ONE OK ROCK - Eye of the Storm

review - 20.03.2019 00:01

The popular rock band demonstrates how to be successful.

ONE OK ROCK, formed in 2005, recently released their ninth studio album. In addition to their admirable release pace, this band is loved all over the world and has completed many international tours. To promote the brand new album, Eye of the Storm, they have embarked on a month and a half long US tour, which effectively proves that their attraction is anything but waning. What might be the secret behind this lasting success is a relevant question to be pondered while listening to the new album.

The band's inclination towards the mainstream music market is obvious from the very first notes of Eye of the Storm. The track, compressed flat and sounding as sterile as an operating room, steadily flows to the listener's ears like a conveyor belt. Mechanical drumbeats, varied use of synthesizers, digitally manipulated vocal tracks and enormous reverb make up a cold and spacious, yet somewhat stuffed, soundscape. The term ”arena rock” is tailored to describe this album, which indeed sounds like it is being played at a gigantic sports stadium from a massive PA system.

All the compositions sound as if they were especially made for oceans of waving hands and masses of people singing along. The first two tracks on the album are the best examples of this: the quality and sheer power of the massive pop anthems Eye of the Storm and Stand Out Fit In is so convincing that it would make even a band like U2 nod in agreement, perhaps even with a slight pang of jealousy. The title track's refined synth work keeps the song musically interesting while the melodies reach out to the sky with their pathos, while Stand Out Fit In instead relies on the well-tried combination of calm, emotive verses and an upbeat bouncy chorus – a pop recipe with which it is quite impossible to fail.

However, from the third track Head High onwards, the album skids down an unexpected route from where it never quite returns. Overproduced, these rather lukewarm hit songs follow one another in a seemingly endless line in which in the listener's head eventually becomes one big mess of party beats and big synth walls. The only characteristic element carrying through all the songs is the personal vocal performance of the singer TAKA. His varied and at times very emotional voice is the brightly shining star on the album's otherwise rather grey sky. The presence of the other band members hardly even occurs to the listener. Most of the drum beats have been produced digitally, or at least made to sound like that. The guitars remain quite weak in the overall mix, mainly just providing basic chords in the background. Similarly, the bass serves first and foremost as the aim of a polished end product – not so much that of a soulful performance.

The over-compressed, rather tiring sound production is only a part of Eye of the Storm's dubiousness. Most of the album's thirteen tracks lack quite a bit of inspiration and personality. While the title track is an impressive example of a big pop anthem, there are really no other songs as powerful on the album. Still, most of the songs are single-mindedly making use of the exact same formula, one after another. Most of the melodies feel nice and catchy for a while but fail to make a greater, lasting impression. At times the listener may find their foot idly tapping the floor along to the music, but all in all, Eye of the Storm is rather uninspiring as a whole. At a summer festival among thousands of enthusiastic people, one could easily join the fun and enjoy the flow, but in terms of merely listening to the music, the album does not provide too much interesting content.

Halfway through the album Letting Go catches the listener's attention with an ever so slightly refreshing breeze of acoustic guitar. It doesn't sound particularly organic, but is rather mixed to fit nicely into the album's industrial soundscape. Nevertheless, it makes the song a bit more memorable, at least. In the Stars is another track that manages to make at least a little exceptional impression, thanks to the vocal contribution by the American singer, Kiiara. Composition-wise, neither of these two songs are particularly special, though. One cannot avoid feeling a strike of irony when in the second to last track, Unforgettable, TAKA sings the line, “All I want is to be unforgettable”. On the other hand, one might also say that chart rankings and sales are exactly that by which the “unforgettableness” of an artist is measured.

As a whole, Eye of the Storm is not a particularly exciting album in any way. It does not really sound like an artistic output from a passionate rock band, but rather like a product of profitability calculations from an industrial company. In that regard, the production of this album is indeed a success. Composition-wise, Eye of the Storm provides very easy listening that will surely irritate no one. It can be played to anyone regardless of their age or preferences, and it will be very unlikely to provoke any sort of conflicted emotions. The lighthearted melodies and steady beats will hardly inconvenience anyone's daily life.

As mentioned, the dark side of the album's extreme compromise, is of course the lack of personality and innovation, but to highlight one interesting spark of originality on the album, one might mention that the lyrics were mostly sung in English. Instead of singing about the most worn out topic of pop music – relationship issues – ONE OK ROCK is lyrically more inclined towards encouraging hymns of individuality, freedom, and self-expression. It is such a pity that the awkward contrast between the album's lyrical themes and musical expression remains unsolved on this album.

The music video for Stand Out Fit In illustrates the album's lyrical themes extremely well.

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