Review: Bullet for My Valentine – ‘Gravity’
A household name for any modern metalhead, Bullet for My Valentine quickly rose to worldwide prominence on the heels of their debut EP, Hand of Blood, and their metalcore classic debut album, The Poison. Chock full of hits, albums Scream Aim Fire and Fever followed, and led to the band headlining arenas in the United Kingdom and selling out amphitheaters in the United States. After an admitted misstep in Temper Temper, 2015’s Venom restored their reputation and seemingly rejuvenated the band. With the momentum rising once again, and frontman Matt Tuck building hype over the band’s newly developed “huge” sound, expectations for Gravity were quite high. While his assessment is not incorrect, the shift in sonic style is a blatant step backwards rather than the surge ahead Tuck foreshadowed.
Immediately after pressing play on Gravity (or, if you’ve heard the pre-release singles), you’ll notice the band has fallen into the trap that has plagued many a metalcore artist in the past two years. Now Bullet has always been a step removed from the Asking Alexandria’s and other standard “pop”-metalcore acts of the world for their thrash influence, musical technicality, and tremendous instrumentals. Alongside Avenged Sevenfold and Trivium, Bullet for My Valentine was making the guitar solo “cool” again. But on Gravity, nearly everything that made Bullet for My Valentine the metal band they were is absent. The trap I’m referring to, of course, is the allure of American rock radio and the stadium tours that come with success in that field. It’s no secret BFMV is shooting for that with this record, as Matt Tuck stated as much himself in the press leading up to Gravity’s release. While their success in that venture remains to be seen (lead single “Over It” has peaked at #23 at the time of this publication, far from their best charting track), their reputation amongst those who truly appreciate their musical talents is going to take a hit upon hearing Gravity.
Nearly every track can be pigeonholed into the modern pop metal formula that has critically hindered recent releases from already less technical bands such as Asking Alexandria, blessthefall, Of Mice and Men and the Word Alive to name a few. The formula is simple, boring, and blatantly derived from the mega-successful That’s the Spirit released by Bring Me the Horizon in 2015. Here’s the fundamentals of this type of songwriting:
-The track opens with a catchy riff of simple power chords (riff optional) and drops into verse one, soft vocals over a relatively basic drum pattern and some atmospheric electronics
-Bring back that power chord riff for the chorus where the vocalist belts the stadium-sized hook
-Drop out into verse two, basically a carbon copy of verse one, just insert different lyrics
-Repeat the chorus
-The bridge can go one of two ways: a pseudo-breakdown to give the track a heavier edge, or simple guitar riffs beneath even more of a vocal showcase than that of the chorus
-Bring back the chorus
-Optional outro: bring back the opening riff and end the track
Once noticed, it is almost impossible to ignore. The technicality is gone, guitar solos have vanished, and the creativity that made their previous releases so fun to listen to is missing. As soon as opener “Leap of Faith” finishes, you’ve basically heard 80% of the album.
Beyond these surface level observations, Gravity’s other flaws pull down harder than the force with which this album was titled. Matt Tuck has never been much of a lyrical genius, but this is the sixth record by the band to be completely dominated by teenage breakup angst. While it’s easy to feel bad for the guy based on how admittedly personal his lyrics can be, it’s equally modest to wish it could be spun another way rather than the beaten-to-death “you hurt me, I hate you” tripe. Lyrics aside, as they’ve never been a strength of BFMV releases, overall mixing and production suffers as well. Venom (and all previous records for that matter, save for Temper) came out crisp and enthralling courtesy of Colin Richardson, while the Carl Brown-produced Gravity’s sound – apart from the aforementioned absence of riffage, unclean vocals and guitar solos – seems to stick out like a sore thumb. The guitar tone lacks any bite, and the snare drum sound seems to emulate street performer using wooden spoons on five-gallon plastic buckets. This is most clearly evident on “Piece of Me,” which nearly ruins what is otherwise one of the better songs in this collection. Early single “Don’t Need You” (which still may be the best track of the lot, despite its obvious BMTH “Shadow Moses” influence) showcases this as well, as the original version packed twice the punch. Additionally, in a clear attempt to further modernize, Bullet have introduced the synth to their sound. While not necessarily a detriment, the keys don’t enhance the Gravity experience in any way and push the album further into the alternative pop rock realm.
With the negative slant this review has had thus far, it may be hard to see how even a four (out of ten) can be justified. On the redeemable side of the spectrum, the best vocal performance of Matt Tuck’s career must be commended. Additionally, he’s written some pretty solid choruses here, which was intended to be the focal point of this release from the get go. “Breathe Underwater” closes the standard edition in acoustic fashion, the first of its kind in the Bullet for My Valentine discography. It’s a pleasant listen, and stands alongside lead singles “Over It” and “Don’t Need You” as album highlights. Unsurprisingly, these are the only three tracks that seem to differ from the aforementioned formula that haunts this release (and many of their contemporaries). With these things considered, Bullet for My Valentine may very well achieve their breakthrough on rock radio, but that doesn’t save the record as a whole.
It’s difficult to see why exactly Bullet for My Valentine have chosen to take this path with Gravity. This release aligns well with recent albums from Asking Alexandria, The Word Alive and blessthefall: bands Bullet has been headlining ahead of in the United States that have seen minimal success from their similar shifts in sound. Perhaps the lack of creativity and originality is so transparent that those artists haven’t experienced the explosion in popularity with their recent releases. And, if that’s the case, Bullet for My Valentine should expect a similar stagnation akin to their Temper Temper era. Bands of equal (Trivium) or greater popularity (Avenged Sevenfold, Ghost) have produced their most creative albums in recent years and have watched their fanbases continue to grow as a result. So why regress? Regardless of the answer, Gravity displays a hollow shell of the Bullet for My Valentine of old, and perhaps a red flag of things to come. But, hey, at least the artwork is cool.