouse set to release June 17th, two of the biggest questions on fans minds are how does the departure of such pivotal members affect the band and where is their sound headed?
[tw-toggle title=”About I See Stars”]
Genre: Electronicore | Metalcore
Label: Sumerian Records
Release: June 17, 2016
Connect: Facebook | Twitter
Purchase: Homepage | iTunes | Google Play
Before delving into the overall sound of the album, there’s a few notes in regards to the creation process behind it that should be understood. Foremost, going into the writing session for Treehouse, I See Stars rebuilt their very foundation, creatively and personally. Coupled with having the most time to create an album since 3-D, it gave the band time to reflect on who they were and where they wanted to go sonically. As many fans know, one of the most important aspects that they strive for in their sound is to seamlessly blend everything together. Taking that a step further in this session, there was a desire to make the electronics stand out on their own; that if all other elements were stripped away, they could be standalone tracks. Both of these goals were ultimately met and leave a lasting impression on the albums overall sound.
With parts of the album creations process dug into, there should be a clearer understanding as to why I See Stars took Treehouse in the direction they did. The most obvious and immediate aspect comes from the impact the electronics have on the overall package. With the desire to have them stand out on their own, they’re bigger, louder and more seamlessly integrated becoming the ultimate driving force behind the records sound. Substituting breakdowns and heavier instrumentation, there’s now a multitude of electronic styles and sub-genres to be found littered throughout. From the drum & bass aspects of “Calm Snow”, the house elements found on “Walking on Gravestones” to the biggest change of pace with the trap elements of “All In”, there’s not only variety, but substance to each track. Even with so much variety found throughout, the songs transition almost seamlessly from one another while never feeling too out of place. If one was to nitpick, it would be that the inclusion of “Mobbin’ Out” feels as if it was solely to help transition fans of New Demons while “Walking on Gravestones” ends up being almost too melancholy and somber slowing down the frantic, high octane pace the album gives off.
While the emphasis was clearly placed on bringing the electronic elements to the next level, the instrumentation also had to be well crafted in order to keep a natural flow to the album. As expected, at very few points does the blending of synthesizers with any sort of instrumentation have a jarring effect on the sound being presented. From the calming notes of a piano, the hard hitting drumming and well placed fills to toe tapping basslines and crisp guitar riffs, there’s never a point where it feels as if everything isn’t one overall package, including the continued utilization of uniquely crafted electronic-instrumentally driven breakdowns. Furthermore, there’s a fascination with listeners of many core genres to associate heavy music with unclean vocals, which isn’t the sole driver of what dictates that styling. Yes, the deep, brooding growls and higher pitched screams so fondly loved in New Demons are rarely utilized, but they can still be found, most notably on “Mobbin’ Out”, “Portals” and “Yellow King”. In place of those growls, there’s more emphasis on vocal harmonies and melodies along with bigger, catchier choruses.
From the opening piano note of the albums opener, “Calm Snow”, to the last vocal and synthesizer effects on the closer, “Yellow King”, there’s a new level of emotion, variety and substance found within I See Stars’ sound and lyrical content. With a longer period of time for self-reflection, a reinvention of their foundation as a band and a desire to have the electronic aspects stand out on their own coupled with a broader scope in sound aided by a multitude of producers (Erik Ron, Nick Scott and Taylor Larson), Treehouse is the album they ultimately wanted to create. After a multitude of listens, this record does come across as the natural evolution in sound from Digital Renegade compared to the heavier, hard hitting style found throughout New Demons, which will assuredly cause fan divisiveness.