Music trends and tones constantly evolve and mutate. But listening to the Canadian post-grungers (or, maybe post-post-grunge would be more accurate) Three Days Grace, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was still 2006. (Which, as it turns out, is the last time we actually reviewed an album from this band.)
It’s true, the group has a new-ish lead singer. Matt Walst replaced original frontman Adam Gontier back in 2013. Outsider, the band’s sixth studio effort, is Walst’s second with the group. But the band’s angsty point of view remains wholly intact.
Lyrics vent anger and alienation, disorientation and resistance. With regard to the latter, drummer Neil Sanderson told the Toronto Sun, “The concept of Outsider is that sort of yearning to want to remove yourself from like this situation where you’re always trying to be influenced. People are trying to coax you into what to believe, what to buy, what not to like, what to be against. It’ll make you go nuts and this record touches on trying to stay sane in a world that you feel is insane.”
At times on this 12-song effort, these four guys seem determined to hang on to their sanity. At others, their grip on that critical faculty relaxes alarmingly.
Most of the positive moments here are still framed within the context of desperation and struggle. That’s definitely the case on lead single “The Mountain,” which begins, “Every day I’m just surviving.” As grim as that sounds, though, the rest of the song unpacks themes of determination (“Even when I feel like dyin’/Keep climbin’ the mountain”) and choosing optimism over its opposite (“I try to see the light and push the darkness back”).
“I Am an Outsider” is written from the perspective someone who’d rather be on the outside of things than compromise his integrity in order to fit in: “I’d rather be faceless in the dark/Than be so fake, like the way you are.” Later, frontman Walst adds, “There comes a time we draw the line/Decide we’re better off on the outside.”
Two outsiders seem to find each other on “Infra-Red,” where one says to the other, “From the darkness I see the light in you,” and, “I see you.” “Nothing to Lose but You” is an almost frantic song in which a man credits an important relationship with rescuing him: “You’re the reason I’m still alive,” he says bluntly.
“Chasing the First Time” has some problematic moments, as I’ll detail below. But the song also critiques the ways we feverishly try to recreate powerful experiences, various “first times,” from our past: “And we’re doing it ’til we die/Chasing the first time/ … Spend our lives searching for/That once in lifetime.” The band understands that we can’t rewind the clock, no matter how much we might want to do so: “Nothing lasts forever, no/All we are is temporary,” a brutally accurate statement from an earthly perspective, but one that’s nevertheless devoid of a bigger spiritual hope.
“The New Real” mocks the narcissism of social media (“Somebody special took a trip last year/Somebody special drives a Maserati”), while calling listeners to task for ignoring pressing needs right in front of us (“Out on the street, all the people walk by/Nobody cares who gets pushed aside”). The song asks, “Is this the new real?/When nobody cares about each other, how they feel?”
The pain of abandonment haunts “Love Me or Leave Me,” where a man admits, “Too many times I’ve been left behind,” before plaintively asking, “Will you love me or leave me forever?” And despite this album’s perpetually glass-half-empty vibe, one still gets the sense that there’s an honest plea for unconditional love and acceptance, a place to call home where one doesn’t have to feel alone.
Elsewhere on the album, despair and desperation have the upper hand. Album closer “The Abyss” is the most bleak example, as a man succumbs to internal darkness: “Lost inside my head, I open up the door/Step right off the ledge, into the abyss/ … Am I already dead? Into the abyss.” The narrator here lacks the ability to deal with either his external world or his internal one: “Lost communication with the world outside/So much devastation in my world I hide/I fall into my own, into the abyss.”
On “Nothing to Lose But You,” a single important relationship (noted above) is the only thing that perhaps keeps a man from killing himself: “I don’t know if I’ll be all right/’Cause if I didn’t have you, I’d be better off dead.” And a rejected man runs without direction on “Right Left Wrong”: “And I’m never getting close to anyone again/ … I don’t know where I’m going, but I just keep moving on.”
“Me Against You” seethes with rage over a broken relationship (we hear three f-words), leading to this threat: “If you’re breaking my back, I’ll be breaking yours, too/ … You can’t win against my kind of crazy.” Meanwhile, “Strange Days” imagines dancing wildly at the end of the world: “Get ready for the dark age/ … We can dance to the sirens.” The titular “first times” on “Chasing the First Time” seem to include sex and drug use. And lyrics on “Infra-Red” could be heard as being mildly suggestive: “I know that you’re burning out for me/Fire in your bloodstream/Moving through you at light speed/ … That’s why I look at you like I do.”
Two other songs (“Right Left Wrong,” “The New Real”) include single uses of the f-word, including one pairing with “mother.”
Light has the power to illuminate the darkness. But at times, it seems as if darkness might just swallow the light. Both of those perspectives are present on Outsider. And which message is stronger at any given moment depends largely upon which song you happen to be listening to.
On “The Mountain,” light seems to be winning: “I try to see the light and push the darkness back.” But darkness has the last word, with “The Abyss” sucking a man into its maw with the inexorability of a black hole: “Am I already dead? Into the abyss.”
For anyone grappling with their own inner darkness and demons, messages like that one might ultimately tip the balance for them in a destructive direction.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.