It’s wonderfully typical of A Day to Remember to do what makes the least sense at every opportunity. Unless you’re Patrick Star, you’ll be aware of the band’s trademark fusion of mosh-call metalcore and 2002 pop punk. Scores of naysayers said it didn’t work; scores more people bought their albums. Few bands’ success stories’ have been more indicative of the crumbling boundaries between tribes of music fans than this one.
Come 2016, and the release of Bad Vibrations, the world of modern metalcore is a sinking ship, being pushed to the bottom of the ocean by a wave of nu metal nostalgia and bungled radio rock influences. In contrast, pop punk is in a healthier state than it has been for at least a decade. It’s in typically contrary fashion then that A Day to Remember have crafted their heaviest, ‘most metalcore’ album in years. Fans who have called for a return to the sophomoric hardcore rush of For Those Who Have Heart will have their wishes somewhat placated by this set. The production is a little bit rougher around the edges than the last few albums, benefitting the more “band” approach to songwriting that has been taken, and the more sentimental elements of the A Day to Remember blueprint have been (for the most part) left to the side this time around.
That’s all particularly true for the album’s first half. The title track is a good entry point, but it’s when “Paranoia” kicks into high gear that things get serious: the hook is as massive as previous anthems, but delivered with a more confrontational feel, which is reinforced every time the drums go back into gallop mode. The heaviest song competition ends in a dead heat between “Exposed” and “Reassemble”, but the latter wins the overall quality price for it’s ridiculously massive chorus. This band are so, so good at proper ‘moments’, from the conclusion to Common Courtesy’s “Right Back At It Again” to the infamous “disrespect your surroundings!!!”, and the intro to “Reassemble” fits perfectly into that canon. Breakdowns are like fast food, they’re lovely in moderation, and breaking up the breakdowns with stuff that’s genuinely memorable is what separates A Day to Remember from their lunkheaded peers. Even when they’re at their most one-note, they never cross the line into Emmure levels of tedium.
A big part of that is the skill of Jeremy McKinnon. He’s never been the strongest vocalist technically, but he sure does have a knack for writing a hook that’ll stick in your head, and the second half of Bad Vibrations is where that comes to the fore. “Turn Off the Radio” is ridiculously good, and one of those rare occasions where the verse is catchier than the chorus. It’s as irrepressible as a Backstreet Boys hook. Musically, the pop punk of “We Got This”, “Same About You” and early breather-moment “Naivety” (which incidentally has a chorus that recalls the hit song from Disney’s Camp Rock, of all things) is less engaging than what’s elsewhere, but McKinnon’s vocals are at the forefront and are perhaps better than ever. From a songwriting perspective, every track except the meandering “Bullfight” is a winner.
Despite the dichotomy between ‘sides’ one and two, Bad Vibrations works as a collection more so than any A Day to Remember record since Homesick because the poppier material sounds dirtier than usual. “Justified” is a perfect inclusion as a ballad, finding room for heavier screamed sections that don’t disrupt the sweetness. Credit to the guitarists here for skilful balance of crunching and soft tones. In stark contrast, “Forgive and Forget” goes full MTV Unplugged pleasantness, and so ends things on a disappointingly nice note. The band has admittedly made a tradition of ending with a more melodic song, but as the album as a whole is a heavier one it would have perhaps been better to set aside “Forgive and Forget” for the special edition.
If you’re looking for surprises, this is not the place to find them. It’s pretty much ADTR 101, which could be considered disappointing given that the band are now six albums deep into their career. There are thankfully little victories of progression (greater willingness to explore darker shades; McKinnon’s improved clean singing) to keep Bad Vibrations from coming off as a carbon copy of its predecessors. Placing it within the band’s discography quality-wise is also a challenge. It’s probably not as good as Homesick, which remains the logical starting point for novices, but it would likely make the podium alongside Common Courtesy. Good vibes, then, coming off of Bad Vibrations.