“Skeletons” is one of those albums.

One of those records where the 600 words or so that I am going to write now are basically pointless. That’s not a comment on the review by the way (I’ll let you judge that) more on the band itself.

I’ve only seen Pop Evil once, on the 28th March 2014 to be accurate. The band might remember it too, it was their first ever UK show. They opened for FFDP and on the website that directly preceded this one, I wrote this: “Michigan mob Pop Evil couldn’t sound more American if they sung the Star-Spangled Banner while draped in the Stars and Stripes and eating Mom’s Apple Pie.”

That’s that really and that’s it still, even if you fast forward very nearly nine years.

The most recent single they put out from this is also the first song proper on the record and “Paranoid (Crash and Burn)” is the sort of thing I am talking about. A recorded, dystopian voice (similar to that which Shinedown used on last years effort) intones that “the voice in your head is a threat” and we’re off.

Saying that, we’re off with a massive, thick riff from Nick Fuelling and its noticeable how heavy this is. Appreciably heavier than their most recent work, and that’s a vibe of “Circles” too. Indeed, this is as muscular as any hard rock anywhere. Moshpit ready, but my goodness, it soars. Fans of the aforementioned Ivan Moody’s boys need to get here.

There’s a pop sensibility to this too, lets not be coy about this. “Eye Of The Storm” sees Leigh Kakaty sing through a vocoder, and the anthemic “Sound Of Glory” is the walk on music for some WWE wrestler within weeks as sure as night follows day.

It sounds glorious too. They’ve returned to their roots – Kakaty has spoken about his desire to strip everything back – and gone back to producer Drew Fulk (Disturbed, Papa Roach, Motionless in White), who’s helped them before. The results couldn’t have worked better. The ballad in the middle, the title track, is more than a change of pace, it’s a mission statement. “We live in a world gone mad, that’s lost control,” goes the hook, but the human element is what concerns them here. “we’re only human, fighting wars within.”

Calling them anthemic is redundant. All of them are, but like Three Days Grace or others, there’s a message of positivity, of hope, of comradeship, its stitched all the way through “Worth It” or the crunching slice of rock that “Who We Will Become” is.

Being in a band for 20 years – and a successful one at that – affords you a certain something, and the last three all feature special guests and all of them have different textures. “Wrong Direction” has Blake Allison from Devour The Day providing vocals, and its thunderous.

It’s the last two, starting with “Dead Reckoning” though that most surprise. Ryan Kirby from Fit for a King sings on a song brought to the table by bassist, Joey “Chicago” Walser. It’s immediately the heaviest thing on this album by a distance.

Rapper Zillion is on “Raging Bull” and it’s also a clever track. “Who’s left if the good die young?” it questions, and the way it builds and falls is typical of the thought that’s gone into this album. By turns ferocious and aggressive, but always with an eye on its fellow man.

US Hard rock has moved on since the days where everyone had lipstick and wanted you to talk dirty to them. Rightfully so too, given that it needs to reflect both its world and its experiences. “Skeletons” is everything modern hard rock should be in 2023.

Rating 8/10

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