Published Jun 08, 2017If there's one word that could describe Eighteen Visions' career, it's unpredictable. From their more chaotic beginnings, when that uncertainty rang out with every dissonant note, to their continual growth on later albums, where they surprised band members and fans alike with their ever-changing sound, the Orange County, CA band blazed trails so brightly that the twisted path behind them will forever be seared. Announced ten years to the day since their last time on stage, new album XVIII (out now on Rise) is a return to their heavier past, rather than the hard rock of their 2006 self-titled effort, but it's no regression, just another predictably unpredictable leap.
As guitarist Keith Barney tells Exclaim!, reflection allowed the band to evaluate what worked and what didn't in their past endeavours and apply that to their latest, which Barney likens to "Vanity with better songwriting." Here are five key lessons hindsight revealed to the band, and what that means for their return.
1. Come out guns blazing — twice.
When the Eighteen Visions announced their reunion, they also dropped "Oath," an ode to their straight-edge lifestyle and an excellent encapsulation of their body of work. Yet it nearly didn't end up on the record.
The band had written a nine-song LP, only adding the tenth at their manager's suggestion. The decision to debut it wasn't just due to a fondness for their latest creation.
"We just wanted to come out guns blazing with a total rager, because it starts very chaotic — the beginning of 'Oath' is really chaotic, but there are still spurts of heavy, kind of breakdown stuff in there. We liked that it was short and sweet, so we thought we would just come out fucking guns blazing and then have this massive sing-along breakdown at the end of a two-minute song, and then leave people wanting more. We wanted to set the tone — this is darker, a little heavier — and maybe that would help set the pace."
2. Take it to the nth degree.
The album's second song, "The Disease, the Decline, and Wasted Time," was actually the first one written for the album half-a-decade ago. With its groovy lead and closing breakdown, it just might be the closest thing the band have to a "Tower of Snakes" sequel. That wasn't exactly an accident.
"The whole buildup to the breakdown, as well [as] the whole guitar intro to the sing-along, to the buildup — that was one thing that I wanted to bring back, that I feel was a little bit missing, having some of those buildups. But ya, I wanted to take it completely over the top. I definitely wanted to write some of our heaviest shit on this record, if I could."
3. No time for ballads.
"There are no ballads on this record. The last song on the record, that's absolutely not a ballad; it's heavy as fuck. It's almost like got a bit of a Crowbar vibe to it, and then a spacey kind of heady, droney bit to it, but it's a little bit more on the more emotional side. It's exploring a different side of a heavy song. We did ballads over the years, and I think probably our strongest ballad was off our last record, which was 'Broken Hearted.' That came out sonically great, everything about that came out fucking perfect to us, but then we did those on other records before I think we were ready for it, and it never really translated well."
4. If it's worth saying, it's worth shouting.
Barney explains that by the time they wrote 2002's Vanity, they'd been doing metalcore "for fucking years," since their teens, so its understandable that they'd end up distancing themselves from many of metalcore's main tenets. One of those became James Hart's screams, which increasingly dwindled on the two albums that followed. Fortunately, distance makes the heart grow fonder, resulting in an album dominated by harsher vocals, and two songs with no singing at all.
"There was definitely a conscious effort from James on this record to do more screaming. It was kind of like, 'Where else can I add gnarlier vocals?' We help out if he asks us for advice on vocal parts and stuff like that, but he steers that ship, for sure, that's his thing. Toward the end of the band he just wasn't interested, but this time around he was fucking all about it."
5. Movie samples are back.
Many of Eighteen Visions' older favourites are prefaced by a voice from the silver screen. Barney admits that the band got scared about legal issues mid-career and stopped turning in records featuring movie clips. This time, however, they opted for the shoot first, ask questions later method — and it worked.
"That's one of the things that I look back on our older records especially, and that shit's just stuck with people. When they would hear that sample, they knew what song was coming or, I don't know, there's something about a sample from a specific movie. On the new record, on the song 'Spit,' it's got a clip from Gangs of New York [from character] Bill 'The Butcher,' and it's just like, his delivery of that part in that movie is just so fucking pissed. And it makes the music even more pissed when it comes in. It's just another layer that we wanted to bring back."