One of the music world's paradoxes is that metalcore, a genre defined by screaming guitars and guttural shouts that never quite classify as singing, is dominated by Christian bands. Nowhere is that paradox more evident than with The Devil Wears Prada on its fifth album, 8:18.
That numerical title refers to Romans 8:18, where the Apostle Paul wrote, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." And it's anguish, distress, agony and pain that's the focal point on 8:18. In an interview with Fuse TV, frontman Mike Hranica said of the album's inspiration, "The verse is about suffering, and I think in one way or another the whole album tries to follow misery and look at it within different perspectives."
Indeed. Listening to 8:18, I identified many faith references. Simultaneously, the album felt so dark and heavy at times that I thought I'd need to break out my thesaurus to come up with new synonyms for those adjectives. But I needn't have looked any further than the band's bio, which reads, "There's an oppressive, suffocating darkness to their heavy music, counterbalanced by the hope within their collective faith." Fearnet.com's Gregory Burkart adds, "The mood of 8:18 is ominous from the outset … [as] Hranica cuts loose with his flesh-rending heavy vocals (which unlike many harsh vocalists of the genre, sounds less monstrous and more psychotic)."
All of which again begs that paradoxical question: Just how, exactly, do these 13 miserable, oppressive and ominous tracks also express the band's faith?
"8:18" dives into the suffering caused by violence and, presumably, our sin. "The gun trembles in a young man's hand," we hear in the first verse, "The mother visits a gravesite." It acknowledges the brevity of life ("It's so abrupt/The life designed for us") but insists we can move beyond anxiety ("Reach out, end fear") as we notice God's creation and are reminded of His presence ("The city mourns another loss/But we'll pray forever/Rivers run, mountains peak/I know You're there"). "Martyrs" speaks of dying to ourselves (Luke 9:23, Galatians 2:20) and to worldly things that might command our allegiance ("I'm dead to those who tried to impress/I'm dead to those who had my trust/I'm dead to distance and to home/I'm dead to me/I died by the throne/ … Martyrs, hear me out/Never claim what's not forever").
"Gloom" recognizes that Jesus' followers listen to Him ("He is the Lord, we are the listeners") and the reality that His people are in a spiritual battle ("Don't let the devil speak/Don't let the demons take us/Watch your back, look over your shoulder/This war is meant to be fought"). The track also rejects the world's treasures ("I've seen what's fake/I've seen the distractions") and affirms cleansing forgiveness ("I've lost my temper/And yet there's forgiveness/There is purity"). "Transgress" grapples with the discouragement that comes from repeated sin ("I swore to forever/And I'm sure it will happen again/Another bend, another break/Ceaseless habits under falling skies/I don't know where to go from here/ … Didn't think it'd be like this"). "In Heart" focuses on someone wrestling with lust who finds hope in seeing a woman as a spiritual being instead of just a fleshly one ("Through the bones we're all the same/ … In blood and organs we fall apart/And in our likeness we join in heart").
Seeking true meaning amid earthly counterfeits consumes "Rumors." "First Sight" insists, "No more empty praise and worship," while recognizing that our sufferings shape us. "Care More" expresses a yearning for more than this world has to offer. "Home for Grave" critiques the idea of putting our hope in material things. "Black & Blue" suggests that our addiction to technology is destroying our closest relationships ("Slaves to phones, abandoned homes/Can you see this?/Can you feel this?/ … Broken hearts, torn apart/ … She hasn't heard a thing").
For all the good that's on "Gloom," repeated lines still may not have enough context to push every fan down the right path. For instance, we hear, "We wrote a song in the dark/We drove a stake through her heart." Likewise, "Rumors" seems to embrace despair: "Another day dies, trailing off/You were the one I never knew/You were the one to fix what's left here/ … Leaving me like this, digging deep/In the nothing that I have."
"Sailor's Prayer" suggests that the time for a person to make a change has run out: "I'm always hoping to maybe change/It's like the same thing/You're just a little late." "Transgress" is brutally honest about a losing battle with sin, but merely ends where it begins, "With seven plagues/ … I'm back at where I started." A man in a broken relationship on "Number Eleven" viciously vows, "Looking for your name/Falling down shallow stairs/ … I will hurt myself" (though afterward he recalculates, saying, "Give it time, give it some space").
Even mainstream metal reviewers are wondering whether it's a healthy thing to focus so much on misery. At loudwire.com, an interviewer named Full Metal Jackie asked Hranica, "Overall, Mike, 8:18 presents a heightened sense of sadness and misery. When that's the goal, is there a danger of becoming immersed with those emotions beyond the recording studio?"
Hranica replied, "I choose to write … sadder things because they are prevalent in my life, and I think it's worth reflecting over, and I think it's very immediate, and I think it makes for good, a good creative product as far as writing or music."
But there's no denying that this "good creative product" feels claustrophobic and constricting. Too claustrophobic and constricting to play around with lightly. But it may well be the perfect environment, as Hranica might say, in which to convince someone of their true need for freedom and salvation. And this sonically bruising album does still shine a light through that darkness as Hranica and Co. prophetically jab listeners to consider where they're placing their hope and where they find their deepest sense of significance.