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30 Seconds to Mars - 'This Is War' Review

30 Seconds to Mars Swing for the Fences on Ambitious Third Album

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30 Seconds to Mars - 'This Is War' Review

30 Seconds to Mars - 'This Is War'

Photo courtesy EMI/Virgin.
30 Seconds to Mars haven’t released an album in four years, so on This Is War they make up for lost time. A record overstuffed with ambition, This Is War doesn’t all work, but this band (led by actor Jared Leto) swing for the fences so forcefully that even the album’s weaker moments have their charm. Aspiring to make an epic album on the scale of U2 – even going so far as to collaborate with two of that band’s producers – 30 Seconds to Mars have managed to create their best record.

Jared Leto: That Rare Movie Star/Rock Star Hybrid?

When Leto started 30 Seconds to Mars, it was easy for naysayers to pigeonhole the group as just a vanity project. Actors don’t have a great track record when it comes to making the transition to rock star – Russell Crowe and Keanu Reaves spring to mind immediately – but 30 Seconds to Mars have done a decent job of building a following over two albums. This Is War was delayed due to legal wrangling between the group and their label, but you shouldn’t interpret the title to be a thinly veiled reference to those music-business battles. Instead, This Is War seeks to be a call to arms for individuals to end their complacency and take the reins of their lives. Working with Steve Lillywhite and Flood, producers who have been behind the board for several U2 records, 30 Seconds to Mars want to inspire the listener with arena-ready anthems like “Kings and Queens” and “Vox Populi,” which are grand sing-along songs that have a populist feel. Anybody who resisted picking up a 30 Seconds to Mars CD for fear that you’d hear a lot of movie-star complaining will be happy to know that This Is War is not a self-indulgent navel-gazing exercise.

Inspiration and Influences Come Together

Whereas previous 30STM records self-consciously aped trendy modern-rock styles, This Is War finds the band feeling more confident in their sonic approach. Granted, you’ll still be able to hear certain bands’ sound being emulated on the album – not just U2, but also Foo Fighters, Nine Inch Nails and the Killers – but because the songwriting has improved, This Is War is the band’s most coherent top-to-bottom effort. For instance, on the hushed piano ballad “Alibi,” Leto engages in the sort of moody, romantic breakup tune that just about every modern-rock group writes, but the song’s deep feeling, matched by a wonderfully layered arrangement, helps a potentially predictable track resonate. Likewise, the jittery, vaguely postpunk “Stranger in a Strange Land” could have just been a collection of eerie sound effects and Leto’s haunted, anguished vocals, but every element of the song works together to create a truly creepy vibe. 30 Seconds to Mars may still lean heavily on their influences, but on This Is War they bring sufficient inspiration to the table as well.

A Sense of Creative Discovery

Sadly, not all of This Is War’s ambitions pay off. The pounding “Night of the Hunter” is little more than a loose collection of disparate ideas, while “Hurricane” overdoes the inner turmoil with a very melodramatic arrangement that fails to reach the operatic grandeur to which it aspires. And tracks like “Closer to the Edge” and “Search and Destroy” emphasize atmospheric flourishes over melodic assurance. But even when 30 Seconds to Mars don’t fully connect on This Is War, you can hear the band ecstatically trying new things. And that spirit is contagious: Rather than worrying about trying to sound like others, 30STM seem to be in the midst of learning what their sound should be, and that sense of discovery powers This Is War.

'This Is War' – Best Tracks:

“Kings and Queens” (Purchase/Download)
“Vox Populi” (Purchase/Download)
“Stranger in a Strange Land” (Purchase/Download)
“Alibi” (Purchase/Download)
“100 Suns” (Purchase/Download)

Release date – December 8, 2009
Virgin/EMI

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