Of all the subgenres that birthed from rock music, nu metal may be the hardest one for bands to shake off. With all the heights that came from the Family Values Tour and Woodstock ’99, nu metal was a rocket ship that was on fire even when it took off, so it came apart in little pieces with even smaller fanfare.
So what did bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit, Deftones, and Incubus do when their plane crashed? Some managed to evolve into progressive and alternative rock (Korn, Deftones), others couldn’t shake their shtick and sounded incredibly dated (Limp Bizkit). Incubus, the Calabasas group that came up right at the tail end of nu metal, managed to come out of nu metal mostly unscathed and slid into the alternative rock charts successfully with smoother and more melodic cuts like “Wish You Were Here,” Dig,” and the omnipresent “Drive.” But since 2010, the band has become a bit unsure of itself with confused and middling releases like 2011’s If Not Now, When? and 2015’s Trust Fall (Side A).
It seems as of Incubus are in the midst of an identity crisis, something that is still unsolved on the band’s eighth studio album, 8. Featuring co-production and mixing work from Skrillex (yes, that Skrillex), the 11-track longplay runs a little over 40 minutes and yet sounds like a very rough set of demos. Most of Brandon Boyd’s vocals are mixed to sound like he’s singing through a toilet paper roll, which is a shame because it sounds like he’s still got a solid set of singing chops on “State of the Art,” “Undefeated,” and “Loneliest.” But on “No Fun,” “Nimble Bastard,” and “Glitterbomb,” Boyd sounds like he’s trying too hard to sound big and mean. The clashes with the rest of the band’s sound, which is mostly sanded down into a simple bludgeoning force. Guitarist Michael Einziger has always been the band’s secret weapon thanks to his knack for effects, but most of his playing had been diluted down to a blunt series of fuzzed out riffs. The same goes for the band, known for their occasionally virtuosity but here seemingly boiled down to Audioslave songs without Tom Morello’s guitar solos. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t a few easy-going alternative rock songs like “Familiar Faces” or even the closing heavy-hitter “Throw Out the Map.”
Lyrically, 8 is nothing to write home about. “Nimble Bastard” is an underwhelming anthem for people who persevere (“When you land on your feet/You’re a nimble bastard/And you don’t skip a beat/Such a nimble bastard”) while “Glitterbomb” tells the story of a co-dependent relationship (“Please release me/Helping hands aren’t supposed to cut off my oxygen”). Though the band does seem to be aware of their age and the competition around them, as heard on “State of the Art,” (“You were the first in flight/Now a modern relic/Nearly a payphone on a 1 a.m. sidewalk”). The album feels like the band is being very nostalgic about time going by them, with songs like “Loneliest,” and “Familiar Faces,” (“Where’d my heroes go?/Did they change or did I?/Man it gets me, gets me every time”). A noble concept, but the lyrics are only skin deep and don’t really tell anything detailed about where the band is at.
8 not only suffers from a band having no idea of what they’re doing anymore, but also a lack of interest all the same. Everything from the flattened instrumentals to the dull album cover cites a serious lack of inspiration for the making of this album. Incubus may not be one of the most important or groundbreaking bands of the last 20 years, but at least they had a sense of personality to them, a greater focus on lush melodies through the heavy grooves of nu metal. But the making of an album is better suited when a band has something to say besides, “Hey look, we made it to eight albums!”