Slaves is an amazing band that has been through a ton of adversity. They have been on the brink of breaking out on more than one occasion. A lot of people (including myself) thought the 2017 single “I’d Rather See Your Star Explode” was going to be the band’s big break. I rocked that song hard, and it was one of my favorite songs of the year; but, the band took a step back, losing their record deal due to an absolutely toxic frontman that exposed the band for all the wrong reasons. Slaves did the right thing and separated from that black cloud, allowing them to showcase their talent again. Now, with new lead singer Matt McAndrew (who found success on The Voice), the band is doing the right thing again by stepping forward to change their controversial mantle.
To Better Days, out Friday August 7, 2020 via SBG Records, will be the last entry under the name “Slaves,” but won’t be the last we hear from this talented group. This band is a feel-good story: A group of talented musicians who have had some major obstacles to overcome and have continued to show class and talent, but their music speaks for itself.
To Better Days kicks off with the title track, a simple instrumental with some electronic elements that feel refreshing and almost like a reset for the band. The riff transitions into “Prayers,” highlighting one of the catchiest riffs on the albums. I’m not always a fan of auto tune, high octave vocal inserts, but it’s really fun on this track. There have been a few singles pre-released, but looking at the album as a whole this is an awesome introduction to McAndrew as the frontman. His range is on display here with a catchy riff and big chorus that pops. Add that with a truly heavy breakdown that almost catches you by surprise and just like that, the tone is set for this album and a new chapter for the band.
“Witch Hunt” is a unique song with a laid back feel, but the chorus has a riff that is so heavy that it’s almost out of place. That heaviness builds into the final chorus where the band lets it all loose. Songs that start mellow and build to heavy aren’t anything new, but this song is a huge twist on that formula. “Talk to a Friend” has already been a huge success as a pre-released single. The verse has a strong melody and the band leaves a lot of empty space behind the vocals to really highlight McAndrew’s range again, but the chorus is what gets me, exploding into a very heavy riff. A highlight of the album is the bridge on this song. It’s simple by itself, but the chorus that precedes it just stops that fury instantly with no transition. And the end there’s a sudden explosion and short guitar solo that grabs my attention every time, leading back into another explosion of a chorus.
“Eye Opener” has a unique melody and is another song with a chorus that takes a quick left turn into heavy territory, but this time with a slower tempo and totally different feel. “Bury a Lie” literally made me jump out of my seat the first time I heard it. The opening riff is so intense and easily my favorite on the album. It also features one of my favorite choruses on the record as well, with McAndrew’s voice displaying a lot of grit, a nice layer to the usually crystal clear vocals. “Heavier” was the first pre-released single and has been circulating for awhile. I’m not usually a huge fan of falsetto, but it really pops in this song. The transitions utilizing a cappella vocals are haunting and unique, with a chorus that is one of the most memorable, over-the-top moments on the album.
“Footprints” really caught me off guard. It’s a ballad that highlights an amazing vocal performance and a very active run on acoustic guitar. It’s not something I would expect to enjoy nearly as much as I did, but it is unexpected and a palette cleanser at the midpoint of the album. This transitions into “Cursed,” another track that has nice crossover appeal. Strong vocals and a different feel set this one apart. The first time I heard “Wasting My Youth,”the chorus was stuck in my head for days. It’s big and explosive, a signature of the band, but this one is catchy and melodic on a different level.
“Clean Again” is another slow-down, vocal showcase, giving off an almost R&B feel. “Secrets” is highlighted by another engaging riff and makes me want to get up and dance. It’s certainly not the heaviest riff on the effort, but it’s enjoyable. The song picks up some heavy in the chorus and has memorable transitions. “Like I Do” closes the record in style. The intro layers the same riff acoustically and heavy, mirroring the back-and-forth on the album as a whole. There are heavy elements that stand out, particularly the bridge, and is one of my favorite moments on the album.
To Better Days is undercover heavy, in the best way. Slaves gives time for the amazing vocal range and performance to shine but really delivers on the explosive, heavy choruses on almost every track. Each song is unique and has something that makes it memorable. Slaves reminds me a lot of Bring Me the Horizon and Asking Alexandria, two bands I think anyone would love to be compared to right now. Strong vocals, heavy undertones and some electronics sprinkled in goes a long way right now. Slaves is talented, innovative and knows how to string together a diverse set of tracks. This will be the final album from “Slaves” but whatever name they land on, expect it to be one you hear a lot.