It would be easy to be cynical about NEW YEARS DAY. From a metalhead's perspective, music this overtly commercial and expensive sounding can often seem soulless and contrived, like some ageing label executive's idea of what metal fans want to hear. "Unbreakable" certainly fits that template to a great degree. The whole thing sounds absolutely enormous, for a start: no longer clear evidence that a lot of cash has been thrown at the project, but certainly evidence of ambitions beyond the alt-rock third tier. In fact, take the thundering guitars away from these songs and NEW YEARS DAY's fourth album would probably be even more successful. This is, after all, a pop record at heart.
And yet, cynicism seems pointless here. Every last one of these 12 songs is a meticulously crafted anthem, with a chorus the size of God's balls and enough ultra-modern production tricks to make KANYE WEST dizzy. Sneering at something as shiny and irresistible as "Poltergeist" because it doesn't have the same atmosphere as MAYHEM's "Deathcrush" makes no sense: this is a simple but sincere exercise in state-of-the-art pop-metal, only nominally aimed at the average LAMB OF GOD fan, but far more likely to be an invigorating entry point for alt-curious teenagers.
The one thing that truly separates "Unbreakable" from any number of other like-minded records is that Ash Costello is a relentless inferno of charisma and star quality. In less capable hands, the angsty lyrics of "Sorry Not Sorry" and "Shut Up" could have seemed sanctimonious or banal, but Costello has a vast amount of presence and sings everything with commitment and conviction.
It seems likely that if NEW YEARS DAY score a major commercial breakthrough this time around, it will be teen-friendly emote-a-thons like "My Monsters" that seal the deal, but it's quirkier material that really allows this band to shine. In particular, "Nocturnal" is a fidgeting futuristic shuffle, pop in delivery but nails-hard by design, with a stuttering EDM-tinged groove that suits Costello and her comrades perfectly. Likewise, "Skeletons" combines theatrical pomp and a lurching dubstep gait, erupting into a fiendishly insistent refrain, while the title track is a stately but bellicose call-to-arms with yet another chorus of sanity-threatening greatness. And yes, the handful of sonic surprises that do arrive are hardly going to make MERZBOW fans spit out their Gatorade, but then this was never about breaking new ground. Instead, NEW YEARS DAY are just growing in confidence and writing better songs, safe in the knowledge that no one else is doing this stuff with anywhere near the same amount of vigor and verve.
We could waste a lot of time arguing about whether or not this California quintet qualify as a heavy metal band—they don't, but the cheering reality is that "Unbreakable" is utterly disarming and these bright but ballsy songs are destined to be bellowed to the rafters by thousands. Even the middle-aged music journalists standing at the back with their arms folded will be singing along internally, I suspect.