[Album Review] Three Days Grace – Outsider
- Posted on March 11, 2018 at 10:00 AM by Mark Stoneman
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Every anger-induced, angst-ridden kid from the early 2000s remembers blasting MTV’s greatest rock music videos. Probably through cheap stereo subwoofers rigged into your overpriced Sony flat screen (which your dad still insists was a ‘great’ idea at the time), or just the poor TV’s internal speakers straining valiantly to cope with System of a Down’s ‘Chop Suey’ and Linkin Park’s ‘One Step Closer’, or perhaps Korn’s ‘Freak On a Leash’ with a little helping of 3 Doors Down’s ‘Kryptonite’. If you’re the kind of person that grew up during (or at least remembers) the ‘golden era’ of early 2000s nu-metal and hard rock, then you remember ‘I Hate Everything About You’ by Canadian post-grunge outfit Three Days Grace.
Bursting onto a new millennium’s rock scene in 2003, boasting a final total of 46 weeks on the Mainstream Rock chart, with a twangy acoustic riff and lead singer Adam Gontier’s coarse, unforgiving demonization of many an abusive relationship, ‘I Hate Everything About You’ immediately cemented the band in the minds and hearts of all those bitter and young, finding familiarity and justification in Gontier’s vengeful catharsis. The band’s first album Three Days Grace and second single ‘Just Like You’ swiftly followed, the latter of which being the first number one hit of the group’s career, and with crunchy, overdriven guitar riffage and Gontier once again lashing out at those having done him wrong, Three Days Grace were was blasted into fame and fortune.
Of course, it’s hard to mention Three Days Grace these days without inevitably discussing Gontier’s sudden departure from the band in early 2013, barely three months following the release of the group’s fourth effort, Transit of Venus. The hurried recruitment of My Darkest Days vocalist (and brother to bassist Brad) Matt Walst swiftly followed, and the Canadian hard rockers gallantly embarked upon the planned Transit of Venus promotional tour. Before long it was announced that Walst would remain a permanent replacement vocalist, effectively disbanding the lesser known My Darkest Days. The group eventually released their fifth studio effort in 2015, titled Human.
Unfortunately, while 2009 release Life Starts Now and 2013’s Transit of Venus had both received relatively mixed-to-positive reception, Human proved to many what had already been heavily suspected – that without Adam Gontier at the helm, Three Days Grace had effectively lost their spark. While Walst makes for a competent enough vocalist, and tracks such as ‘Human’, ‘I Am Machine’ and ‘The Real You’ displayed the band’s potential, the generally rather generic, lackluster material found throughout much of Human ultimately lacked any real substance or growth, and was criticized by many for its overall simplicity. Of course, whether or not Human had been just a natural misstep while the group found their feet again and 2018 release, Outsider, would see a return to better form, ultimately remained to be seen.
Unfortunately, again, if Outsider’s pre-release singles were anything to go by, the group’s sixth effort mostly came across as a complete rehash of Human’s already lesser quality material: lead single ‘The Mountain’ treads the familiar ground of ‘I Am Machine’, to bitterly reduced impact. A dull, rudimentary guitar riff, and Walst’s tired, uninspired repetitions of “every day I’m just survivin’, keep climbing the mountain” have very little of the intended call to arms effect that is obviously desired. Secondary release ‘I Am an Outsider’ does little better, boasting what is quite possibly one of the worst choruses of Three Days Grace’s career (while blatantly recycling Marilyn Manson’s ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’ introductory guitar riff, I might add): “I am an outsider, I don’t care about the in-crowd, no. I’m better off on my own now.” Thankfully, although still featuring a precariously average chorus, third single ‘Right Left Wrong’ directs Outsider (ironically) into slightly better territory; it’s still much of the same uninspired, chugging monotony but Walst offers a better performance vocally, and the track ends things on a fist-pumping blast of a bridge. Neil Sanderson crashes valiantly through the mix with huge aggressive percussion, and the novelty of Walst’s angsty deliverance of “and I don’t even know where I’m going to, but I don’t want any motherfucking part of you” is likely to appease enough, albeit being very much on the nose.
As for what follows beyond Outsider’s pre-release material, it sadly does little more to recover things; ‘Me Against You’ sees Walst attempting some strange, sinister impersonation of Gerard Way’s My Chemical Romance-era delivery (“you can’t win against my kind of crazy”), but alongside some awkwardly executed vocal processing, it genuinely sounds quite odd and lands rather flatly compared to what you can only assume he was going for. The track itself does see some deviation from the rudimentary radio-rock structure that much of Outsider relies on, but overall it’s generally rather forgettable. Still recycling former ideas, ‘Chasing the First Time’ blatantly reuses ‘Chalk Outline’s fuzzy, introductory bass stabs, and similarly utilized synthesizer work. It could be forgivable if the track itself was at least okay, but after the sixth or seventh repeat of “the first time, the first high” within the space of barely 20 seconds, the ‘hook’ is dead and buried before the track even has a chance to get off the ground. In all honesty, it’s about as filler as it gets for Outsider, and should have been scrapped the moment it was written. Are things now so complacent that you’re content with ripping off your own material?
Although of course, credit where credit is due: the album has the occasional moment that at least slightly redeems things. ‘Nothing to Lose but You’ takes a stab at being Outsider’s leading ballad, and while it’s no ‘Gone Forever’ or ‘Never Too Late’ and suffers from some relatively uninspired lyrical content (“cause if I didn’t have you, I’d be better off dead – you’re the only reason I’m still alive”), Walst delivers what is easily one of his best vocal performances on the record. As for the instrumental side of things, ‘Infra-Red’ features some of the best instrumentation seen on Outsider, a catchy enough riff and some actually rather atmospheric lead guitar that works very effectively. Lyrically, the track is disappointing, but what frustrates is that it’s moments such as these that prove Barry Stock can still write interesting material. Yet once again, what could be something great is unfortunately diluted into another half-hearted, bland attempt at a radio single. On a far more positive note, we have ‘Strange Days’, which actually sees the band trying something a little bit new; alongside a cocky, almost southern rock guitar riff and some unnerving warbling synthesizer work, Matt Walst delivers one of the most intriguing lyrical moments of the record, when he suggests, “raise a glass to the end of it all – who’s to blame when it’s everyone’s fault?”
Now, there probably needs to be some clarification here… Matt Walst is not the sole reason for the failings of Human and Outsider. Instrumentally, it can’t be denied that this is the weakest it’s ever been for Three Days Grace; the majority of the riffs are boring and overproduced, and the huge percussion of ‘Riot’, ‘Scared’ or even ‘Sign of the Times’ is largely absent here too. Sure, Walst is completely out of his comfort zone (this is the guy who started his career with the likes of ‘Porn Star Dancing’, ‘Move Your Body’ and ‘Casual Sex’), but what made Adam Gontier so effective by comparison was the simple matter of the inner demons and life experiences that fed into the lyrical content. Riot thrives on the aggressive frustration that Gontier faced during a stage of personal rehabilitation. It wasn’t contrived, it was cathartic. Matt Walst is far better suited to exploring the likes of My Darkest Days’ ‘Sick and Twisted Affair’, ‘Nature of the Beast’ or ‘Goodbye’, not half-heartedly attempting to replicate Gontier’s catharsis through bored, generic radio-rock choruses.
Ultimately, as far as hoping Outsider would be some sort of revitalization for the Canadian hard rockers, their 2018 release unfortunately falls very, very far from the mark. There’s nothing fun about a band losing their spark, but when it feels so uninspired and paint-by-numbers, with a blatant focus on being safe and marketable, reacting to this work with anything less than exasperation would be an insult to the artistic integrity of previous and far superior material. Three Days Grace and Matt Walst have far better ability and talent than this, and by the end of it all, it’s easy to feel that this isn’t a creative endeavor, but instead just an exercise in complacency and frustration.