Fearlessly naming their new record "Death For Life" is an instant indication that Death By Stereo aren’t about to back down despite the lawsuits and legal issues surrounding the band after a death at one of their shows in Virginia. Just in case you didn’t pick up on the name, the record begins with some gang vocals chanting the words before quickly kicking into a completely metal riff that would make even the most timid of music fans want to grow their hair out and headbang.
It’s not all about meathead riffs though, as opening track “Binge/Purge” progresses. The familiar vocals of Efrem are there, although with a slightly more screamed edge that’s present on this record much more than others. Also notable is the guitar solo, sounding more like Guns 'N Roses than anything else. Despite the slight departure it still sounds like classic Death By Stereo.
“I Give My Life” reminds the listener quickly that the band seems to have made the jump to metalcore almost completely now. It’s not a new thing; they’ve been making the transition over their past few records, but this track features some mosh-style screaming before the chorus that’s almost nü-metal in tone. Efrem’s typical quirky vocals do crop up here though, so it’s not as embarrassing as it could be.
“Forever And A Day” stands out as the band’s longest song to date, clocking in at just over 5 minutes. It features some light keys and melodic vocals with Efrem singing rather than his trademark yelp or howl. The chorus is quite epic and slow-moving, and it doesn’t really fit the band. If I had to guess which track was the single, I’d pick this (although I’d be wrong, as the more powerful “Entombed We Collide” gets that honor). They do try to toughen it up with some screaming in the breakdown, and a tempo change with some fretboard abusing thanks to guitarists Dan Palmer and Tito, but it can’t quite pick the song up from a mid-tempo piece of metalcore.
The rest of the record picks up the slack quickly though, and Death By Stereo are back on form again with their usual fast-paced and pounding metal/hard/whatevercore. Todd Hennig’s drum beats are tight and driving, keeping the band anchored rhythmically. The band are also showing more usage of the two guitar harmonies, notably on the brilliantly-named track “W.W.J.D?,” which could be described as the result of Iron Maiden being brought up in California with Myspace instead of mullets.
The deceptively named “Don’t Piss On My Neck And Tell Me It’s Raining” is another attempt at slowing down the mix with some added instruments, and this time it works. The vocals sound much more sincere with this track, and the added strings really contribute to the band’s sound, as did the choir vocals on 2003’s Into The Valley Of Death. It’s almost a shame when the inevitable distortion kicks in and the band rage furiously, but it’s also exciting to hear them at their best like this, with some interesting spoken word vocals in the breakdown.
Finally, the record ends with the confusingly monikered “This Is Not The End.” The track is more of the same, with curiously echoing chorus vocals that sound like a cathedral of the damned. Some nice use of an acoustic guitar and church bells brings the song to an end alongside some interesting string and synths.
It’s easy to label Death By Stereo a metalcore band in 2005, but they’ll always have their hardcore roots and this is still evident in Death For Life. In a similar way to their last release, it has some perfect moments, some experimental sounds, some jaw-dropping guitar-work, and a couple of tracks that don’t really stand out except for the bizarreness of their inclusion. As long as Efrem continues to write the most spastic vocal lines this side of the Blood Brothers, Death By Stereo will continue to slay.
[originally posted on ScenePointBlank.com]