If the definition of insanity is “doing something over and over again and expecting a different result”, then musically you need look little further than the career of Bullet For My Valentine.
Of course, it certainly didn’t seem that this was going to be the case at first: with the band’s hugely successful debut The Poison and equally enjoyable sophomore effort Scream Aim Fire both proving themselves massively entertaining (albeit perhaps a little too angst-ridden at times to be taken 100% seriously), the band established a sound and style that built neatly upon the metalcore and thrash metal influences that they so clearly embraced. And in raw technical skill alone clearly had more than a competent amount of ability.
Unfortunately, while the band’s third effort Fever certainly saw something of a quiet shift in focus to lean more heavily on the thrash metal side of things, by the release of Temper Temper and the group’s 2015 Venom, it was becoming all too clear that Bullet For My Valentine were running out of steam. And running out very quickly.
Sure, the blistering guitar solo crescendos were still prominent and the technical ability of the band easily remained, but from Temper Temper-onwards an ominous feeling of perhaps having already heard this all before was very rapidly seeping in. The group’s dedication to their craft was always admirable – this cannot be ignored, but it unfortunately came down to the actual song writing where things were often at their worst.
Be it the awkward delivery of “temper, temper – time to explode, feels good when I lose control”, or perhaps the dreadfully dull ‘Worthless’ (“you can keep all your apologies, those words are worthless to me”), the simple issue with much of the band’s post-Scream Aim Fire material is abundantly clear: while competent, it’s also undeniably bland at times, insipidly masquerading under the guise of something far better and often falling flat as a result.
With all this in mind, the fact that Gravity has been heavily promoted as a drastic (or rather, “drastic” in the context of Bullet For My Valentine) departure from the group’s former style immediately proves itself interesting, but perhaps too late in the game: this is a stylistic shift that should have occurred a literal decade ago, following the release of Scream Aim Fire as an attempt to expand their sound for better or worse, instead of insisting on doing the same thing over and over again for a decade and simply just expecting things to change by themselves.
Now sure, it’s obvious from a mere glance that Gravity is finally an indication of change in the repertoire of Bullet For My Valentine, but before this decision can even be comprehended it’s also well worth noting that in the group’s decision to utilise far simpler riffs and rid themselves of the spectacular thrash metal guitar solos of Michael Paget, Gravity isn’t a step forward: it’s a huge leap backwards into the nu-metal sound of the band’s earliest incarnation (Jeff Killed John), albeit with the shiny production values that money and success brings to the table. In short, in stripping things down to a far more simplistic structure and emphasizing on anthemic, catchy choruses, Gravity very much resembles something in between Papa Roach’s F.E.A.R and Bring Me The Horizon’s That’s The Spirit. And this unfortunately isn’t a very good thing.
There’s a certain irony to the fact that Gravity’s debut single ‘Don’t Need You’ (released almost two years prior to the actual album) also happened to be the album’s heaviest track: it’s easily the most scream-heavy, features some thrashy instrumental-work that has an energetic bounce throughout, and the 50-seconds-or-so of introductory ambiance genuinely intrigues before the wall of guitar distortion slams into your face.
As a matter of fact, there’s nothing that especially stands out to be complained about when regarding ‘Don’t Need You’ – it’s still essentially the same thing once again, but enough fun to be enjoyable. Of course, this was then followed up with second single ‘Over It’, which immediately delights in recycling the introductory guitar riff of Bring Me The Horizon’s ‘Happy Song’, before the track promptly proceeds to display exactly the attitude that has fed into much of the sound of Gravity: being simplistic and catchy, and essentially rehashing the sound of the last two decades of nu-metal, “breathe in, breathe out – just stop ‘cause I’m about to break.”
Elsewhere, ‘Leap of Faith’ opens the album in a fairly self-explanatory fashion: it essentially re-treads the same territory as the following ‘Over It’, albeit with a slightly more cinematic approach, while ‘Letting You Go’s Breaking Benjamin-esque riffage and aesthetics make for a half-decent instrumental side of things, but the lyricism is woefully generic throughout much of the track (“first you wanna hate me, then you wanna love me, this is how I’m feelin’, I’m just letting you know.”)
In fact, it’s not at all that much of a stretch to state that this is easily Bullet For My Valentine at their most uninspired lyrically: ‘Piece of Me’s horrendously bored offering of “you lost my sympathy” and “let it sink or swim” do little to evoke anything other than irritability, while ‘Gravity’s gang-vocal delivery of “am I falling to pieces” and endless “whoa-oh”’s are the same-old, same-old of an era’s worth of angsty radio rock. Also ironically, ‘Over It’ actually proves itself to be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy right from the very first line: “after all this time, you still couldn’t recognize that your problem lies in a vicious circle.”
And that is exactly what Gravity ends up being: a vicious circle. There’s notable effort in making the album as entertaining as possible, but this ends up being to a fault – in sacrificing the technical ability often displayed throughout the band’s career (in an attempt to keep things casually enjoyable), what you are essentially left with is your standard everyday metalcore/nu-metal act. There’s nothing that particularly stands out as new or even slightly innovative throughout Gravity, it’s just bland. However, had the group decided to proceed with just another Venom/Temper Temper, the odds that this would have actually produced anything interesting after repeating the formula for five records straight is extremely unlikely.
Of course, the most glaringly frustrating thing here is actually incredibly simple: Bullet For My Valentine are (and always have been) a band with a huge amount of technical proficiency and ability, and in being so have always had the capability of producing fantastic material. True, technical ability does not always equal good or even solid material, but there’s certainly enough effort and heart within Bullet For My Valentine to argue their case.
This is a band that clearly puts in a huge amount of work and devotion to their craft, but if Gravity does anything else, it renders that effort extremely questionable in how unforgivably uninspired the album feels. In short, Bullet For My Valentine have succeeded in breaking their mold enough to provide an album that is catchy and accessible, but in doing so have risked giving the band’s following exactly the right kind of anthem that could prove all-too self-fulfilling: “I’m over it – so over it.”