Whether you’re a national restaurant chain, a digital news outlet or an indie rock band, re-branding can be a gamble. Do you risk alienating your core consumer base in favor of a new identity? In the best-case scenario, these kinds of shifts can not only enlarge an entity’s platform while maintaining their original audience, but also provide an honest representation of the brand in its current form. Such appears to be the case with Palisades.
The New Jersey rock act spent their first two releases on Rise Records attempting to force fit their electronicore leanings into a rather insincere and cluttered package. By the time the unnecessarily-salacious Mind Games dropped in 2015, it was hard to view Palisades as anything other than a gimmicky party favor, even as the band showed signs of real talent.
After one listen, it’s no surprise that the band decided to self-title their latest release. Palisades is not only their best record, it’s a welcome left turn for a band once affixed on bad girls and party fouls. Along with a complete sonic overhaul, Palisades feels, dare we say, thematically genuine.
The EDM influences and siren-y synthesizers that were once the band’s calling card are now completely absent. Instead, Palisades pulses ahead as a straightforward rock record with traces of nu metal and post-hardcore sprinkled in. The production is slick and airtight with crunchy guitar tones and rattling drum patterns pushing the tracks forward without the needless, clunky breakdowns the band relied on in the past. The back-half of “Hard Feelings” even finds Xavier Adames busting out a quick guitar solo that melds nicely into the mix.
In keeping with the upgrades, vocalist Louis Miceli stands out as most improved. With former bass player and backing vocalist Brandon Reese out of the equation, Palisades now rely solely on Miceli to deliver – and that he does, channeling his inner Chester Bennington throughout the record. On Palisades, his voice transforms to a powerful roar, displacing his various tedious deliveries from past albums. Miceli still finds time to scream on this album, but those moments are far more reserved and natural.
With a much more credible sound firmly in place, the band have allowed themselves to expand their subject matter beyond the banal as well. Surprising opener “Aggression” tackles gun violence with Miceli belting a chorus of, “Can we disarm the loaded gun? / Can we survive what we’ve become? / The hate is slowly choking me / American aggression for free”. It’s a stark progression for a band that sprinkled gun cocking samples onto their previous album.
All of these improvements might merit little discussion if the songs weren’t all that good – but they are. They’re really, really good. “Better Chemicals” is a diverse rocker with a pounding chorus that gets stuck in your brain, while a new and improved version of last year’s “Fall” feels like the best evolution of the band, even tastefully implementing programming elements without ramming them down your throat. New bassist Brandon Elgar joins Miceli during the song’s re-worked bridge, resulting in an explosive moment that may top anything the band has ever done.
“Memories” grooves hard as a track that highlights Palisades’ newly discovered nu metal bent with a delightful verse-chorus transition. And speaking of hooks, “Hard Feelings” is a triumph. The decadent melody behind Miceli’s simple lines of, “I’ve got some hard feelings I’m working through / I’ve got some hard feelings I could put on you” blends perfectly with the grinding guitars that power this energetic track ahead.
You wouldn’t have trouble getting almost any song on Palisades stuck in your head, but this time around, you don’t have to feel guilty about it. Sure, a few of the tracks start to blend together upon repeated listens, and save for some scattered candid moments, Miceli’s lyrics still have room to grow, but overall, the album is a forceful step forward for a band that seemed to be flirting with irrelevancy.
If this self-titled venture is the definitive sound that the band has proclaimed it to be, Palisades very well could have found a niche that might propel the band to new heights. Whatever the case may be, the band is clearly coming into their own at just the right time, making this is one re-branding effort that was well worth the risk.
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.