By Brandon “B-Mac” McCarthy
Ever since the release of their third album Onyx, the ambitious hard rockers Pop Evil have been taking the world by storm. Formed in Muskegon, Mich., this five-piece outfit have been bringing flair and imagination the hard rock and alternative metal scene. I first caught them live at the Las Rageous festival in 2018, and I was captivated by the group’s electric stage presence and massive rock hits, to which some have become new rock anthems like “Trenches,” “Torn to Pieces,” “Footsteps,” and “Waking Lions.” It has been three years since their self-titled release, and Pop Evil is ready to wake the lions in all of us. They plan to do just that with their sixth album, Versatile. This album is their fifth under the eOne Music, and they are more driven than ever to deliver hard rock with groove and passion.
We start the record with “Let the Chaos Reign.” Rhythm guitarist Dave Grahs hammers out a mean, tight riff while bassist Matt DiRito slides a dirty hook with the bass lick. Frontman Leigh Kakaty spits a mid-tempo flow with his singing that gets in your face. I really enjoy hearing Hayley Cramer thunder away on the drums. A solid way to start Versatile. “Set Me Free” is the latest single, and it has a ton of energy. This song brings hope in hopeless situations all of us might go through. Kakaty is prevailing on the vocals, showing no fear to his demons. Lead guitarist Nick Fuelling goes hypersonic with the solo, screeching and wailing the riff with exhilaration. “Breathe Again” is Pop Evil’s sixth #1 song on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, and for good reason. The combination of nu metal and alternative metal is a lethal combo for these guys. Cramer and DiRito are vibrant on the melody while Kakaty continues to fire up the listener with his vocals. “Work” has the elements of EDM with a haunting, passionate pulse to the peace. Pop Evil gets a bit creepy with the arrangement, like a mad scientist concocting dangerous chemicals bound to explode. It can be too electronic at times, but it sounds sinister enough to look past that.
We now come to “Inferno.” This tune is a ballad filled with a righteous acoustic guitar riff. Towards the end, the song picks up thanks to Cramer’s passionate drumming. The biggest highlight of the tune was Fuelling’s poignant solo that can light your soul on fire. “Stronger (The Time is Now)” details how life will knock you down, but we can only get stronger from it. Hard rock with a pop feel, it is very straightforward with its message with no surprises. Kakaty says it best in this tune where depression will get the best of us if we let it. Fuelling and Grahs pack a solid punch with the guitar beat. We are halfway through Versatile as we come to the song “Raise Your Flag.” For some strange reason, the beat reminds me of my high school days, celebrating with friends. This type of rock ‘n’ roll makes me feel nostalgic about those days. Kakaty delivers an impassioned singing voice that is grand and triumphant. Grahs and Fuelling mute the guitars to give the slow beat a lot of gusto. I can hear this song blasting out of the amps at blowout school assemblies in the future. “Human Nature” is provocative as Kakaty seduces the listener with his tantalizing singing. Fuelling flourishes on the solo, channeling a 70s hard rock vibe one would hear from Joe Perry from Aerosmith.
“Survivor” is another ballad number where Grahs slowly churns the musical furnaces with his riff. The way he and Fuelling tackle the guitar harmonies is very like the Red Hot Chili Peppers; slow alternative swagger with attitude. Cramer keeps the drumming simple, but it fits with the ambiance. “Worst In Me” is a semi-rage fest of a tune where Pop Evil get nasty with the melody and riffs. Kakaty soars high with his infectious screams, all the while providing melodic flow to the verses. Cramer is a maniac has she slashes through the snare and cymbals with tenacity. A vicious number worth hearing. “Same Blood” is another ferocious song where Pop Evil gets even more menacing than the last song. They do not offer anything new with this one, but my blood boils to high temperatures listening this song. Versatile wraps up with “Fire Inside.” The group closes out the record on a positive note, as this song is uplifting. Grahs distorts the riffs, giving the melody stronger impact on the lyrics. Kakaty reminds us there is a fire in all of us, and it is up to us to keep it lit.
The three-year wait was well worth it. Pop Evil emerges from the fires of rock with an even more ardent record in Versatile. This album is the second with Cramer and she is a dominate force on the drums. There were times where I felt the slower, poppy numbers rather sounded a bit generic. They make up for that with lyrics that give the listener the power to find resolve. This is a better-constructed record than their self-titled release as the evolution of their musicianship keeps improving. There is a fire inside the band, and it just keeps getting hotter. To Pop Evil, I salute you. Horns up!!!
Let The Chaos Reign
Set Me Free
Stronger (The Time Is Now)
Raise Your Flag
Worst In Me
Follow Pop Evil on their social media: