Written By Simon Chisholm
‘This Is War’ has a not so subtle focus of violence. The sound of this album is epic and powerful. This entire album, it seems, stems from the anger and frustration of the bands lawsuit with label Virgin/ EMI. Thirty Seconds To Mars have always been known for their passionate, never back down approach to their art and this new addition to their catalogue is definitely no exception. This is a theme for the hopeless, the alone, the hurt, the damaged and the broken. It is time for the outcasts to come into the light, and take back what is theirs. ‘This Is War’.
‘This Is War’ flows somewhat like an odyssey. Each track can be appreciated individually, or one can appreciate the album as the bigger piece of art.
The initial impression of the album is one of violence. The album is an empowering ode to the downtrodden to stand up. The songs denote feelings of violence, running, self sacrifice for the greater good, and motivation. ‘This Is War is overall very moving. The album opens with a challenge and the following songs are violent, they are empowering and encouraging. After the contrasting soft ‘Alibi’ the tone changes, the songs slowing down becoming somewhat reflective and relaxed.
I like the ‘Less-is-more’ approach to the instrumentation. They don’t feel the need to fill every bar with noise from their arsenal of instrumentation. Only the necessary sounds for the application of the songs are used. This is very effective in building up the songs to climax, and in maintaining tension, and creating their signature powerful feelings.
When it comes to war, the most prominent images that come to mind are poetry and war drums.
The focal point of the songs is definitely Jared Leto’s distinct vocal style. The thing that grabbed me back in the days of their self-titled album was the vocals. I didn’t know who this guy was, all I knew was there was this bloke singing with all the heart and passion he could muster, never holding back, giving it all he had, and that has stuck with me since. The vocals range from a kind of whisper, as though letting the listener in on a secret, to screaming in passion or frustration, delivering a challenge, sending a warning or delivering a message of hope. Jared’s intense vocal styling makes for a tense listen at times. The lyrics can be ambiguous, and I appreciate that, I am a strong supporter of an audience gathering their own meaning from art, rather than having an idea forced at them. As I like to say, sit down and listen following the lyrics (unfortunately not included in the album notes, but readily found online).
The drums are very dominant in this album; powerful, punchy, angry, inspired and violent. Shannon Leto is a phenomenal drummer, and he shows it on this album. There are inspired rhythms including war drum percussion, drum rolls, hi-hat rolls, fast and slow sections, syncopation and dynamics. No doubt his parts are extremely fun for him to play.
The guitars and keyboards, manned by Tomo Miličević, provide a backdrop for the songs, a sound-scape to build the songs on, like the basecoat of the background of a painting. Do not think that means the guitar playing is not worth noting however, not all guitar parts need to involve shredding. These guitar and keyboard parts are inspired, supporting the tracks and helping to create the tone of the album. Shannon Leto features on guitar for the closing track ‘L 490’.
One of the standout aspects of this album is the gang vocals and screaming. Thirty Seconds To Mars have always said that the most important part of the band is their fans, dubbed ‘The Echelon’. They generously invited hoards of their fans to record large parts of the album, recorded at ‘Summit’ meetings across the globe, gathering fans from all over the world to be a part of their art. This is a loving touch and very effective at times. However the screaming and cheering at the conclusion of ‘100 Suns’ seems a little out of place making it sounds more like a live album.
Fans also appear in the video/Short Film for King and Queens entitled ‘The Ride’, and the video for Closer to the edge. Their love for their fans is very apparent in this album cycle.
If the opportunity arises, see this band live, they are simply phenomenal.
Thirty Seconds To Mars is:
Jared Leto – Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar, Keyboards
Tomo Miličević – Lead Guitar, Violin, Keyboards
Shannon Leto – Drums, Percussion
Produced by Flood and Thirty Seconds To Mars. Steve Lillywhite and Thirty Seconds To Mars on ‘Kings And Queens’, ‘Closer To The Edge’ and ‘Vox Populi’.
Released on Virgin Records