CD Review: BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE - Scream Aim Fire
Bullet for My Valentine are more metal than you think. They're also less metal than they think. The result is music of the most middling sort. Middling music is what sells the most, but quality is another matter.
Perhaps quality doesn't even matter. A recent Billboard article detailed Sony/BMG's promotion for the band – radio, video, and online campaigns for the US, Internet for overseas. The article said, "[BMG executive John] Fleckenstein feels BFMV has found its mark with its contemporary brand of music that harks back to the style of classic English metal and the group's ability to reach a crossover female audience." Perhaps Scream Aim Fire refers to targeting of demographics.
Of course, Sony/BMG is only doing its job. Bullet for My Valentine counted on such marketing when they rejected the largest metal label, Roadrunner, for the even-larger Sony/BMG. Even smaller metal labels now have dedicated personnel or PR agencies for publicity. Metal is big business – otherwise, Blabbermouth wouldn't exist.
Since label execs on down to consumers are complicit in such structures, perhaps the flak Bullet for My Valentine catch from metalheads is just jealousy. The band began as Jeff Killed John, playing nu-metal. When that didn't pan out, the band changed its name and switched to the next trend, melodic metalcore. On its second album, Bullet for My Valentine signed to a major label, without "paying dues" and developing a grassroots following through touring like other metal bands.
Slogging in vans is not for everyone, though, and Bullet for My Valentine shouldn't be faulted for grabbing success when it hit them in the face. But they should be faulted for unoriginality. It's just as well that Roadrunner didn't sign them; otherwise, the label would have had two Triviums on its roster. "Metalcore" isn't the best tag for these bands, as neither came from the hardcore punk scene. But they have the same sound that's now called "metalcore": melodic Swedish death metal with occasional breakdowns and good cop/bad cop sung/screamed vocals.
Bullet for My Valentine made loud noises about being "more metal" on Scream Aim Fire. The first two tracks bear this out, adding thrash to Swedish melodeath harmonies. However, the rest of the record reveals BFMV's true colors – a Victory emo band in metal clothes. Occasionally the band feints at harder edges, like the thrashy intro to "Take It Out on Me." But the song deflates, almost becoming hair metal before remembering to stiffen up for its choruses. More hair metal emerges in the slick power ballad "Say Goodnight." One can feel the target demographic shifting from riff to riff.
The band has commissioned artist Tom Manning to create a mini-comic book for each song on this record. He may regret the gig. The lyrics are amazingly empty, full of high school diary entries like, "What's happening to me / I'm dying from the inside / Body hurts too much to feel / And pressure adds to pain." Lead single "Scream Aim Fire" falls considerably short of "For Whom the Bell Tolls": "Fuck this battlefield, the bullets tear around me / Bodies falling, voices calling for me." The chorus doesn't even make sense; screaming would only disturb one's aim while firing a gun.
Oddly, this is pop music that wants to be metal. Usually it's the other way around. This attests to metal's increasing market value, and Scream Aim Fire is very much music for markets. Much technical skill went into this record; the songs are catchy, the chops are sharp, and the performances are flawless. But when all soul and emotion has been click-tracked, compressed, and polished away, it's hard not to be repulsed.