Eighteen Visions – ‘XVIII’

By James Lee

Of the countless bands that spawned from the late ’90s/early ’00s metalcore boom, there may not have been a single one more influential than Eighteen Visions. Though some bands, like Killswitch Engage or Eighteen Visions’ Orange County buddies Avenged Sevenfold, might have seen greater levels of commercial success and had longer careers, nobody managed to predict and, arguably start, trends the way they did. When the band first broke, the hardcore scene was a sea of baggy combat shorts, XL t-shirts and short, army-worthy haircuts. Eighteen Visions arrived like a bolt of hot pink lightning, assaulting the traditional hardcore kids with their immaculately coiffed hair, skinny jeans and, thanks to instant icon James Hart, a flamboyant range of silk neck scarves. The entire ‘fashioncore’ movement was a byproduct of Eighteen Visions’ own personal style, and for many came to define an entire era of aggressive music played by incredibly well turned-out young men.

Even more important than the band’s choice of stage attire was their groundbreaking sound. It’s been argued in the years since Eighteen Visions departed that their early releases effectively set the template for deathcore a good decade before it really became a thing. Maybe more significantly, they were the first band to take brutal, aggressive metalcore and inject it with the verve and swagger of ’80s cock rock. Avenged Sevenfold, Blessed By A Broken Heart and (ugh) Asking Alexandria all owe a huge debt of gratitude for the way records like ‘Vanity’ and ‘Obsession’ mixed heavy, downtuned riffs and world-ending breakdowns with the kind of crotch-grabbing attitude that is usually reserved for the Motley Crües and Poisons of the world.

It was that side of the band that took the main spotlight on their until-recently “final” self-titled album, and though the band were more than adept at writing huge rock anthems, it’d be foolish to ignore the backlash they faced from a good portion of their old fans, who longed for the days when the band would still bring the brutality alongside their more mainstream leanings. Shortly after the release of that album, Eighteen Visions dissolved, with members starting a number of new projects, most notably James Hart, who formed Burn Halo, a band that effectively took the blueprint that latter day Eighteen Visions had drawn and further stripped any remaining hardcore influence. It looked like Eighteen Visions were done for good, especially when, in 2013, the band’s beloved bass player Mick Morris sadly passed away from a long-term heart condition.

Then, in early 2017, something happened. Original members James Hart and Keith Barney, alongside ‘Obsession’-era drummer Trevor Friedrich, started posting cryptic teases on Instagram. Those teases bore real tangible fruit when, on April 20th, the band revealed that a brand new album, ‘XVIII’, would be released in the summer, preceded by their first new material since 2007, the album’s first single, ‘Oath’. Now the time has come and ‘XVIII’ has finally arrived, and those who hungrily devoured ‘Oath’ can breathe a sigh of relief – the entire album is just as heavy, just as cocksure, and just as plain fucking awesome as that song suggested. Opening with ‘Crucified’, the album wastes no time in spin-kicking the cobwebs off. After a devastating opening, the song explodes into one of the thrashiest riffs the band have ever penned, before dropping into a swaggering breakdown that very swiftly shifts back into the thrash before the song ends. The whole affair is over in barely two minutes, and it’s an exhilarating opener that sets a mean precedent.

That precedent is met and duly smashed into dust by second track ‘The Disease, The Decline and Wasted Time’, a full-scale epic bruiser that will come to be regarded in the same league as ‘Vanity’ or ‘Tower Of Snakes’ in years to come. The song’s first couple of minutes are excellent, bringing hard riffs, thundering drums and a huge chorus, however it’s in its closing minutes that this track shows Eighteen Visions have not lost the ability to shock and devastate. A tense and eerie build up sets the mood perfectly before one of the most crushing, hurricane-force breakdowns of all time sweeps in, taking with it a coat or two of paint from any walls unlucky enough to be in blasting distance of the speakers. Maybe the most refreshing thing about ‘XVIII’ is that on tracks like this, ‘Picture Perfect’ and the aforementioned ‘Oath’, the band have found new ways to be heavy that are perfectly in the spirit of their old material, but feel far from rehashes of former glories. Nothing here sounds like a copycat of something the band have done before, but these are definitely sonic pictures painted with the same brushes.

The absence of founding member Ken Floyd was notable when the band announced their return, but it hasn’t had a significance on the album. Floyd’s drumming on the early Eighteen Visions records was stunning, however his shift to guitar on ‘Obsession’ felt at the time like an unnecessary move, especially because Keith Barney has always been the heart and soul of Eighteen Visions’ riff machine, and he remains as such on ‘XVIII’. His ability to craft breakdowns remains second to none, and on moodier tracks like ‘Fake Leather Jacket’ and album closer ‘For This I Sacrifice’, he’s able to switch between rolling hard rock riffs and big walls of epic chords with style to spare. As ever with Eighteen Visions though, the real superstar is James Hart, a man whose monumental charisma and presence is only matched by his voice, capable of switching from a swaggering croon one moment to a glass-shattering bellow the next, without even the faintest hint of a bead of sweat touching one of his immaculate scarves.

‘XVIII’ is a stunning return from California’s most fashionable sons, an album that sonically sits somewhere between the stylish savagery of ‘Vanity’ and the slick rock of ‘Obsession’, but with moments of flat-out heaviness that put both records to shame. This isn’t just a good comeback record, it’s arguably one of, if not the best album of the band’s career. Eighteen Visions are back. Now can you feel the rush?


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