Within the last six months, my little brother has introduced me to some seriously cool music.  One of my favorite bands from this "education" is Emery, a hard-hitting "screamo" band hailing from the Tooth and Nail label.  Instantaly I fell in love with their unique, emotive style and have practically memorized their first two full-length albums.  

A few days ago, I heard rumors from my brother that a new album was imminently forthcoming from the band, a fact subsequently substantiated by the release of "I'm Only a Man" on Monday.  Going into this album, I had high expectations and even greater anxiety.  It is also nerve-wracking to go into a new album, not knowing whether or not it will engender a significant move forward for the band or an equally, but more devasting and disappointing mistake.

Undaunted, I loaded Napster at work and pressed "play" (I love Napster, BTW).  I listened without pause through all the tracks, listening intently for indications of how the newest project would impress itself upon my musical conscience.  After the first run-through, I admit I was a bit disappointed.  To begin, this album is a lot more subdued on the "scream" part of the "screamo".  While not necessarily a bad thing, one of Emery's strongest points is the angst communicated through the screaming.  So strike one.  The second thing that stood out to me was the different ideas that the band explored in the production of the songs.  Both "The Weak's End" and "The Question" were fairly straightforward, in your face, guitar shredding engagements.  On "I'm Only a Man," however, the subduing of the screaming was equally matched by dabbling in acoustic and faux-electronica elements fused with an attempt to be deliberately more melodic on certain tracks.  While I am all for innovation, this was–prima facie–a "strike two" for me as I was looking forward to more of the same I had come to expect.

However, as I have now listened to the album about 15 times, I love it.  While the album is far from as hard-hitting as the previous releases, what it lacks in sheer force is made up for with sheer innovation.  Surely enough, not all of the novel features of this album "work"–the vocals are not as well-developed as would be needed to really pull-off some of the vocal stylings, and some of the instrumental experiments are a bit funny sounding in light of the greater genre in which the band finds itself.  However, I do respect the fact that Emery has taken some courageous musical steps on this album.  It shows that they are not content to fall into artistic lethargy, but are rather intent on improving and exploring new avenues that will more fully mature their music.  In light of this, a few bad production decisions can be easily forgiven.

This review would be seriously lacking if I did not make at least passing mention of the lyrics.  Fans of Emery are familiar with the "darkness" and depth of Emery's writing.  On "I'm Only a Man," all of these lyrical attributes are taken to new levels.  On this album, the band pulls no punches in taking on some seriously heavy topics including marital infidelity, abortion, end-of-life regret, etc.  Not for the faint of heart, one would probably be well-advised to gain an understanding of Emery's prior releases in order to fully appreciate the ideas explored.

I have a feeling that this album will be polarizing for Emery fans.  For those looking for a repeat of the previous albums, "I'm Only a Man" will be severely disappoiting.  However, for those interested in tracking the evolution of the band as musicians and lyricists, this album will be a pleasant surprise and will provide an interesting insight into the musical psychology of Emery.