30 seconds to mars
IT’S RESPECTABLE THAT Jared Leto refuses to let his band play shows where venues advertise the band using the actor’s name. What’s not respectable, though, is 30 Seconds to Mars‘s latest release, “This Is War.”

On the band’s third album, 30 Seconds to Mars builds upon the alternative rock foundation they laid in 2002’s self-titled debut and 2005’s “A Beautiful Lie,” which went platinum and spawned hit single “The Kill.” But just as the music video for “The Kill” jacked the format and style of Stanley Kubrick‘s version of “The Shining,” much of 30 Seconds to Mars’s sound on “This Is War” is swiped from other industrial and post-hardcore bands of a far better caliber, such as AFI, Nine Inch Nails and Angels and Airwaves. Whether it’s screaming vocals, intricate electronica breakdowns or sweeping synth-scapes, most things Leto and Co. put together on “This Is War” end up sounding vaguely familiar.

And the band hasn’t progressed very far from “A Beautiful Lie,” either — that album also presented lyrics that dealt with humanity’s struggle for meaning and justice and the role of one man’s impact on the world surrounding him. The same concepts come up on “This Is War,” and as a result, most of Leto’s verses end up sounding like he listened a little too hard to Tyler Durden’s ranting during “Fight Club” (in which Leto had a major role in as “Angel Face,” the dude that Edward Norton beats the crap out of while seething about pandas who won’t screw to save their species).

Leto’s lyrics deal with bearing arms, joining together and fighting against something — or maybe for each other? — but he, drummer and brother Shannon Leto and guitarist Tomo Milicevic never really take the time to clear up what their opponent is. They’re too busy using gimmicks like children’s choruses and animal sound effects instead.

The album begins with “Escape,” the disc’s second-shortest song (at 2 minutes and 24 seconds) and also its most seemingly straightforward: Pulsing guitars and drilling drums dart toward each other during the song’s first minute, then Leto’s overdone, hushed vocals come into play as he warns, “I don’t believe in fate / But the bottom line / It’s time to pay / You know you’ve got it coming.” But the song takes the over-the-top plunge when a children’s chorus (at least, it sounds like little munchkins) blasts in immediately afterward with the proclamation of “This is war,” a vocal which is extended for the song’s last 30 seconds and will (unfortunately) pop up numerous other times throughout the album.

And if you double “Escape” and copy that about 10 times, you’ll get the rest of “This Is War” — most of the songs last about six minutes, follow the same format and feature the same kind of instrumentation and themes.

There aren’t really that many risks here: “Night of the Hunter” sounds like something straight off Terry Goodkind‘s libertarian fantasy novels, with lyrics like “I was born out of the womb of a poisonous spell / Beaten and broken and chased from the lair” and numerous AFI-like call and response sections, while other tracks like “Vox Populi” and “Search and Destroy” sound practically identical. Both use a whispered-screamed vocal dichotomy, have lyrics about how it’s “time to go to war” (dudes, we get the concept already) and employ a nearly identical rhythm — the only difference is that the former uses handclaps and that children’s chorus thing, and that’s not necessarily a benefit.

And the songs that do end up standing out aren’t necessarily the best — they’re just the ones that do something a little different to veer away from the pack.

Whether it’s Kanye West’s touch on “Hurricane” (yup, that picture of West and Leto together on the rapper’s blog did end up in a collaboration) or the stripped-down, intimate feel of “100 Suns,” the two tracks will surely grab your attention for one reason or another. Just ignore the fact that West’s verse and repeated line of “I need a heartbeat” on “Hurricane” sound like leftover pieces from a recording session for “808s and Heartbreak” and that “100 Suns” seems as if Leto is trying his damndest to pull an “Imagine” out of his hat and you’ll be good.

Overall, though, “This Is War” is not. For dedicated fans, 30 Seconds to Mars’s third album will probably be a-OK — after all, the band’s sound hasn’t changed much since “A Beautiful Lie.” But those looking for something new or special from 30 Seconds to Mars should avoid this battle altogether.

Written by Express contributor Roxana Hadadi
Photo courtesy 30 Seconds to Mars