Review: Scary Kids Scaring Kids – The City Sleeps In Flames

Originally published in Delusions of Adequacy April 4, 2006
Scary Kids Scaring Kids are suffering from a little bit of an identity crisis, and not the edgy but semi-accessible kind you’d imagine a commercially accessible metal/punk act would put out there in an effort to attract the ears and empathy of disenfranchised youth.
No, this is more of a scatterbrained affair, and its psychosis is splattered all over The City Sleeps in Flames, the Arizona-based sextet’s studio-sculpted full-length debut.
Is The City Sleeps in Flames a series of post-hardcore explosions or radio-rotation punk-pop barnburners?
Are the 11 songs a song cycle — as lyrics and cover art seem to suggest — on that most iconic of metal themes, the ever-impending apocalypse?
Is the Immortal Records disc an attempt to lure all those sadly
mislabeled “emo” devotees from the traps set by My Chemical Romance and its frontman’s dreaded mascara?
Your guess is as good as mine.

The City Sleeps in Flames throws all the ingredients into the mix. There’s some pseudo-legit post-hardcore grinding and throat-shredding screams (“The Only Medicine,” “Faith in the Knife”).

There’s catchy punk/metal/pop hybrids, complete with jagged breakdowns and bright choruses that do their job in sinking hooks beneath the skin (“The World as We Know It,” “The Bright Side of Suffering”). There’s borderline pop-punk interjections (“What’s Said and Done”), the faux-emo/My Chemical Romance templates (“Drowning”), and the requisite power-ballads, all swelling keyboards and layered vocals (“Just a Taste”).

There isn’t, as you may have guessed by now, much in the way of cohesion.

While Scary Kids Scaring Kids shows itself a quick study in many of the genres in which it’s experimenting and dabbling here, it also doesn’t quite take full ownership of any one of them.

The band seems to get closest to hitting its stride on the more ambitious and bombastic fare on The City Sleeps in Flames, tracks where vocalist Tyson Stevens gets a little ballistic and guitarists Steve Kirby and Chad Crawford dual to see who can hammer out the meanest or choppiest verses.

For an example, look to the closing minute of “The Bright Side of Suffering,” where a half-whispered aside of “I’m sick / and tired / inside” kicks off a meltdown of introspective self-doubt, all set to a pitch-perfect crescendo of Peter Costas’ roiling drums, crunching guitars, and DJ Wilson’s buzzing bass.

Or, go back to square one, the album-opening title track, where Stevens casually pines “The empire will fall like they planned on / Can we even last through the night? / We watch as the skyscrapers crumble / under the burning blue sky that blinds our eyes” before the full band punches its way into the song’s opening, densely patterned verses.

Unfortunately, tracks like this are followed by more formulaic fare like the pop-metalisms of “The World as We Know It,” which is aided by some of Pouyan Afkary’s vintage Faith No More/The Real Thing synths but hurt by some ham-fisted lyrical segues (“A virus known as rage / is brutally destroying and spreading all over the place.”)

The record ends, though, with more of a whimper than a bang, a deceptive sort of power ballad whose 5-minute, 44-second running time makes it the record’s longest and most meandering track. You’ve got to give these guys credit: it’s an interesting way to end a sometimes-charged rumination on a pseudo-Judgement Day, but whatever happened to a solid bit of uncorked fury to bring the curtain crashing down?

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