Incubus, the quasi-nu metallers from Calabasas, California return with what is unsurprisingly, considering the title, their 8th album, and their first since 2011’s If Not Now, When?. Whilst many bands, such as Linkin Park have rejected the tag ‘nu metal’, Incubus might have a better argument against it than most bands.
Although their music has typically been riff heavy and incorporated a DJ, they also have a penchant for gentle choruses, and a generally more relaxed So Cal beach vibe than most bands of the genre. On 8, they continue this trend of bucking the more established hallmarks of nu metal. They also brought on board Skrillex late in the process to assist with production and mixing, as well as co-writing five of the album’s 11 songs.
The new album kicks off with “No Fun“, which begins with a mixture crunchy and howling guitars, backed by drums, that then breaks into the songs main riff. This immediately brings to mind the work of Sum 41 during the 2000’s. Fortunately “No Fun” is saved from the pop punk doldrums it would otherwise end up, by a general exuberance. This is best represented in Brandon Boyd’s vocal performance, that makes the song a blast to listen to, despite the title suggesting the contrary.
“No Fun” may be a departure from the breakdowns and record scratches of the band’s early career, leaning more towards stadium rock than metal, but a band evolving is no bad thing as long as it is progress instead of regression, and “No Fun” is certainly progress. If the rest of 8 had lived up to the high standards set by the opener then it would have made a good album. Unfortunately that was not the case.
The second track on the album “Nimble Bastard“, though named horribly, a real curse of the nu metal genre which produced Limp Bizkit and their album Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavoured Water. Fortunately, bad name aside. “Nimble Bastard” avoids the musical stylings of Limp Bizkit, providing an enjoyable driving alt rock counterpart to the more bouncy “No Fun”, with Boyd’s vocals doing well to match the slightly aggressive tone of the song.
The album’s third song however, does not continue the interesting tone of 8’s opening tracks. “State of the Art” proves to be a very middle of the road rock song, with Boyd’s effective but uninspired vocal performance coupled with mostly gentle acoustic guitars. The song increases in volume in tempo in its final quarter, introducing electric guitar, but the quiet-loud dynamic is hardly revolutionary, and it does little to rejuvenate the song.
“Glitterbomb” is the album’s fourth song, and its second single. It provides a change from the previous track ‘State of the Art’, being a much heavier and harder song. Beginning with slow guitar tones that build towards the introduction of Boyd’s vocals.
Here the band seem to have drawn their song writing cues from bands such as My Chemical Romance and The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, with Boyd’s vocals seemingly particularly inspired by that style at the song’s outset. The song also features as it’s centrepiece a guitar solo, that sounds like an overly fuzzy mixture of a Foo Fighters and an Audioslave solo without the talents of Shiflett or Morello to back it up.
“Undefeated” suffers from the same lack of imagination and invention that plagued the preceding two tracks. It matches a standard pop backing beat for Boyd to sing over with lyrics that match the rest of the songs uninspired format. “I’m not dead yet, no/I’m bent but not broken” taken from the chorus accurately sum up the song’s sentiment of positivity in the face of adversity, which unfortunately for Incubus is about as unimaginative as song writing can get.
8’s sixth track is not dissimilar to “Undefeated”, in that replaces Incubus’ typical nu metal/alt rock song writing with a more electronic backing beat and a pop-esque hook in the chorus. Where it differs from ‘Undefeated’ is that it maintains a harder edge delivered through a much rangier and more interesting vocal performance from Brandon Boyd.
Skrillex was a co-writer on this track, and his influence shows in the elements of the song, and overall “Loneliest” is a well put together number, that is actually worth listening to more than once. The fact that Incubus can put “Loneliest’”together makes one wonder why the bothered with the comparatively throwaway ‘Undefeated’.
“When I Became A Man” is a strange, almost skit-like musical interlude clocking in at just 57 seconds, which sounds more like Brandon Boyd’s audition to become a show tune singer than an Incubus song. In an album which lacks a clear direction and musical tone, it’s the strangest and most out of place, and one really has to question the thought behind it’s inclusion.
On the eighth track of 8, “Familiar Faces“, Incubus return to rock at least. Unfortunately “Familiar Faces” is another middle of the road rock song, which though not a bad song, does sound like it could have been written by any California hard rock band. I say California, because although the song is not exactly upbeat, it does have the sunny vibes that seems to pervade all Californian rock, from the Beach Boys to Weezer. Except that the Beach Boys and Weezer never would have penned “Familiar Faces”.
“Love In A Time Of Surveillance“, the ninth track, introduces itself with sound effects that are mostly a mixture of beeping and static, but actually do well to blend into a crunchy, yet funky riff of the sort that Rage Against the Machine and then Audioslave made their trademark.
Mike Einziger may not have Tom Morello’s level of excellence, but he isn’t all that far away, and letting his lead guitar batter through much of “Love In A Time Of Surveillance” is a wise choice, particularly the call and answer it develops with Brandon Boyd’s vocals, which the singer does well to blend with the instrumentation, rather than simply singing above it as he does on other tracks on the album.
Although “Love in A Time of Surveillance” sounds from the title through to the riffs like a lesser version of a Rage Against the Machine song, it’s still a very good song, only lacking in the little bit of originality that would make it the album’s stand out track.
“Make No Sound In The Digital Forest” is the penultimate song from 8 and it marks another change in style from an album that already has too many, with Incubus putting in an instrumental effort. Unfortunately, as with a number of songs on this album, the instrumentation is too fuzzy and indistinct, which rather defeats the point of an entirely instrumental song. Moreover, the title is one of the examples of the irritating faux-profundities that rock bands are not infrequently guilty of.
The record’s final song begins with a spoken word exchange between Brandon Boyd and a female, after the sounds of feet crunching on gravel. The female answers Boyd’s question as to where they are with “I have no f***ing idea where we are“. A fitting beginning to a song entitled “Throw Out The Map“. Immediately after the spoken exchange, the song launches into a guitar riff, around which guitar effects and Brandon Boyd’s vocals swirl.
Keyboards are in the second half of the song which briefly gives the song an enjoyable sense of groove. Boyd’s vocals, which are the centre-point of the song are also deployed skilfully by the frontman, especially the earworm of a chorus, although his final thoughts of “Woo!/Chaka Khan motherf******/Snap” as the guitar grows fuzzier and fades leave much to be desire. Particularly because that signals the end of the album, leaving them as Boyd’s final words to his listeners.
Overall 8 is not devoid of good moments, far from it with “Loneliest” and “No Fun” being the standouts, and the band sounds tight and comfortable playing with each other. The issue is that the album doesn’t know what it wants to be, providing several very safe songs with almost no linking theme and no flow.
You could rearrange the tracks almost in any order, or listen to the album on shuffle and it doesn’t feel like it would have changed the listening experience at all. Had Incubus taken bigger risks, they may have failed, but equally they would have had the chance at bigger rewards than the vague, somewhat bland result they ended up with on 8.
Incubus’ 8 is available for purchase on iTunes here.
Words by James Smith