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Music Review: This Is War by 30 Seconds to Mars

<p>Music for Spartans</p>
by Gelo Gonzales | Jan 6, 2011
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Following their well-publicized contract dispute with Virgin Records in 2008, 30 Seconds to Mars is now kicking it with their third full-length album This is War.[firstpara]

Like the title implies, many of the album’s themes focus on stories of war and death.

The power trio of Jared Leto—who played the role of Jordan Catalano in My So-Called Life, if you remember— Shannon Leto and Tomo Milicevic are five years removed from their previous album, and thus use this record as a testing lab for experimentation.

Among their new devices are the use of a choir on several tracks, and in some songs, sounds of a funeral march, which some of you may find a wee bit over-the-top.

The eerie and mysterious album opener “Escape” sets the theme for the record.

True to their Pink Floyd influences, Leto’s vocals fade in and out to an almost operatic vibe, yet the hint of guitar strums is unmistakably rock and roll.

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“Night of the Hunter” features an interesting mix of power metal, trance, emo and ballad all rolled into one. It opens with a European woman’s voice immediately followed by a fast and heavy power metal-esque riff mixed with a hint of trance. It is in this track’s lyrical content that the band’s emo influences can be felt.

“Kings and Queens” and the title track “This is War” are more post-grunge/alternative in nature, sticking with the tried-and-true method of soft verses followed by a heavy chorus.

“100 Suns” is the shortest track on the album, clocking in at a mere 1:58. The song, an acoustic ballad powered by a choir background and Leto’s versatile vocal range, has that ability to soothe listeners in the manner that a Jack Johnson song would.

Leto’s vocal versatility continues in “Hurricane,” which mixes the acoustic vocal tone of the previous track with emo-style screams. Opening with a keyboard solo, the song explores themes of religion and death, asking the unanswerable ‘Where is your god?’

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The next track is “Closer to the Edge,” whose funeral dirge opening is quickly sped up with the song’s post-grunge/emo ambience.

“Vox Pupuli,” derived from the Latin phrase ‘voice of the people,’ is by far the most epic song on the album, continuing the tone set by the opening track.

The song features a trance-like opening, followed by a choir group’s chanting. The ever-present choir blends seamlessly with Leto’s cries of war, as well as the fast guitar and bass riffs of Milicevic. Though pretty decent, “Search and Destroy” is perhaps the weakest track on an otherwise strong album. This song features none of the genre-breaking sounds of the previous tracks, instead sticking to an almost forgettable alternative rhythm. 

The album then returns to its mysterious tone with “Alibi,” a track highlighted by a percussion and keyboard melody, made comforting  by Leto’s soft vocals. “Stranger in a Strange Land,” a reference to Sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein, is the longest track on the record and is more progressive metal in nature, mixing silence and fast rhythm leading to a heavy climax.

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The album then ends with the instrumental “L490,” a lullaby acoustic which ends in a church choir-style chanting, a fitting end to album’s theme of war. Whether intentional or otherwise, the song’s acoustic guitar sound is reminiscent of Metallica’s “The Unforgiven” from 1991.

This is War has been certified Gold worldwide, as well as going 2x Platinum in Portugal and it’s easy to see why. The album breaks the confines of genre classification, mixing in some vastly different musical styles to achieve a unique tone.

With this only being their third studio album, the band’s sound continues to develop and evolve, slowly breaking away from their musical roots and attempting to make their own stamp on the music world. However, with only three albums in over a decade and Leto’s budding acting career, the band needs to focus their energies onto their music, before their time passes.

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