Arizona metalcore veterans THE WORD ALIVE are not the same band they once were. Since they first emerged with Empire, their debut full length in 2009, they’ve released six more albums, travelled the world multiple times and played countless live shows. It’s been fifteen years and all those long roads and airport food have taken a toll. And when long-time fans see the track list of their new album, they might get worried.
The title itself is alarming. Hard Reset suggests significant change and rebirth, but opening it with a song called The Word Alive Is Dead is really going to get alarm bells ringing. Partway through that first salvo, singer Telle Smith lets out a scream of utter torment and you don’t need to pay close to pick up on all the pain and fear behind it. Something has been going on with these lads, is this their swansong?
“The lyrics will tell you we’re not finished. The past is not dead, but what you knew of THE WORD ALIVE and where we were before, that’s changed,” Smith tells us from his home in the States. “This is a new version and we wanted to establish that that era of the band is going to look different now. And maybe that’s a good thing.”
For him and his bandmates, this album heralds a new dawn for THE WORD ALIVE and in some respects, that’s more worrying than a break-up. The history of heavy music is littered with bands who took a bold new direction and immediately face-planted into self-sabotage. Splitting can mean going out on a high with your legacy intact, whereas walking a new path often results in severe damage to sales and reputation alike.
But frankly, there’s nothing to worry about here. Hard Reset isn’t just good, it’s bloody great and while it’s got a few surprises and a subtle progressive touch, it’s not a drastic stylistic swerve. THE WORD ALIVE have definitely grown as musicians, but this is not THE WORD ALIVE 2.0. It’s an older, wiser band with a different outlook. As Smith puts it, “the message and the goal of THE WORD ALIVE is unchanged, but the people spreading the message have changed. We’ve grown, and we’ve picked up some new friends too.”
Those new friends include drummer Daniel Nelson and guitarist/keyboardist Jose DelRio, who both joined last year, but there are a few more notable names on Hard Reset. This album is a modern metalcore fan’s dream come to life, and features guest appearances by members of BAD OMENS, NORMANDIE, LOVELESS, ESCAPE THE FATE and FROM FIRST TO LAST. Curiously though, that selling point hasn’t been perpetuated as much as it could have. They’ve released four singles already, but not one of them has a guest appearance on it.
Those singles give a good idea of the eclecticism at the heart of Hard Reset. The heartfelt ballad Slow Burn is Smith at his most open, whereas New Reality is a far more aggressive call-to-arms with a slight Gothic edge. Strange Love is a catchy anthem with a chorus tailor-made for crowds of outstretched arms and bellowing lungs, while Nocturnal Future is an energetic and electronica-laced number that could soundtrack a cutting-edge Japanese anime. These songs are clearly written by the same band, but there’s a variety to them that wasn’t present in their early work.
Crucially, they also touch upon some hard subjects. The theme of personal struggles crops up repeatedly, and Smith freely admits they were being introspective when creating this music. The COVID pandemic took them off the road and forced them into a situation that accelerated their personal development, and it made him stock of who Telle Smith is as a man, not a musician.
“I’ve had this career, I’ve done these things and got used to be not being with my family most of the time and being the friend who goes away for a while,” he says. “I hit this point recently where I thought ‘when was the last time I challenged myself?’ What did I want from life that isn’t solely tied to music? I was constantly asking myself: What are my battles? What are my struggles? What do I need to work on? I hope this raises those questions for other people too and even if the answers aren’t always comfortable, I hope it can be a positive thing.”
So, despite the rather ominous title and deeply alarming first song, no, this isn’t the end of THE WORD ALIVE. It’s an evolution and while the pandemic might have triggered the soul-searching that led to its creation, Smith is confident they’d have wound up like this even if they hadn’t spent years in lockdown. Hard Reset is the sound of a band taking a good look at themselves and the state of the world and discovering that they want to continue, even if it is a struggle.
“This record wasn’t the most comfortable to make. It came from a lot of battles within us and how the industry has changed and evolved. This could set us up for the next record, or it could be our goodbye. Our fans might hate this and you live and die by your fans. I hope they won’t hate it! I hope they give us another fifteen years and we keep going, but I’m at peace with the idea this is the record we needed to make.”
Hard Reset is out now via Thriller Records.
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