In a stark contrast from the really heavy songs in Hollywood Undead’s “New Empire Vol. 1,” Volume 2 leads with “Medicate.” Giving back vibes of some of their earlier work where they talk about trying to rise up against stereotypes and adversity, something that they had worked through their entire career. Charlie Scene takes the lead, his smooth lyrics occasionally punctuated by J-dog’s scream-singing. “I might be dying, but I feel just fine.” It’s a good mood-setter, even if it doesn’t feel particularly like a song you’d open an album with.
Texas rapper, Hyro Da Hero, is featured on “Comin’ Thru The Stereo.” He fits right in, leading the song with a verse about being on top. The chorus echoes the sentiment before Johnny 3 Tears and Charlie Scene follow with their own verses. It stays true to the precedent of the first song and feels very much like a classic Hollywood Undead song. Still, I feel like this song would have been more appropriate as an opener before going to more mellow tracks.
Just when you think you’ve caught on to a pattern, HU has a way of subverting those expectations. “Ghost Out” is almost self-congratulatory in nature, talking themselves up; but insisting that they earned their success. Hearing Johnny lead an opening verse rarely sounds natural, but with each verse, the song sounds smoother and smoother. The beat behind it is intoxicating, making the 2:40 runtime feel far too short.
That bit about Johnny in the last song feels almost insulting here. He leads into “Gonna Be OK” with heavy guitar riffs in the background and it feels tailored to him. Danny on the chorus also sounds incredible. It’s a little hard to grasp the meaning of the song itself, but there’s no doubt that it’s one of the catchier tracks so far. That chorus will be playing in my head for quite some time. I will note that this has J-Dog’s third verse in four songs, which is a nice uptick from recent albums. It’s nice to feel like this group of five people is more than just Johnny, Charlie and Danny.
“Monsters” feat. Killstation flips the script again, bringing very mellow tones with Danny’s soft voice leading into one of Johnny’s signature anguished verses. It’s one of the things I liked most about Hollywood Undead’s old stuff, but with new twists. J-Dog gets yet another verse and it fits right in. It’s hard to believe how good he is at fitting the vibe of a song. Rather than a good verse like Hyro had, Killstation has a somewhat repetitive-sounding bridge after J-Dog’s verse. Breaking the tedium of Danny’s chorus is a really nice twist on the Hollywood Undead formula, making this song stand out in more ways than one.
The third feature of the album is Tech N9ne on “Idol.” J-Dog leads with another verse about how he’s not the “idol” that I’m sure he’s been called over the last decade. Johnny takes over the chorus in a shocking twist, and his voice really fits the borderline angry tone the song takes. Whether or not you like Tech N9ne’s feature, probably depends on what you think of him. But I enjoy his voice and it’s a really pleasant addition to the track. After his verse, the song does kind of feel like it drags. There’s no sense of progression within the song with Johnny’s verse sounding repetitive to what we’ve heard so far. He also uses “a deal with the devil is a deal with me” for what is certainly not the first time. Which is somewhat of a letdown.
Every Hollywood Undead has a song or two like “Coming Home,” angsty but with a sense of maturity that the group has developed over the years. Charlie Scene talks metaphors about losing someone to death and never having been able to tell them how they feel, but assures them they will meet again when he “comes home.” Danny kills the chorus and then Johnny follows with a similar verse, almost like clockwork. After that, the song has a signature Danny outro, where he makes a fully satisfying ending by repeating three lines. It’s a great song and one of the reasons I listen to Hollywood Undead.
The mellow tone leaves as quickly as it came in “Unholy,” a song that has no right to be as good as it is. It’s kind of hard to take people seriously when they’re not-so-subtly referring to themselves as someone to be feared. It’s like Jared Leto as the Joker; I can almost understand the audience, but I’m certainly not it. Still, Charlie Scene feels almost in control of the beat and his voice is like butter. It’s enough to make you forget that maybe you can’t really relate to this, but it’s damn catchy.
“Worth It” is scarily reminiscent of the edgy songs I would listen to as a teenager. Still, it sets itself apart with fantastic writing. Hollywood Undead when they give Charlie the reins is a different beast, as showcased by the last two songs. It’s self-deprecative and he just knows how to sell it. It’s the kind of subtle where you know what he’s talking about but it isn’t really boasting. J-Dog comes in and is much more blunt about it, which is almost certainly how they planned it. It’s a great pair of verses that make up a song I could see myself listening to for no particular reason. Danny’s verse is almost painfully blatant, though, and I feel like it hinders the song.
Would you believe me if I told you Papa Roach featured on a Hollywood Undead track? He does, along with Ice Nine Kills, on “Heart of a Champion.” Johnny goes hard in his verse, sandwiched by two melodious bits by Papa Roach. Charlie comes in with probably his worst performance of the album, but it gets the job done. The victorious vibe doesn’t work too great for him, but the song goes on. Danny takes the chorus from Papa Roach, helping the song feel fresh. Ice Nine kills it with his verse before Danny finishes off the album. It’s quite a good closing song, all things considered.
There are hits and misses, as with most Hollywood Undead albums. They’ve always been straightforward about not wanting to be predictable, and of course they pull it off again. It’s probably my favorite of the New Empire albums, but it’s hard to listen through as an album. Instead, it should be appreciated as individual songs, because it doesn’t have a consecutive story to tell. It exists to be enjoyed and I think that’s what makes it work.