Better, louder, edgier, more focused, more mature. Somewhere, there’s a collection of the tired, cliché descriptors used by bands to describe their forthcoming albums right before they release an album that sounds very much like the last.
When Tallahassee, Florida, rock band Mayday Parade made claims about the sonic departure they would make with their fifth full length album, Black Lines, they were not paying lip service. With Black Lines, Mayday Parade have crafted what may be the best album of their career and have taken a risk that will likely pay dividends for years to come.
Mayday Parade have spent the better part of a decade building an immensely successful career using equal parts pop, rock and emo. The resulting mix of saccharine hooks and melodic riffs has been, at times, terrific (A Lesson in Romantics, Mayday Parade) and, at other times, uninspired (Anywhere But Here).
No matter what, Mayday Parade have remained consistent. Their last release, 2013’s Monsters in the Closet, debuted at number 10 on the Billboard 200 and sounded very much like another Mayday Parade record. While it seems unwise to fix something that ain’t broke, it’s also hard to ignore that most bands in this scene have a shelf life, especially if there are no more tricks in the bag.
Perhaps this is why Mayday Parade didn’t just add a new weapon to their arsenal – they instead have reemerged in camouflage, appearing as an almost completely new band. From the opening moments of “One of Them Will Destroy the Other”, which finds singer Derek Sanders screaming atop grinding guitars and crashing drums, it’s clear that this is not another collection of summertime anthems.
Black Lines is a departure from the Mayday Parade we always knew in almost every way. It’s abrasive, dark and extremely raw, sounding more akin to mid-90s alt rock than late-aughts pop punk. However, after multiple listens, the band’s signatures begin to bleed through the cracks in the most pleasant of ways.
“Just Out of Reach” finds Sanders alternating between his new gritty delivery and his tried and true soaring vocal melodies. While Alex Garcia and Brook Betts’ guitars get grimy near the song’s bridge, the song melts into a shadowy, piano-driven refrain near the end that feels like Mayday’s evil twin.
When Mayday Parade truly excel on Black Lines, they throw caution to the wind and fully embrace their new dark side. “Hollow”, a post-grunge number and the album’s best track, feels born from the same session that produced the band’s cover of “Comedown” by Bush. The meandering guitars are haunting, as is Sanders’ cry of, “Bring me the head and cast the rest away”. This is the type of song you might have dared Mayday Parade to write without ever expecting them to follow through.
“All on Me” is another example of pure, unadulterated alt-rock indulgence with its menacing guitars and perfectly placed drum fills, courtesy of Jake Bundrick. When Sanders delivers his aggressive chorus capped with the line, “We’re all liars and truth be told, I’m lost and so afraid”, the formula is complete. “Narrow” capitalizes on its gentle introduction with a crash landing for the ages, capped by some of the best vocal work on the album from Sanders. “Look Up and See Infinity, Look Down and See Nothing” is a new, grimmer take on the customary peaceful Mayday song.
The band’s only real flaws on Black Lines are a few temporary lapses in focus that result in out-of-place moments. “One of Us” could have been the closer to almost any of the band’s albums and “Until You’re Big Enough” sounds like a Mayday b-side. Even so, it’s hard to complain when the overall body is such a welcome shock to the system.
It’s hard to say whether Black Lines is Mayday Parade’s best album – a deviation of this magnitude may take months to properly digest. Nevertheless, it’s an important and exciting stepping stone to the next stage of the band’s career.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel 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.