This is the album that I have been waiting to review. I like a lot of different bands, in a lot of different genres, but if I had to nail down a corner in the music spectrum that is my favorite it would be what Stick To Your Guns does. Something about mixing melodic hardcore with heavy breakdowns and back and forth singing/screaming just does it for me. STYG have come back with something new every time they release an album, and in this sense, Diamond does not disappoint.
Stylistically, Diamond sounds quite a bit like STYG’s last album, The Hope Division. This time around, however, the band has refined their sound and ironed out most of the kinks that made The Hope Division a B+ album rather than an A. STYG’s new guitarist, Josh James, has made an immediate impact on their sound. James previously played in Evergreen Terrace and Casey Jones (a truly under-rated hardcore band if there ever was one), and he has clearly brought with him a rhythm and flow that was not present in STYG before. He also seems to have had a strong affect on the band’s breakdowns, as while they are just as heavy and just as pertinent as in the past, they are not nearly as predictable as they were in The Hope Division. While listening to songs like ‘We Still Believe,’ which has a strong Ignite/Rise Against/Casey Jones feel, it is exceedingly clear that James has made his mark.
The other clearly recognizable improvement is in Jesse Barnett’s vocals. I have always enjoyed Barnett’s different screams from album to album; from From What It’s Worth‘s death growls to Comes From the Heart‘s more metalcore sounding screams. On The Hope Division, Barnett once again tossed a wrench in the listener’s idea of what he would sound like and it resulted in a great unexpected tone for his scream. The only problem I had with his vocal styling on that album was that he tended to start each line at 5 and end at 11. This constant build-up approach to his vocals became a tad distracting as the album went on. Luckily for us, the listeners, this is completely done away with on Diamond, which just keeps the awesome tone created on The Hope Division. Barnett has also stepped up his singing chops this time around. Not only does his voice sound cleaner, the switch back and forth with his screaming feels much more organic. This is really a great indicator of a good hardcore (loosely speaking) band; knowing when to sing and when to scream can really make or break a band (hint: its not a good idea to sing all your chorus’s and scream all your verses).
Let’s get down to the nitty gritties. Diamond starts off with an intro, aptly titled ‘Diamond.’ This track really sets the tone for the entire album both, lyrically and sonically. Barnett’s vocals are pretty clear throughout the entire album, so it’s pretty easy to understand what he is screaming at any point, but he is never more clear than he is on the intro, when he screams “This is my life/and this life is my diamond.” For those of you wondering what the title of the album referred to, STYG spells it right out for you two minutes into the record. All of Diamond stays pretty true to those two lines and tackles such topics as giving back to the community (‘We Still Believe’), domestic abuse (‘Beyond the Sun’), homophobia (‘Life in a Box’), and negativity (‘Empty Heads’). As someone who comes from the same Orange County suburbs that Jesse Barnett hails from, I can really connect with his perspective on a lot of the issues that he tackles. In no other instance is this more true than on ‘D(I AM)OND’ which takes on Barnett’s battle within himself. He sings, “I am a brave man/I am a coward/I am the tiger/I am the flower/I am honest/and I’m a liar” and I can’t help but relate to this duality.
The second track, ‘Against Them All,’ sports one of the most catchy and melodic choruses on Diamond. I can only describe it adequately by comparing it to vintage AFI and Death By Stereo at their best. The aforementioned ‘We Still Believe’ also has a great melodic chorus, and it takes the cake for my favorite song on the album. It is definitely the most musically different song on the album and I would place a heavy wager on it having stretched the band the most. Picture Ignite or Rise Against at their best with a great breakdown. If STYG still have some refining and growing to do after Diamond, they would be well advised to push further in this direction.
The second half of Diamond keeps up pace with the first half, which is something I was very happy to see. I always felt as if the first half of The Hope Division dwarfed the second half somewhat. In fact, many of my favorite songs on Diamond are located toward the end of the album, like ‘Life in a Box.’ This song packs a big punch in about a minute and a half, and it is perfect for fans who like their hardcore short and sweet. ‘Beyond the Sun’ on the other hand, is the longest song on the album at over 4 minutes. It features a beautiful chorus sung by Barnett, which is a good juxtaposition of the dark lyrics he screams about domestic abuse. Also, both songs have blistering breakdowns that make the listener want to kick a hole in the wall (this is still true if the listener is dressed in business casual and is reviewing balance sheets and income statements).
After listening to Diamond at least ten times in a couple days (happily, I might add), all I want to do is see STYG play these songs on stage. This is easily my favorite release this year so far, not to mention my favorite STYG album by a long shot. The vocals are great and the songwriting has improved since their last time out. Diamond is simply a must-have release for any hardcore fan.
Grade: Diamond would make your grandma do some windmill kicks.