It’s been over four years, but DED have finally released their sophomore album “School of Thought” on the 15th of October. Whilst the majority of fans have been ecstatic to absorb more material from the band, it has left a few listeners scratching their heads. This can only be expected, however.
The band’s debut LP “Mis•an•thrope” had people’s attention immediately. It was a gnarly and animalistic display of nu metal at its most fun and engaging, bringing about ideas of Slipknot, Mudvayne, Korn, and all of the other majorly influential artists in that genre. The bar was consequently set high. On listening to “School of Thought”, those influences are still there, but DED have undeniably changed course to calmer waters, and when any band does that, it garners mixed responses.
In “School of Thought”, the band has put forward some critical social commentary to the listener. There’s a sense of urgency throughout the album, and so it makes sense that DED have opted for the less chaotic musical style that “Mis•an•thrope” had. It feels like the band really wanted to spread their message as far as possible, and there’s no doubt that making the music itself more accessible is going to mean a larger amount of people will be able to resonate with it.
Don’t get me wrong… “School of Thought” is considerably less aggressive than the debut album, but it definitely isn’t radio-ready pop music. The ethos and original personality of the band is still there, it’s just very much integrated into the new sound that they have gone for.
The band doesn’t waste time opening the album. DED jump right into the thick of it with “Ghost”. Despite the high energy put forward by the band, I struggled to feel this translated through the mix. The production is clean and clear, but there was an element of heaviness or thickness that I was hoping to have accompany the power of the instrumental performances. “Ghost”, and the rest of the album of course, could have hit a thousand times harder if there was a bit more aggression thrown into the production, but the best solution for now was just to turn it up and blast it harder.
Musically, the band doesn’t stick to one personality throughout “School of Thought”. The listener will be pushed through angry-at-the-world thrashers all the way to eerie ballads that trudge along with a menacing feel to them. Structurally, however, there is a little bit too much of the same thing going which reduces the replay-ability of the album at its entire length. Furthermore, a few of the tracks do hold some well worn rhythms and melodies. Some may listen and say ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, whereas others might say ‘been there heard that’.
A great deal of the tracks begin with a quiet and brooding introduction, and the listener is then hit with some big riffs and rhythms. It’s predictable, but I was looking forward to seeing how they’d enter each song based off of this formula. I was pleasantly surprised when “Parasite” dropped into the heavy part of the introduction. It’s a riff that could sit perfectly on the Doom Eternal soundtrack, so I’m pretty biased towards that track. “Persona” also employs this formula quite well in the introduction, as well as in the bridge. The bridge has a great lead-up, mainly because of the lyric ‘stop making stupid people famous’. That’s about as straightforward as a statement can be, so much so that I had to chuckle. I do agree with the statement, though…
The vocals are front and centre in “School of Thought” and this further pushed me to believe that the messages and themes in these tracks are to be promulgated as efficiently as possible. Joe Cotela is the vocalist of the band, and certainly takes up most of the sonic space on the record. This isn’t a bad thing. He is an incredibly competent vocalist, and he whips up some catchy choruses for listeners to instantly hook themselves onto, as well as some solid rap verses like in “Lost” and “A Mannequin Idol (Lullaby)”. The high notes he hits in “Lost” are definitely noteworthy as well, and he causes “Love song” to slither along in a haunting way. It actually reminded me a lot of Slipknot’s haunting “Vermillion” in terms of its theme, that concept of infatuation with a good dose of morbidity or darkness thrown into it.
Maria Brink’s (In This Moment) appearance on this track really tops it off. It’s a perfect addition to the melody being cast like a spell by Cotela. The final ‘I will always love you’ sung by the duo is blood-curdling, and the following screams by Cotela are the best on this album. They’re wild and different to the rest of the record, especially compared to something like his growl just before the breakdown on “Parasite”, where he snarls ‘come get me’ with a tonne of attitude.
Another cool tidbit on “Parasite” is the gang vocals placed on the off-beat during the breakdown. There’s no doubt that the bridges are where the band has success in changing things up and doing something different. I did look forward to every bridge in the record to see what they would come up with.
When it comes to slowing the energy down a tad, you can rely on something like “Kill Beautiful Things”, one of the singles released in the lead-up to “School of Thought”. It’s got this good old rock ’n roll vibe to it, until the bridge comes in with a heavy sequence full of twangy guitar strings and big snare drums hits. “My Blood (My Family)” also fits into this similar style; the harmonized and synthesized vocals in certain parts of the track bring about this nice change in the otherwise gritty texture of Cotela’s vocals throughout the album.
The guitars in “School of Thought” are spread wide across this mix. The tone is also so clear, and despite the obvious distortion, the guitars just sound so clean. It’s like coffee without the bitterness, nothing but flavor. The only minute issue with the clarity of the guitars is that when the more aggressive sequences come through, the guitars struggle to deliver on the heaviness that’s promised. “A Mannequin Idol (Lullaby)” builds in the beginning and the listener knows something is coming. This is emphasized further by Cotela’s war cry of the track’s title, but then once the drop happens, it’s really less powerful than one would expect. This is a combination of the mix and the guitar tone, no doubt, but I was once again really hoping for more weight in those moments.
When talking about “A Mannequin Idol (Lullaby)” (great play on words though, seriously), it should be said that this is definitely one of the top tracks on the album. It’s immediately catchy, and puts questions to the listener in a clear and concise way. The bridge to this track is pretty damn angry, but this is the exact point where I wanted more distortion from the guitars. This section is gritty and chaotic, and it would have been awesome to hear the guitars reflect that ferocious attitude Cotela is employing to decry the celebrities we mindlessly idolize.
David Ludlow, before he parted ways with the band earlier this year, was on guitar duties for “School of Thought”, and he handled the responsibility well. “10 Minutes Underwater” has a really nice guitar lead in the second chorus that gives Ludlow a little bit of the spotlight, but throughout the album you can easily hear and appreciate his contribution to the album. The bridge, once again, is one of the best part of this track. It’s aggressive and brings me back to those sections in Linkin Park’s older albums when the band would unleash their heaviest moments and jump right back into a catchy chorus. In the second verse for “Kill Beautiful Things” there are some really pretty little guitar notes which ring out and add to the sound there also.
Alex Adamcik, the new guitarist for DED, has been given a tonne of tracks to enjoy playing live, that’s for sure.
Despite the mix being a little light on bass, it’s great to be able to hear and appreciate Kyle Koelsch on the bass guitar. The twang of his strings is heard throughout the record, and he plays in a very symbiotic way with drummer Matt Reinhard, who certainly has his hands full for the best part of 40 minutes. “Half Alive” is a simple beat, through and through, but it ends up being one of the standout tracks. It’s fun, punchy, and the chorus is definitely one of the more catchy ones, in my opinion. I also really loved that the bass is punching equally as hard on those staccato beats as the kick drum.
The drums on “School of Thought” have been mixed in pretty well, and have this really open sound to them, preventing the record from sounding too dense and compact. “Kill Beautiful Things” best shows off this airy atmospheric mixing, but I do appreciate that tracks like “Love Song” can also sound considerably more oppressive and claustrophobic, giving a bit of a personality change to the mix.
One of my favorite parts of Reinhard’s performance is the bossa nova-esque drum pattern he whips out during the verse of “Persona”. It’s a nice change from nearly everything else on the album and really helps to add some diversity to the album, let alone the track.
One thing the band employed a lot of in “School of Thought” is the use of synth layers. The integration of these layers into the tracks is natural and compliments the band quite nicely. Sometimes the synth is added to thicken up the atmosphere which is being provided at ground level by the guitars, such as in the verses of “Ghost” where the backing melody is provided by a scratchy synth layer, accentuated by some big guitar chugs. At other times, the guitars and synth play the same thing which creates this industrial feeling to the track, like in “Love Song”. Bass drops are used throughout the record, as well; just a little sonic addition that changes things up at the last moment before a new section is introduced to the listener. My favorite synth moment, however, is the melody in the aggressive sections of “Lost”. It has this creepy yet interesting texture to it which I didn’t mind hearing a handful of times. “Lost” is one of my preferred tracks on the album, and so it’s great to have this one close out “School of Thought”.
It’s hard to put a finger on this album, at the end of the day. It comes from a band who had a majorly successful debut album that forced attention their way. It’s easy to forget that over a four-year period, a band can definitely divert their sound away from what they did then, to a direction that they want to play now. For me, “School of Thought” is very much the efforts of a band who want to reach a wider audience to relay their themes and messages. This unfortunately seems to have come at the expense of something pretty special, which was their own personal and highly enjoyable take on the heavier side of nu metal on their debut album.
If you’re a fan of DED, you’ll most certainly be able to appreciate the genuine and catchy tracks put forward in “School of Thought”. However, if you loved them for the heaviness and chaos they unshackled in “Mis•an•thrope”, you might have a hard time coming around to this one.
Released On: October 15th, 2021
Released By: Suretone Records
Genre: Nu Metal
- Joe Cotela / Vocals
- David Ludlow / Guitar
- Kyle Koelsch / Bass
- Matt Reinhard / Guitar
“School of Thought” Tracklist:
- Kill Beautiful Things
- Love Song (feat. Maria Brink)
- Eyes Sewn Shut
- A Mannequin Idol (Lullaby)
- My Blood (My Family)
- 10 Minutes Underwater
- Half Alive
“School of Thought” is an unexpected diversion away from their animalistic nu metal roots. There are some catchy tracks that are sure to be stuck in listeners’ heads for the foreseeable future, and the themes put forward by the band continue to be delivered in a powerful and engaging way. Some listeners may be disappointed at the change of style, whilst others will be happy to take more away from the lyrics and more accessible nature of these tracks. Ultimately, it's an album that had a tonne of promise, but unfortunately just came up short on delivering.