Review: Emarosa – Versus

Emarosa1

In truth, most of us never thought this record would happen. It’s been four long years since Lexington, Kentucky, post hardcore act Emarosa released their triumphant self-titled record, and final with enigmatic frontman Jonny Craig. That parting of ways seemed like a death wish for the band, but what has risen from the ashes rivals that of anything the band has ever released.

So perhaps it’s appropriate that this new album is titled Versus. However, this sort of terminology leads one down a rabbit hole of comparisons. Craig versus newly recruited vocalist Bradley Walden. The band’s old sound versus their new one. Emarosa versus Versus.

These are all worthwhile debates to be had, but they overshadow one glaring fact. Versus is a damn good record in its own right.

On first listen, you won’t find yourself too shocked. The brooding bass lines, chaotic time changes and soulful, vocal runs that we’ve come to expect are all present. But with each exposure to these tracks, you’ll find something more – namely a band that has truly mastered its craft and sound more than almost any other in the scene.

Versus is rife with conflict, from its lyrical wrestlings to its frantic sonic tug of war. Just over one minute into opening track “People Like Me, We Just Don’t Play”, Whalden cuts himself off in mid note as the music dies down before a crashing transition highlighted by Whalden wailing, “We’re burning bridges down to the fire below”. Whether this moment is a ferocious statement of the band’s new direction or a nod to the smoldering past behind them seems irrelevant. Its purpose is to set off a fierce and unpredictable journey – and that it does.

Truthfully, almost every track on Versus is a step forward for the band. “American Déjà Vu” features one of Emarosa’s best choruses, driven by pristine drumming from Lukas Koszewski, who had quietly become one of the best drummers in the scene before his exit from the band shortly before the album’s release.

“I’ll Just Wait” treads a new, poppier ground for the band while lead single “Mad” captures the uneasy, unpredictable feel of classic Emarosa and features stellar guitar work from ER White and Jonas Ladekjaer.

The band hits a new high water mark with “Say Hello to the Bad Guy”, an eerie track that grows slowly, requiring patience and intent listening to capture the full sound. Whalden transitions effortlessly between a delicate falsetto and soulful croons atop the music, seeming to carve the melody almost on the fly. The song reaches its crescendo when Whalden belts out the chill-inducing line, “You can have me but I’m broken in two”.

No matter what sound the band chases, they capture it and leave it stamped with their signature. This sort of unpredictable, unstable songwriting takes a true talent to keep you on the edge of your seat instead of walking away. Versus is emotionally and sonically abrasive in a way that keeps you waiting and hoping for a resolution.

Those resolutions are few and far between for Whalden, who breaks away from standard breakup songwriting, turning his frustration toward matters of faith, doubt and regret. There’s a relational element here, but he’s digging at much deeper nerves. When he sings, “When it’s all said and done, on the run is not where I want to be” on “Same Tight Rope”, you feel the weight of each moment on the album staring him down.

In the end, Versus stands as Emarosa’s best work – a powerful album that spotlights a band with more musical chops than most of their peers. The band has always gone against the grain, never quite fitting in with the scene around them and defiantly treading their own path. If Versus marks a new era and resurgence for the band, it’s been kicked off with a bang. If Versus proves to be a swan song, Emarosa certainly didn’t go down without a fight.

4.5/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

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