Hollywood Undead – New Empire, Vol. 1 Album Review
Release Date: February 14, 2020
Label: Dove & Grenade Music
Produced By: Matt Good
First Single: Already Dead
Hollywood Undead is:
Vocals/Keys/Guitar/Bass: Daniel “Danny” Murillo
Vocals: Dylan “Funny Man” Alvarez
Vocals/Guitar: Jordan “Charlie Scene” Terrell
Vocals/Bass: George “Johnny 3 Tears” Ragan
Vocals/Guitar/Bass/Keys/Programming: Jorel “J-Dog” Decker
Luke Holland: Drums
Joey Sturgis: Guitar on “Second Chances”
Benji Madden: Vocals on “Second Chances”
Kellin Quinn: Vocals on “Upside Down”
If you’re reading this review, I’m going to hazard a guess that you’re pretty well familiar with Hollywood Undead. At the same time, however, we all know what they say about assumptions, so here goes: they’re (currently) a five-piece rap-rock outfit hailing from Los Angeles, gaining initial notoriety from aggressive promotion on the now forlorn MySpace. They’ve lost a couple of members over the years, but have remained largely consistent in both lineup and style since their 2008 debut Swan Songs. The slightly-longer-than-an-EP New Empire, Vol. 1 is their sixth studio album, and with it, the band promised a shift in sound… But did they deliver? Let’s have a look.
Opening track “Time Bomb” fires out of the gate with a metal-laden fury, taking the listener back to lead single “California Dreaming” from 2017’s V. In fact, for the majority of this thirty-two minute set, that’s a running theme – you’ll hear a lot of the heaviest music Hollywood Undead has ever released on this record. “Already Dead” continues this two songs later, building into a huge wall of distorted guitars akin to something from Linkin Park’s Meteora. The riff returns to back Murillo’s soaring chorus, another portion that bears resemblance to the seminal effort from their fellow SoCal musicians.
Despite the heavier tracks on New Empire, the band does a good job at balancing the more rap-oriented stylings of vocalists Dylan “Funny Man” Alvarez and Jorel “J-Dog” Decker, both of whom have a major feature and several lines on the record. Good Charlotte’s Benji Madden also makes an appearance in the verses of “Second Chances,” a song that could have been plucked straight out of the 2005 MySpace emo scene – an irony not lost on this writer.
While there’s a lot to like here, especially for fans of the group’s rock material, the EP album does have a couple of missteps. The verses of “Empire” are some of the strongest on the record, but the heavy trap-esque chorus sounds like it’s building to something bigger, but ultimately never goes anywhere. “Killin’ It” will undoubtedly appeal to the band’s hip-hop fans, but comes off as just the token rap song, and Funny Man’s self-hype “yeah! ha! ahwooow!” chants in the chorus are fun, but border on being painfully cheesy. “Upside Down,” while a solid (albeit atypical for Hollywood Undead) track, shoehorns Kellin Quinn of Sleeping With Sirens fame into the bridge, seemingly just to say he was there; his vocals are out of place, and could have been better handled by Danny Murillo. It’s a pretty minor gripe as the rest is catchy and well-written, but it’s enough to detract from the overall quality of the song.
While New Empire, Vol. 1 definitely and notably has a stronger focus on the hard rock side of Hollywood Undead, there are still enough of their hip-hop roots present to keep those fans intrigued. It’ll be interesting to see if Vol. 2, announced for release later this year, continues this trend or flips the script, presenting more tracks like “Killin’ It” and Eminem-inspired closer “Nightmare.” For now though, this is a nine track slab of some of the strongest material the band has ever released. I’ll close by saying that they’re killin’ it with this record, and I’m not even sorry for that joke. MySpace may be all but dead, but Hollywood Undead is still going strong.
Final Score: 8.5