Early 2000s rock band Incubus returns with their first album in 6 years, which intrigued me due to the fact that the album went through a second stage of production and mixing done by none other than Skrillex, who is apparently a friend of the band. While the presence of the brostep king’s trademark sounds is not particularly felt here at all, his work in post-hardcore band From First to Last likely is. While Incubus frequently drifts closer to the softer side of the alternative rock spectrum, especially on their hits, 8 marks a return to a much louder sound. Now in his 40s, singer Brandon Boyd’s voice is still incredible, but ultimately many of these tracks come across as bland and uninspired.
Listeners are re-introduced to Incubus as a pure rock band within the first 5 seconds, as we hear a distorted guitar screech and Boyd stretching his voice to its upper limits. This continues for the majority of the album, as powerful guitars clash with Boyd’s effortless delivery of a seasoned rock frontman. They briefly drop back to a quieter, more introspective soundscape at times to provide contrast in the songs, but for the most part this is very guitar-driven.
The band is certainly capable of creating catchy hooks, one of the main reasons they crossed over so well to a mainstream audience back in the day. “State Of The Art” is the best song here, perhaps it’s just my love of harmonies but they are a welcome surprise on the soaring, anthemic chorus. It sounds like the band’s best attempt to create a fully fleshed-out, well-rounded song on the project. While it may not have been true for the majority of their career, Incubus is best on this project when they are at their hardest. “Glitterbomb” is one of the most low-key songs on the tracklist, failing to grab my attention until the song begins a much louder breakdown featuring an impressive guitar riff. “Love In a Time of Surveillance” is another great guitar part, as the distortion continues in the background throughout and reminds me of old Muse music.
Many things are so close to being there on this project – Boyd’s voice is technically very impressive, exercising the full extent of his range over the course of the album, but it lacks personality or conviction, while the rest of the band demonstrates some great musicality at times but too often falls into formula. The instrumental track “Make No Sound In The Digital Forest” is quite captivating, showing the band’s lingering potency.
It’s hard to tell if Skrillex’s involvement late in the game did more harm than good, or if he did the best he could pulling together some half-baked ideas. Many of the instrumentals are nothing we haven’t heard before, fraught with power chords and repetitive chord progressions. “Loneliest” sees the addition of some fleeting digital sounds and effects placed on Boyd’s voice that seem incredibly out of place. These instrumentals do not paint a world with much urgency, which would fit Boyd’s delivery, but even this sounds much less emotional and involved than we know it can be at times. Especially on an album that frequently sounds like it is faintly alluding to the US political climate, Boyd should be more present.
The lyrics are often underwritten, stopping just before they say anything particularly profound or revelatory. I wish we got as much personality from the lyrics and Boyd’s vocals as we do in the interlude “When I Became A Man”, in which he jokingly sings about his first romantic encounter. Boyd’s way of over-enunciating his words often makes even his most playful lyric sound incredibly serious, so when he shouts something like “You’re a nimble bastard” repeatedly in the chorus of the album’s second track, it’s quite laughable.
There are additionally some very weird transitions here – opener “No Fun” is one of the hardest tracks on the entire album, but the song’s bridge abruptly removes all of the energy as they leap into an entirely new genre, sounding not unlike a band like Soundgarden. It doesn’t sound bad, but it doesn’t fit at all. We then hear the heavier hook a cappella before jumping back into the song.
For an album 6 years in the making, you would think it would sound slightly more polished. The band’s energy and musicianship is still incredibly evident and present here, but the personnel switch late in the development cycle shows that the completion of the album was a difficult process to begin with, as 8 settles for middling thrills.
Favourite Tracks: State of the Art, Love in a Time of Surveillance, Undefeated
Least Favourite Track: Loneliest