In the twelve years since their inception, Michigan’s Pop Evil have undergone their fair share of changes. Members, style, labels, you name it and there is a decent change the group has made some kind of tweak in the last decade. This is not a complaint, however, as every new evolution of the group has made them a tighter, more focus band. Since 2010′s War Of Angels the group has again undergone changes, including the addition of drummer Chachi Riot and guitarist Nick Fuelling, as well as their decision to not use acoustic guitars, and once again the mitten state’s greatest rock band has come out better for their efforts.

Onyx finds Pop Evil facing brave new territory with wide eyes and fervent dedication to ascending the rock hierarchy. They recognize the need to keep things fresh while still appealing to a core audience, and the progression from War Of Angels is one that walks this line with mind-boggling precision. The group has found a way to do exactly what they want while letting fans believe they’re playing what they want hear, and that’s rarified air for artists of any genre.

“Goodbye My Friends” welcomes you to the album with a thick, pulsating bass line that is as engaging as it is intoxicating. It’s this same steady groove that then guides you through the musically bare bones verses and into the arena-ready chorus. It’s a darker, more brooding track than one would expect from the band, especially as an opener, but as Onyx begins to reveal itself it becomes increasingly clear the decision to let it lead off was a deliberate move to help prepare you for the rock glory that lies ahead.

“Deal With The Devil” continues the darker tones of “Goodbye My Friend” and adds a splash of classic rock song structure with a twist of heavy to sweeten the mix. It’s clear the inspiration for this album was more diverse than War, and that may be due in part to the band’s lineup changes, but whatever it is has very much aided Pop Evil in carving a new niche into rock’s familiar landscape. Throttling the ethos of legends before them with the knowledge of what people today want to hear, the band push forward with the already successful “Trenches” before slowing things down with the album’s big ballad, “Torn To Pieces.” Historically speaking, ballads have always been the band’s biggest source of hits, and if they choose to release this track to radio they will undoubtedly find success once more. Vocalist has arguably never sounded better than he does on this song, and the final mix actually uses one of the first vocal recordings the band created when working on the album. He recounts a relationship that still haunts him and the misery that comes with knowing he wasn’t good enough while a sliding bass line is accompany with light percussion and a guitar melody that brings to mind the most memorable hard rock ballads of yesteryear. To not push thing song would be a mistake.

“Divide” brings back the rock with a very modern spin. It’s not a weak song per se, but when compared to “Torn To Pieces” and the follower “Beautiful” it definitely comes in third. The hook is memorable, but the bouncy melody to the verses touches on nu-metal in a way that doesn’t work cohesively with the rest of Onyx. The bridge saves things a bit, but the damage is done.

“Silence & Scars” marks the second time the album dips into ballad territory, but this time the instrumentation is much more akin to the likes of Incubus than your typical rock band. It’s a strong song that shows the band can create memorable music with strong lyrics and a catchy hook without clinging to the familiar elements of quote/unquote radio rock that they have relied on for years. Likewise, “Sick Sense” finds the band again exploring new sounds, including a few brief moments of dubstep-reminiscent EDM. Before you grab pitchfork and cry foul, know that it is only a momentary use, and as a whole the song is arguably the heaviest track on Onyx. This is the peak of the live show, fists pumping in the air, fans losing their voices screaming along banger that you have spent the rest of the album waiting for and it goes down smooth as can be. The abrasiveness of the transition from verse to chorus may not go over at radio, but this track is assuredly destined to be a fan favorite in the month ahead and (hopefully) a live staple as well.

“Fly Away” builds off the energy of “Sick Sense” in a more easily digestible, mass-marketable kind of way. The hook soars, the riffs crunch, and the drums pound with intensity second to none. Pop Evil by the numbers, if you will, but a solid track nonetheless. “Behind Closed Doors” starts off similarly, but as the pre-chorus gives way to the hook the song makes it known its more than meets the eye. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly, but something about the song grabs you by the collar a quarter of the way through and holds you tight until the very end. The track’s back half features more engaging instrumentation, so that probably aides the retention, but there is something more hear that must be heard to be understood. “Welcome To The Reality” does not possess this same intangible charm, but it does boast another strong hook and message about pushing forward in the face of opposition. The song also leads wonderfully into the album closer, “Flawed,” which makes sure no one leaves the album without experience one last all-out jam. The opening riff is the musical equivalent to a dose of the most addictive drug on the market, and as the drums come in you quickly find yourself lost in another tale of overcoming that which holds you back.

The idea of overcoming your demons and that which holds you back from being who you want to be or doing what you desire may sound like an overly-present theme on the album, but it never feels so familiar that it becomes tired. Instead, each track on Onyx feels like an anthem in its own right, targeting those with various doubts about themselves and the world around them. Pop Evil harness tap into the fear of the unknown that lies within each of us in our own unique ways and offer up twelve tracks to motivate and inspire individuals to take their lives into their own hands. Onyx is one of the most cohesive, memorable, and downright fun listening experiences of the year. It’s the best album Pop Evil have ever written, and it’s littered with moments that indicate there are years of great music still come. I cannot think of a single reason anyone who considers themselves a fan of rock and roll should not buy Onyx. As of May 14, it will officially be an album to beat in 2013, and it could not have come from a more deserving and hard working band.

Score: 9.5/10
Review written by: James Shotwell