Just by mere mention of this band's name, I can assume there is a predisposition for animosity. The pop chorus hooks and electronic atmospheres are far from what the metal community deems acceptable. But, I'll admit it. I See Stars' past material has been a guilty pleasure of mine. The aforementioned attributes were initially off-putting, but the catchy qualities drew me back for more secretive listens. The same phenomenon can be applied to a band like Babymetal. There is difficulty in openly confessing an appreciation for a group with radio-friendly accessibility, but those exact aspects are what creates the indulgence in these musical acts.
This fifth release finds the group as a new lineup. The departure of former vocalist/keyboardist Zach Johnson and guitarist Jimmy Gregerson, has undeniably created a shift in I See Stars' sound. Without these additional members, Treehouse lacks a certain metalcore edge that the band previously executed well. This places the band and their respective fan base in a sticky situation as I would argue the dynamic between their hardcore and pop musicalities was their main selling point. I approach this LP with the intent of determining if this group can continue in the absence of their key contributors and balanced genre fusion.
"Calm Snow" breaks the ice as a mostly pop-centric piece. The synth-driven verses contrast well with a relatively catchy chorus. Although there are some redeeming aspects, this didn't hook me as much as an opening track should. With what little guitar and harsh vocals were featured, the fact that they were hidden in the mix revealed clearly that this will definitely be a less heavy album than previous releases. Chuggy riffs became slightly more apparent in later tracks such as "Break" alike to the soft side of Periphery. Assuming most readers are searching for what compositions are the go-to heavy songs, "Running With Scissors," "Mobbin' Out," and "Portals" contain attributes similar to I See Stars' harder past material.
On the contrary, "White Lies", "Everyone's Safe in the Treehouse," "Walking on Gravestones," and others show much less traces of metal and could easily be confused for Owl City, Awolnation, or some equally electronic driven rock band. Referring to exclusively the songwriting, these songs are actually really decent. "All In" was a shocker as it reveals the band debut a rapping vocal delivery impressively. It took awhile to warm up to, but "Two Hearted" was very interesting execution of metalcore in an uplifting way.
Regardless of the stylistic discrepancies, the production is spot on. I don't think this comes to much surprise as the group is one of Sumerian Records's most popular allowing for a high budget towards producers including Erik Ron (Panic! at the Disco), Nick Scott (Asking Alexandria), and Taylor Larson (Periphery, Veil of Maya) along with mixer David Bendeth (Breaking Benjamin). Three different and well-known producers seems a bit overkill to me, but I can understand the need to implement with the diversity in this music.
Unfortunately, I see this album as likely dividing the previously existing or forthcoming fanbase. As far as I'm concerned, there isn't a large crossover between the electro-pop and metalcore market. Of course, the band and others within the electronicore scene has shown success in a fusion of the two genres, but the styles are mostly showcased as separate entities instead of a complementary pair in this release. When focusing on this record's hardcore-driven aspects, the majority of the material doesn't come close to intensity of New Demons or Digital Renegade material.
If evaluating this release as it stands, I would say it has plenty of enjoyable moments. Actually, I'd even expand to claiming it an excellent album full of hooks and atmospheres. But the truth is, being on a predominantly metal site, I have to say this album won't be exactly appreciated. The possibly 35% of this LP that holds metallic or post-hardcore elements are strong, yet surrounded by electronic or pop, a blend not normally embraced by the metalhead demographic. Treehouse depicts the band's departure from metal or electronicore roots and rather welcomes the fusion of EDM with hardcore and alternative. I can still see them prominently placed on All Stars or Warped Tour lineups, but one must be a fan of metal, pop, and electronic fusion to connect to this record.