I See Stars belongs to a genre of music known as electronicore, which increasingly relies on creativity and seamless transitions between heavy rock elements and programmed, electronic influences to have meaning. Many scoff at the concept of blending synthesizers and hardcore rock, but if Digital Renegade proves anything, it’s that fans of post-hardcore music should be right at home with this more experimental variation of the genre. Following up the abysmally poppy The End Of The World Party, I See Stars had a lot to prove in order to win back a large portion of an alienated fan base. But with the release of their third album, the band manages to do all that and more with their strongest and heaviest work to date. Digital Renegade not only delivers the same brutal breakdowns and artistically unique synth and keyboard implementations as before, but it perfects them while also managing to convey deeper lyrics and more emotional moments. Simply put, this is I See Stars at their most imaginative, effective and inventive. The result is a style of music that won’t grab a huge following, but it certainly deserves credit for being such an innovative and successful twist on the post-hardcore genre.
“Gnars Attacks” wastes no time in establishing the album’s heavier tone, but also includes enough clean vocals and synth beats to keep long-time fans happy. From its epic intro of Andrew Oliver’s drumming building into Zach Johnson’s domineering screams to Devin Oliver’s effeminately pitch-perfect clean vocals, Digital Renegade‘s opener gives the album solid footing moving forward.
After an almost embarrassingly light sophomore album, I See Stars decided “NZT48” would be how they spell “redemption” for their vastly superior third record. This first single represents everything the band was lacking on The End Of The World Party: aggressive verses, brutal breakdowns, intelligent but relatively subtle synth work and energy in the unclean vocals mixed with clean vocals not bastardized by auto-tune. Referencing modern classic films like The Dark Knight (“Some men just want to watch the world burn”) and V For Vendetta (“The only verdict is vengeance”), I See Stars knows how to pack a musical and lyrical punch in what is possibly their heaviest and best all-around song to date.
Following in the footsteps of the rebellious and anti-government vibes of “NZT48,” I See Stars finishes Digital Renegade off on a decidedly epic note with “Filth Friends Unite,” which also continues the V For Vendetta influences in its music video. Johnson’s keyboard and synth work is phenomenal here, as are the guitar and bass riffs of Jimmy Gregerson, Brent Allen and Jeff Valentine.
The electronicore genre is as much about being experimental with the programmed and electronic tweaking as it is about creating order out of all that chaos. And whereas some bands are like the men who “just want to watch the world burn,” I See Stars have moved to the front of the pack by balancing the experimental elements of electronicore with the tried and true aspects of post-hardcore music to create something truly unique and enjoyable. Gone are the poppy, overdone synth beats of The End Of The World Party. In their place is a complex and addicting mix of brutal post-hardcore breakdowns, appealing clean vocals, diverse keyboard and synth additions and quality guitar riffs and drumming. From the dramatic and heartfelt “Mystery Wall” to the severe “Endless Sky” (featuring Danny Worsnop), I See Stars is back and better than ever. Their music will likely rub many rock purists the wrong way, but those who appreciate the post-hardcore genre (fans of bands like We Came As Romans, Attack Attack!, Of Mice & Men, Blessthefall, The Devil Wears Prada, Asking Alexandria, Memphis May Fire and Like Moths To Flames) will undoubtedly love Digital Renegade not only as redemption for the band’s horrific sophomore album, but also as an innovative and unparalleled work of electronicore. The genre will always have its limits in terms of crafting experimental elements while still abiding by compositional structure, but I See Stars prove they have a pretty good idea what that balance is about with Digital Renegade.
Final Score: 8.2/10
Rank: 1st (three total albums)
- Gnars Attacks
- Digital Renegade
- Endless Sky
- Underneath Every Smile
- Mystery Wall
- Summer Died In Connersville
- Electric Forest
- Filth Friends Unite