After seven years of silence, Pierce The Veil is sounding the alarm. The Jaws Of Life, PTV’s latest album, begins with scratchy, echoing warning signals that are soon eclipsed by the alluring medley of Hispanic-inspired rhythms and punk-adjacent guitar riffs. This convergence of seemingly unharmonious sounds perfectly represents the band’s layered identities from their Mexican American heritage to their rock roots. Since PTV hinted at being back in the studio in 2018, the successor to Misadventures has been awaited with bated breath and bated hope. The emo scene withered in the late 2010s, pop punk bands filed down their edges, Warped Tour ended, and there was no guarantee that PTV would outlive this slow-moving genre extinction. Now, saying that they persevered would be an understatement. Released on February 10th, The Jaws of Life took over half a decade to create, but the first thirty seconds define it as a sheer force of an album.
The Jaws of Life continues to provide in “Flawless Execution” (a flawless double entendre) which encapsulates the album’s ability to be hauntingly poignant. Fuentes’ vocals float over the hazy guitar strumming and ambient sound effects. With lyrics like, “All of your tenderness, the flies / swarm around / do you really crave a life? / (That’s not beholden to me?) / I didn’t mean to burden you with love in my condition,” the song is emo enough that I can see my 13-year-old self belting the words into my pillowcase. Still, they somehow contain a weighty maturity that tears at the strings of my slightly-more-emotionally-stable heart—an impressive equilibrium that seems to be the downfall of so many aging, emo-adjacent bands.
The rest of the songs are sturdy enough to stand on their own while also adding to the overall success of the album. “Pass The Nirvana” and “Emergency Contact” have a modern spunk to them (a courteous reminder that Warped Tour died years ago). “Even When I’m Not With You” and “Shared Trauma” have a certain nostalgic cadence without the rotting stink of repetition. “Damn The Man, Save The Empire” has all the great workings of the classic Pierce The Veil song: a drumbeat that evokes the urge to slam my fists against the table, a buildup with a perfectly satisfying payoff, and lyrics so poetic you almost hate to call them emo.
PTV’s fifth album is not a soulless remake of their younger years, nor is it a pointless leap into an entirely new genre. It’s a progression. And sophistication suits Pierce The Veil. They’ve retained the quintessential qualities of their sound while excavating deeper to discuss complex emotions that are appropriate for their age. A cornerstone of the post-hardcore/emo scene of the early 2010s, PTV’s music was ripped raw, full of screams and the occasional glamorization of mental illness. Now, while The Jaws of Life still has the same undercurrent of unbridled rage that sweeps through all the band’s albums, desperation and a not-so-healthy dose of self-pity don’t define the songs. Instead, even the softest tracks sound confident and powerfully destructive. It is a perfect example of how a band can bury their angst and wait for it to ferment into nuanced anger.
Pierce The Veil’s growth is blatant in this album’s closing song, “12 Fractures,” a stripped-back, slowed-down ballad that features vocals by Chloe Moriondo. The clean, melodic repetition paired with Moriondo’s gentle singing give the song a distinctly haunting tone. While the song stands well on its own, it is impossible to ignore the parallels between “12 Fractures” and a song off the band’s third album, “Hold On Till May.” Much like “12 Fractures,” it is a finale that features a melancholic female vocalist (Lindsey Stamey). Even the themes of the songs are similar, both touching on the inability to control the outcome of relationships.
At first glance, the way these songs mirror each other alludes to possible stagnation. But in practice, the similarities allow us to see just how far the band has advanced musically. “12 Fractures” expresses a level of vulnerability that can’t be found elsewhere in PTV’s discography. It is intimate in its simplicity. There are no impressive guitar solos or commanding drums to hide behind. Its success comes down to the band’s (well placed) confidence in their songwriting capabilities.
All in all, The Jaws of Life serves as the perfect model for bands aging out of the emo genre. PTV retains a sense of distinct personality while thematically pushing past tropes that have been decaying behind the stages of Warped Tour since 2015. The references to their past music and other iconic alt anthems give a nod to nostalgia without resting too heavily on its flimsy back. The Jaws of Life is a vibrant and triumphant return. Let’s just hope Pierce the Veil doesn’t make us wait another seven years for the next album.