He may be on the long road to redemption now, but there was a stretch of time in the scene where everything Johnny Craig did was another gust of wind inside his hurricane of controversy. While Rise Records tried to right the ship and give him an avenue to redeem some his dignity (and the money his macbook scandal cost the label), and Dance Gavin Dance stuck with him until they were left with no other option, Craig’s bandmates in Emarosa made one of the most difficult, emphatic decisions possible, opting to immediately kick the embattled frontman out of the band. It’s a decision that commands respect, as the band simply wanted to distance themselves from Craig’s actions, but it left a sizable hole in the band’s lineup, as they were now without a frontman, and the replacement would need to fill the gap left by one of the signature vocies in post-hardcore. Enter Bradley Walden, the uber-talented frontman from Squid the Whale, whose voice set him apart from any other band in the scene. After Walden left Squid the Whale, Emarosa had found its new frontman, and the long road to redemption reached its long-awaited destination in the form of Versus. The fact that this album was even made is an accomplishment in itself, but in the end, there’s only one thing that will matter: now that Emarosa are back, are they still as talented and creative as they showed themselves to be on Relativity and their self-titled album?
Opening Versus with “People Like Me, We Just Don’t Play” was the first great decision the band have made on the album, as it provides a perfect introduction to Walden’s range. Through his croons, shouts, and his effortless transition between the two, Walden’s vocals power the track, while the rest of the band provide a driving declaration of a chorus, providing a huge “We’re back” moment for the band. Emarosa’s musicianship was never in question throughout their career (dating back even to their metalcore days, when Like Moths to Flames frontman Chris Roetter was in the band), and throughout Versus, they continue to build a sterling reputation. Walden’s range seems to be the perfect fit for the band, as his vocal capabilities trace the ebbs and flows of guitarist ER White, bassist Will Sowers, and keyboardist Jonathan Stewart. At times, Walden will even sound like Craig, most notably on “But You Won’t Love a Ghost” and “Same Tight Rope.” The 11 tracks
Where Walden separates himself from Craig is most notably in the way the two singers craft their lyrics. Craig’s infamous method of “freestyling” his lyrics and melodies when recording the album in the studio, which has its benefits, but also kept the band from creating a record that was cohesive and complete. Walden takes a different path, connecting each song through the theme of life’s battles (which is likely how the album got its name). Throughout the album, Walden focuses on man’s battles with his place in the world (the aforementioned “People Like Me, We Just Don’t Play”), the threat of a relationship ending (the haunting “I’ll Just Wait”), the pains of leaving loved ones and significant others behind on the road (“Say Hello to the Bad Guy” and “Same Tight Rope”), the legacy he will leave behind (“Gold Dust”), and the overall battle that life can be sometimes, wonderfully wrapped up on the album closer “1996 on Bevard.” Walden’s battles aren’t exactly uncharted territory, especially in this scene, but with his vocal prowess and the band that brought him in continuing to push their sound in many different directions under the rock umbrella, Emarosa comes out of Versus maintaining the image of a band that is bound to stand out.
Though Walden’s lyrical subjects may seem to retread old ideas, and the album does contain an element of same-soundedness, there are plenty of aspects to be positive about on Versus. Bradley Walden’s vocals are a perfect fit for the post-hardcore-meets-post-rock sound the band began to experiment with on their self-titled album, as their mix of crashing, booming choruses and subdued, intimate moments gives Walden plenty of opportunities to wow the listener time and again. Emarosa made the impossible decision to move on from perhaps one of the most popular frontmen in the scene, but in doing so they have proved that bands can stand for something and hold themselves to a higher standard, even if it means putting your career’s upward trajectory to a screeching halt. Their integrity should be commended, but Versus will and should be remembered as an album that proves Emarosa’s future is as bright as it’s ever been.