First appearances can be quite deceiving, like the ethereal synths that introduce “The Cheval Glass”—opening track on Emery’s We Do What Want. After these initial few moments of calming serenity, listeners are rocketed onto a jarring collision course with some of the most pummeling music the band has ever recorded, quickly turning into a white-knuckle thrill ride destined to have fans holding on tight. It doesn’t let up much from there.
Before closing with two quiet stunners, We Do What We Want pulls no sonic punches for most of its first eight cuts, and it’s hardly an accident; from its very inception, the record was intended to provide a level of aural devastation that the veteran post-hardcore outfit, now five full-lengths into their career, have explored in the past, but never realized to this extent. With a separate acoustic release also planned for the near future, Emery opted to make their latest as face-melting as possible, and they’ve certainly succeeded.
“The overall vibe of the album is heavy, heavy, heavy. That's what we were going for; we wanted to see how far we could take it,” says vocalist/guitarist Toby Morrell. “We wanted to make this album the heaviest thing we had ever done, and I think we accomplished it.”
Emery—which currently also includes lead guitarist Matt Carter, keyboardist Josh Head and drummer Dave Powell—made their full-length debut on Tooth & Nail Records in 2004 with The Weak’s End, followed by 2005’s The Question. The band’s ever-building momentum continued in 2007 with I’m Only A Man and 2008 with the When Broken Hearts Prevail EP, leading up to the group’s monumental 2009 release ...In Shallow Seas We Sail, which captured a creative zenith for Emery that fans and critics still savor. After its release Emery toured extensively, with Underoath and August Burns Red on a fall/winter tour, before embarking on the "Scream it Like You Mean it" tour in the summer of 2010 with Silverstein, Ivoryline, Dance Gavin Dance, We Came As Romans, Sky Eats Airplane and I Set My Friends On Fire.
But as the band began work on their next effort, the seeds of change took root. Vocalist, rhythm guitarist and bassist Devin Shelton chose to take an indefinite hiatus, putting the vocal and lyrical responsibilities solely on the shoulders of Morrell, who rose to the challenge. Having completed the scorching music first, when the time came to pen words Morrell found himself in a much more pensive, ideological place than in previous sessions, and the tone of the tracks prompted a hard look inward. Other personal factors, like Morrell’s burgeoning maturity and his recently becoming a father, all play a hand in the album’s underlying message.
“Lyrically I think this is our most personal, spiritual album. It talks about our faith and God, but it never gets too preachy, because it's basically talking about me and things I've gone through,” shares Morrell. “I can't not tell the truth of who I am, and this time I explored that even further—just points in my life, or in the other guys' lives. Some lyrics are about challenging authority and God, and is God real, and what that even means.”
Morrell says the concept behind the title of the record is the notion of humans determining their own path out of free will, rather than adhering to a lifestyle dictated by God. In an age where many individuals become increasingly cynical, it is tempting to become one’s own lord; more often than not, it is indeed human nature to “do what we want.
“This is the most I've ever explored being god of your own life—the idea that if you're not worshipping God, what are you doing? Because that would mean you are the god of your life, and you want to do it your own way,” explains Morrell. “Because at the end of the day, no matter what anybody tells you, you do what you think's best. It's a lot easier to be in control than not.”
That message is painfully driven home in the track “You Wanted It,” where the tortured protagonist realizes the extent of his failures, only to have God remind him that it was all his own doing. “I’m yelling at God, who's saying, ‘This is what you wanted, and you're unhappy with this as well,” says Morrell. “’You were unhappy with me, and when you got what you wanted, it was never fulfilling. It came along with you being in control of your life, and left you here alone.’"
Morrell also explores the dark side of gender roles and male-female relations with “Daddy’s Little Peach,” which begins which misleadingly soft keyboards, over which a fictitious lady-player woos his prey with the cunning of a silver-tongued predator, turning explosive later in the song as the intended victim attempts to reconcile her conflicted identity as a daughter and single woman. The song paints a thought-provoking picture rarely explored in contemporary music.
“That song is probably the darkest, toughest one to listen to. It's basically about a guy going out one night and trying to hook up with a girl, and being totally callous and uncaring,” says Morrell. “Then the chorus is from the perspective of the girl, going 'Man, my parents always loved me and tried to protect me, but I don't know what person I am, because my parents want me this way and guys only accept me this way.' It's the idea of a girl trying to figure out who she is, and realizing she is worth more than the curves of her body.”
An unquestioned milestone comes four tracks into We Do What We Want, with the haunting “The Curse Of Perfect Days,” a song destined to become a fan favorite and live staple. Morrell’s sober, melancholy opening lines betray the deep personal significance of his words, before erupting with incendiary drum blasts and walls of shuddering overdriven guitars. The song captures all of the elements of Emery, from the fragile and beautiful to the epic and sonically thundering.
“That song's about dreams I sometimes have about my wife dying,” says Morrell. “When I was younger and didn't have a family, I feel like death never even affected me, but now there’s this under-the-surface anxiety, like if I were to die, what would I leave behind? And if she were to pass away, what would that mean for me? Would I go off the deep end, or would I be able to handle it and still try to be the best father I could be? I've been so blessed in my life, that sometimes things are so perfect that I don't know what would happen if something changed.”
With a full slate of touring already planned for the spring, including a special run of shows in Australia and at this year’s SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, Emery intend to take We Do What We Want’s bombastic tones to fans everywhere. The group’s planned acoustic release is still tentatively forthcoming, and may even include some contributions by Shelton, but for now Emery’s plans are focused solely on making eardrums bleed. Don’t say you weren’t forewarned.
“Although it's our heaviest album, there's still tons of singing, pretty melodies and choruses, so I think fans will know that this is a really good collection of what Emery can do,” says Morrell. “I think we captured that on our last album [...In Shallow Seas We Sail], and this one is kind of the same thing. But this time, you’ll bang your head more than with any other Emery album.”