Versus is Emarosa’s first full-length without iconic singer Jonny Craig (who provided vocals on the band’s previous two albums Relativity and Emarosa) and it’s fair to say that the change is noticeable. Versus is a new direction for the band and one that’s sure to polarise their existing fan base, but once you get past the transition and appreciate the album for what it is, it’s a rewarding experience.
As you’d expect with a new singer, the vocals are the most notable change; not only in sound but in the way the songs have been composed to accommodate Bradley Waldon’s voice. Where Craig’s delivery was powerfully intense and in your face, Waldon prefers to massage and soothe with his voice to create a relaxing, laid back mood. Vocally, this has really paid off: Waldon has a superb voice and his delivery throughout Versus’ eleven tracks is buttery smooth and full of emotion.
Musically though, this softening of the mood demotes the instrumental aspects of the album to meandering, atmospheric backing tracks. This is a real shame, as little remains of the sound that the band has refined over the past few years, which showcased their musical abilities so well. The drumming is subdued and the guitar work less intricate, reducing the urgency and texture of the overall composition compared to the band’s previous albums. The musicality is so muted that Versus could easily be a Bradley Waldon solo album rather than an Emarosa record. The vocals are definitely the star of the show here and the musicians of the band accentuate this by taking a back seat.
While this makes Versus a jarring transition, it doesn’t stop it being an enjoyable listen if you give it time to grow. The vocal delivery alone is worth the effort, as melody after melody haunts your ears with a level of passion that makes your hairs stand on end. The chorus to “Gold Dust” is so emotionally delivered that you genuinely sympathise with the pain in Waldon’s voice. This connection with the listener is an effect that’s difficult to achieve, making it all the more special when it happens. The album does suffer from pacing issues though, as the more up-tempo songs are presented at the front and back the album, leaving the slower paced songs to occupy the whole middle portion. This makes the flow of the album seem sluggish and takes some of the charm away from the individual tracks, which would benefit from a change of pace to break up the repetitive tempo.
If you’re a fan of the band’s previous work I’d advise getting one listen out of the way and forgetting about it. Accept the change in the band’s sound and listen again with new ears because there’s real quality to enjoy on this record. Now that Waldon has proved he has the ability to succeed Craig, I hope the next album showcases some more intricate musicality to go with the excellent vocals. An immediate challenge for the band is replacing guitarist Jonas Ladekjaer and drummer Lukas Koszewski, who left the band soon after the release of the album, as their choice of personnel will have some bearing on the prominence of musicality on any forthcoming albums. Either way, the future of Emarosa will be an interesting story to follow.