I’ve been enjoying Pop Evil’s most recent album, Onyx, so much that I nearly forgot that I needed to write a review. This May release, as the name implies, is a sojourn to the dark depths of personal struggle and hardship, while maintaining the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Combining sledgehammer riffs that could help bring drywall crashing down with occasional touches of spacious solitary notes and eery programming, the group have created an experience that never lets the listener get bored.
While I have heard the name Pop Evil before in passing, I must be honest in the fact that I’ve never listened to a single song the band had written until reviewing this record. Boy, what an introduction! The first thing I noticed, which pleased me in no small way, is how you get an earful of every instrument. No one stepping on anyone’s toes or invading anyone else’s space. The next thing I noticed was how huge the sound was, courtesy of the fine production by Johnny K. With an arsenal of just these two, juggernauts like “Trenches” sound exponentially bigger. It doesn’t hurt that the song is incredibly catchy, snagging you with its artificial harmonic hooks to the point that you don’t even want to escape.
This Grand Rapids, Mich. act has had a rough history with band members either leaving or taking a break due to injuries. Since the last album, War Of Angels, in 2010, Pop Evil has seen two new members join the fold: Chachi Riot on drums and Nick Feulling on guitar. While my experience with the past members is extremely limited, all I have to do is listen to the current release to hear that they’re doing a fine job, fitting comfortably with vocalist Leigh Kakaty, guitarist Dave Grahs and bassist Matt DiRito.
Onyx is a hard rock album at heart, sneaking in moments of heavy metal guitar riffs, occasional harsh vocals and moments of electronica. The song “Deal With The Devil” hearkens back to Alice In Chains with its verses’ droning vocals, but then changes course and becomes reminiscent of Rob Zombie, displaying Kakaty’s diverse capabilities. The aggression exhibited there continues in other tracks on the album, such as the aforementioned #1 single, “Trenches,” which sees Grahs and Fuelling digging deep; the explosive “Welcome To Reality,” with its infectious grooves; and the static-filled hostility of “Sick Sense.” The weight lightens for a time with the ballads “Torn To Pieces” and “Silence & Scars,” the latter hitting me more emotionally. The band does a wonderful job of balancing its balls-to-the-wall heaviness with moments like these, making everything pack more of a punch.
I wasn’t a fan of Pop Evil when I received this album. I had only heard one song, ever, that this group of rockers had written before I asked for the opportunity to review the whole release. I’m grateful that my intuition wasn’t wrong in thinking that this would be well worth my time! And it is well worth your time too. From start to finish, the tracks that compose this full-length are thoughtfully crafted – both lyrically and musically – and it shows. Just one song is all it takes. I wasn’t a fan of Pop Evil before Onyx, because I’d never listened. But I’m listening now.