Review – “With Roots Above And Branches Below” by The Devil Wears Prada

When I first picked up “Dear Love – A Beautiful Discord” from The Devil Wears Prada in summer of ’07, I was only marginally impressed. They were an up-and-coming metalcore band out of Dayton with comparisons to the rise of Norma Jean in the intensity of their live show. I bought their album on a whim one boring night as I strolled through Best Buy in the midst of my summer internship simply because I thought I had heard the name. What I wrote in my review of that album held true. It was very raw and immature sounding, but there was a glimmer of potential, and I could see some great things from them depending on how they chose to develop. TDWP’s last LP was a step in the right direction, and I think they’ve hit the sweet spot with this release. Also, before I continue, know that they (and I) have already heard all the jokes about their name and the movie. Just go with it.

I’m still not a fan of their nonsensical song titles. (There aren’t any deep meanings to titles like “Wapakalypse” or “Assistant to the Regional Manager,” so don’t hurt yourself trying to find them. I heard them state that in an interview once). I think if you’re going to create such a piece of art with a meaningful album name that relates to the topic of many of its lyrics, you should at least title songs appropriately. I’d even take the stereotypical full-sentence hardcore titles like “Sometimes It’s Our Mistakes That Make For the Greatest Ideas” over “I Hate Buffering.” That’s just my opinion. I’m a big fan of albums congealing as a whole thematically in all aspects, but by now the random titles are a sort of trademark for them, so I suppose they’ll stick with it.

What their previous efforts may have been lacking in “tightness” or melodic appeal, this album seems to make up for it. Not that I’m a fan of more traditional and repetitive song structures, but the riffs and segments judiciously repeated within some of the songs have really helped to get some of them stuck in my head. There are a few passages in particular that I’ve walked around humming, such as the opening riff to “Danger: Wildman.” Their drummer has improved immensely since “Plagues,” even if it may be more about production quality and tone than talent. Some of Jeremy’s vocals still sound auto-tuned and electronic (which bothers me), but I think that’s also a trademark of their studio work now. And for some reason I’ve noticed the bass work a lot more on this offering than their past two. Again it may be attributed to the incredible production quality and mixing, but maybe his parts are just that much better written. The electronic and synth elements come to the forefront at just the right times, which is something I hoped they would do when I first heard them. Mike’s scream usually sounds pretty strong, but there are some places where it’s a little breathy-sounding. Then again, who sits around and critiques metalcore scream styles?

Also, the lyrics are cryptic as usual. Had I not heard an interview where Mike said a lot of it is largely a critique of the Church today (as in we’ve forgotten our roots), I would have no clue what most of the songs were discussing. There’s always a fine line between being deep and understandable, I suppose. Knowing the topical content makes me a little more lenient, and I can listen along and still gain a sense of meaning from the organized chaos.

You’re probably thinking, “It sounds like you don’t like this album. Or at least you’ve given a lot of reasons you normally wouldn’t,” and you’d be partially right. There are a lot of reasons I normally wouldn’t find such an album appealing (mostly from a message standpoint), but for whatever reason, I love it. I’ve driven around multiple times already just blaring it with the windows down and reveling in the jarring breakdowns, precise double bass, and (dare I say) catchy riffs. I have this unspoken metric for determining how good a metal(core) album is. If I walk around tapping the drum beats on my chest without realizing it, it’s a winner. I’ve caught myself doing that quite a bit with this album in the couple of weeks I’ve owned it. The raw talent, incredible production quality, and inventive melodious metal style (with amazing rhythmic foundation) make it a must-own for anyone with even a slight taste for harder music. Overall, I give it a 4/5.

And here are some related links for consumption:
The album on Amazon
The Devil Wears Prada song interpretations

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