2010’s Zombie EP was an instant classic. It transformed The Devil Wears Prada into a heavier, aggressive beast all the while maintaining their post-hardcore dual vocal dynamic and ghoulish keyboard dramatics. Not only that, but it asserted TDWP as a band who were capable of creating a strong concept record, something most of their peers hadn’t yet touched on.
To celebrate the 5th anniversary of the EP, TDWP have set forth to follow-up this massive undertaking with a similarly short-and-sweet-titled EP, boldly going where the band have literally not gone before: Space. Interestingly enough, Space does follow-up Zombie‘s apocalyptic concept, in a different setting and a different time. Whereas Zombie honed in on the frantic depiction of making last second decisions to survive Space is a more carefully laid-out and emotional survival horror story.
For starters, we are presented with a named main character and background on what led her to being where she is. Yes, this Elizabeth character is a bit more detailed than Zombie‘s general depiction of the band members as a group pitted against a horde of the undead for their survival. Beginning in “Planet A”, the first track, we learn that Elizabeth has seemingly always been interested in outer space and all of her dreams have led to this moment, her first shuttle launch with a team of astronauts. Following a brilliantly done conversational lead-in depicting the checking of the space shuttle and triumphant scream of “Radio check, go!” “Planet A” does a fantastic job at introducing the ambient keyboard and guitar leads/heavy rhythm section contrast of much of the EP and gives the soundscape a vast, majestic scope that is indicative of what we imagine exploring space for the first time to feel like.
The story and sonic landscape shift as we learn of Elizabeth’s unpreparedness (“She wasn’t ready for the malfunction”) and the signature heaviness TDWP are known for comes crashing in with adept timing and glitchy electronic samples. At this moment we learn that the shuttle burns up in the depths of space (with an especially clever, panicky scream of “Houston!” as anyone who has seen 2001: A Space Odyssey would expect) and Elizabeth is the lone survivor, the last one alive and she drifts to her new home, a planet called ‘A’. From here we are led into second track “Alien”, a fast and heavy track reminiscent of “Escape” from Zombie about fighting aliens, gunshot sound effects included. The aliens are no mere challenge however, as they end up destroying their human opposition. Rather than only utilizing clean vocalist Jeremy Depoyster for a simple chorus he backs up screamer Mike Hranica’s devastated roars with pained singing, giving their deliveries a refreshingly natural depth that harkens back to “Outnumbered”. Thanks to both vocalists’ inclusion and creepy guitar leads the listener really feels the panic that is being conveyed by the assailants as they are mercilessly ended by another species.
By now we are beginning to gain a feel for the various moods and ideas the EP presents us with as the story progresses. “Moongod” is the best example of TDWP’s dual vocal dynamic on Space and perhaps in their entire career. It is with this track especially that one can hear the sound explored on the 8:18 record but taken to another level entirely. A sense of uncertainty overwhelms the listeners’ ears as Elizabeth comes to grips with all she has lost and realizes she must restart and rebuild on a planet she is unfamiliar with. “Moongod, where’s your glow?” she questions, as if all holiness she once knew of is now dead and gone. She questions why she was spared at the cost of the others. If “Alien” was the rising action, this is surely the climax of Elizabeth’s emotions. Following this we are given a breather with an interlude that leads into the EP’s definitive track “Supernova” which blends atmospheric guitar with crushing heaviness and features the most straight-forward songwriting and vocal setup of the EP. Elizabeth is holding on to all that she has lost and vividly reliving the trauma she experienced during the shuttle launch. ” I can’t wrap my head around it, an explosion, disintegration, radiates so beautifully” and before she knows it, a star’s core collapses before her eyes.
The finale of the EP shifts the focus back to us here on Earth in a dynamic and dramatic conclusion. The first half of the song hits harder than anything else on the EP with incredible buildup and when it slows down it is the emotional heaviness that especially demonstrates the weight of loss and apathy humanity possessed before everything came to an end. “Keep in mind that nothing stays, Say goodbye one last time as the earth will be no more – All aflame and destroyed”. There is absolutely no question here that ‘the end’ really is the end. As the EP fades out the emotional experience weighs on the mind, making this journey a psychological one.
Musically the theme of this album is balancing a heavy low-end with airy keyboard atmospheres, ambient, textured guitar leads and tasteful samples. The songwriting is carefully structured, continuing the darker ideas first explored on the 8:18 album but harkening back to Zombie EP’s frenzied heaviness which in turn gives the EP a nu-metal flair with metalcore aggression. The rhythm section is more pronounced and less adventurous than in the past but breakdowns and heavy moments are built up to and emphasized exceptionally well which makes for less repetition and more contrast to the beautifully eerie lighter sections. Mike shifts between roars, shrieks & growls with ease, his whiny shouts only sometimes annoying but mostly accenting key moments and providing more depth when contrasted with Jeremy’s tasteful singing passages.
Having been around for over a decade, the members of The Devil Wears Prada have clearly learned the means with which to create a wholesome, memorable thematic experience without having to utilize so many bells and whistles. Space is decidedly reserved, but ridiculously grand. It is the amount of tension that causes me to draw comparison to a wide-screen cinematic experience when speaking of this EP. The pacing is superb, never slowing to a halt but never slamming too hard on the gas either. The multi-layered story is concise and accessible to more than just heavy music fans and that may just open several new doors for the band, just as Zombie did. Bravo to the band for going with a short 6 song format for this concept. Because of this it is easily digestible and ridiculously replayable. ‘Space’ may be the final frontier, especially in this case, but it certainly bares no limitations to the members of Prada’s skillsets.