After a four year absence, Leto and co. return with their third album of anthemic emo tracks beleaguered by overwhelming studio frills.
Thirty Seconds to Mars' chosen musical genre may be more noted for its hairstyles and eyeliner than its musical sensibilities, but sonically 'This Is War' is just as melodramatic as its presentation. The vast electric guitars and booming drums are swarming in angst, and more reverb than you can shake a stick at. Even as he cries, yells and screeches (and he does so repeatedly), Jared Leto's vocal always feels distant, veiled as it is in shrouds of reverb, compression and delay effects.
U2 and Depeche Mode producer Flood is the man behind 'This Is War', creating an imposing sense of space and that ever so familiar shiny guitar sound. Brief opener 'The Escape' sets the scene right away, with its retro-futuristic ambience. Here we get the first taste of the 'Brick In The Wall' style choir of youths that reappear intermittently throughout, and only really fulfil their potential when backed up by mammoth echoing drums and handclaps on 'Vox Populi'.
Kanye West's guest appearance on piano led number 'Hurricane' is practically imperceptible, with just subtle electronic touches and a virtually inaudible backing vocal hinting at his presence. The strongest moments of 'This Is War' are in the breaks. The marching band style drum rolls of the title track seem wholly detached from the rest of the song and are all the better for it.
You do get the feeling that 30STM take it all a bit too seriously, though. Nearing the seven minute mark and bearing few recognisable marks of melody, 'Stranger In A Strange Land' is something of a pretentious prospect, as is its follow up 'L490', an instrumental number consisting of acoustic guitar, eerie cultish chanting and almost a minute long intro of nothing but one wavering tone.
In terms of hooks and melodies, there's just nothing to grab hold of on 'This Is War'. These songs are too long, and struggle to distinguish themselves from each other. With production values seemingly prioritised over songwriting here, it's a prime example of what they call 'style over substance'.