Writer’s Note: Special thanks to my editor at antiMUSIC,
Keavin Wiggins for encouraging me to write this. He wanted something
special this week for the ongoing 13th anniversary of antiMUSIC and
instead of giving him an older review I am fond of, I wanted to write
about 30 Seconds to Mars, in short, because I want others to share my
experience. This review will run simultaneously here on the blog and
over at
antiMUSIC at THIS LINK


‘Some people believe in God, I believe in music”
-A fan from the “Closer to the Edge” music video

In the summer of 1989, Jon Bon Jovi made a grand proclamation to the
civilized world that he was a fighter, poet and preacher and did so
against a back drop of pyrotechnics, a full body coat, a cat walk and
20,000 fans who appeared to be lost in a total trance. The video clip of their top-ten hit “Lay Your Hands on Me”
is arguably the greatest live performance videos ever aired on MTV. Of
course, at the time, the critics scoffed and laughed at the band,
especially with a title as unglamorous as “Lay Your Hands on Me”, but
they missed the point…completely. The clip (and their concerts for that
matter) weren’t about pleasing those with pens and notebooks in the dark
but about the bond between the band and its fans. Director Wayne Isham
placed the viewer inside the eye of a hurricane making them not just an
observer, but a participant. It simultaneously made you not just want to
be a rock star, but embrace the communal experience featured in the
clip. Even since then, for the better part of two-plus decades, that
live video has gone unmatched; until now. One never could have imagined
that a first rate Hollywood actor would step behind a camera and renew
one’s faith not just in the music video medium, but in music as well.

Capturing innocence, experience and emotion in under five minutes is no
easy feat let alone trying to find a series of images to capture the
essence of a song, it’s a fun experiment but one that proves to be
impossible for most artists who aren’t Jared Leto. When Leto made music a
priority a little more than a decade back, I’d be lying to you if I
told you I wasn’t saddened. I’ll fully admit to rolling my eyes when
Leto ventured into music leaving acting in the dust. Even though he fell
into acting as a way to pay bills while pursuing music, I felt it was
an extended and misguided ego trip initially. I’m happy to report I was
wrong; dead wrong. I never wanted to see him fail, I just happened to
feel he was coming into his own as an actor. He inhabited truly colorful
characters and worked with preeminent directors such as Terrence
Malick, Darren Aronofsky and David Fincher. When I saw his performance
of Mark David Chapman in the brilliant but little seen Chapter 27 I was transfixed so much so that I almost forgot  he was in the film. He had a Raging Bull
transformation which made him unrecognizable and despite putting a
priority on music, the film proves he didn’t lose a step in the acting
department. If anything, it infuriated me that he was leaving choice
roles that could have been his to other actors who lack the elegance he
inhabits. Instead of becoming one of the defining actors of his
generation, he picked up a guitar and formed 30 Seconds to Mars with his
brother Shannon on drums. In 2003 guitarist (and current member) Tomo
Miličević joined them and since then they have created three full
albums.

When 30 Seconds to Mars first album debuted in 2002, I wasn’t sold. For
the next five years, they demonstrated great flair but to my ears, they
felt more like aspirants rather than stars prepping for a heavy weight
battle. What I never considered, until I heard their third album (This Is War)
was that they were evolving with each record. We no longer live in a
day and age where artists are slowed to evolve and become better at
their craft. In fact, most acts never get to make a second record, let
alone three and everyone is guilty of judging acts harshly. Look at all
of the artists who never would have been able to make a third record in
today’s market; Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, KISS, Def Leppard,
Metallica, Bob Seger, John Mellencamp, The Ramones and U2. Most of the
aforementioned acts broke through with their third albums and U2, well,
they broke into the mainstream with War produced by none other than Steve Lillywhite; the same man behind the boards for This Is War,
along with Flood, another key U2 contributor. With this team and their
musical growth, 30 Seconds to Mars reached new heights creating
irresistible melodies, enormous choruses and a sound made for the
masses.

This Is War, released in December of 2009, is a collection of
twelve songs aimed squarely at the heart. In a world devastated by
economic woes, there is an overriding feeling of tenseness in the air
and somehow 30 Seconds To Mars captured the essence of our fears where
sensibility overrides sense. The production and performances are so
persuasive you can’t help but be drawn inward. From the wailing and
tribal opening of “Escape”/”Night of the Hunter”, the band hurtles
towards greatness without ever looking back. This Is War is an
album produced with great care so much so that the urgency of the
performances elevate these songs to a different stratosphere. Producers
Steve Lillywhite and Flood prove to be brilliant collaborators
encouraging and forcing the band to not just be better, but daring them
to be great. As acts age and achieve a certain level of success, many
believe their own hype. Jared Leto has been part of the Hollywood
machinery for nearly two decades and it would have been easy for him to
take the reigns and not be open to outside opinions. However, by
bringing in Lillywhite and Flood to the table, This Is War is
more than an album set in the here and now, but one whose themes are so
universal and reaching it has the potential to be influential not just
years but decades from now. 

The album is full of stadium-styled testimonials full of great
liberation. The title track finds the band channeling their anger
through the instruments in their hands while “Vox Populi” is mesmerizing
with its rumbling drums and children chorus that sounds like a
resurrection. “Alibi” and “100 Suns” are more solemn yet are exquisite
confessionals with Leto providing his greatest wails. Even a song like
“Hurricane” (which has a Kanye West cameo) couldn’t have been written
five years ago, it features Leto sharpening his blade as a songwriter as
the band delicately surround the song with their instruments undercover
allowing the lyrics to paint pictures. This Is War is an album
that defines the current unnamed generation. The compositions within are
a map for the disenfranchised and heartbroken. In the 21st century,
records like This Is War shouldn’t exist. A top-to-bottom
collection of songs you don’t just like but love. “Kings and Queens” is a
song so commanding you pinch yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming
when listening to it. The video for “Kings and Queens”, directed by Leto
under the pseudonym Bartholomew Cubbins, is a sweeping love letter to
LA. He manages to make a city full of glam and glitter seems like a lost
metropolitan paradise. Anyone who has ever spent any significant time
in Los Angeles knows what an impractical feat this is and yet he did it
with splendor and grace. No one has ever captured the city as wondrous
as he has and this is a place where films have been made for a century.
It took a music video to open the world’s eyes to its beauty. The music
from This Is War isn’t sinister or stark, it’s simply surreal. It
awakens your inner sixteen-year-old where when all else fails and the
tears run down your cheeks in slow motion, you turn the volume up and
somehow faith is restored and all seems right with the world.

Steve Lillywhite knows how to nurture bands through their complex
beginnings. He was the sole producer for the first few records by both
U2 and the Dave Matthews Band. He has a keen sense of piecing bits and
pieces together and stringing them into hit songs. A great producer
doesn’t just turn knobs and add sonic wonderment they should push
artists to the brink improving the album as a whole. The world is filled
with too many “yes” men as it is, a producer should be someone who full
on collaborates with the artist making them see something in themselves
they didn’t even think existed. The greatest triumph Lillywhite can lay
claim to on This Is War is the rescue of the album’s (and the
band’s) greatest song from an abandoned ditch. According to the
documentary on the special edition DVD of TIW, “Closer to the
Edge” had been placed in a “graveyard for months and months” before
Lillywhite encouraged the band to rescue it.

Lillywhite had mixed U2’s
“Where the Streets Have No Name” and knew how U2 labored over that one
song for months. The amalgamation of the instruments on “Closer to the
Edge” consolidates beautifully into a psalm that connects memory to
emotion, a truly rare feat. An unexplainable muscular organ/synth riff
opens the song while drummer Shannon Leto pummels the listener with his
tribal rhythms as guitarist Tomo Miličević flavors the song with
imposing riffs all the while allowing Jared Leto the ability to whisper
the verses and scream the choruses. I’ve spoken at length about Jared
but much credit has to be given to his brother Shannon on drums and
guitarist Tomo Miličević whose presence is the spine of the band. The
drumming and guitar work is storming while unleashing thunder as their
instruments propel the song into the fist-pumping stratosphere. “Closer
to the Edge” is the most magnificent moment on an album busting at the
seams with spiritual rebirth.

“Closer to the Edge” is not just a perfect song, but I’ll go on the
record stating it’s one of the greatest video clips ever produced (once
again directed by Leto under the pseudonym Bartholomew Cubbins). If I
was a band wanting to leave an overwhelming impression on the viewer,
I’d hire Leto in a heartbeat to give my song an ambitious ambiance. Its
one thing to write a song that will inspire people and it’s another to
write poetry with your camera. Leto must have been a keen observer when
he worked with various directors because he brings cinematic luster to
these clips. The video for “Edge” intersperses amazing live footage with
sound bytes of their fans. A cynic would dismiss and laugh at them, but
I feel sorry for anyone who does because they’ve stopped feeling. They
may not want to admit it to themselves but they were once these kids. I used to be one of these kids. I still am one of these kids.
I’m afraid to admit it, but I’m overwhelmed by so many of life’s twists
and turns and need anything and everything to make it through. When I
saw “Closer to the Edge” it took me back to my youth when I was
profoundly scared of what the future held. Even though I’ve been blessed
in so many ways, I still have anxiety of what lies ahead. But as I
watched Jared, Shannon and Tomo tear through the song in the
hypnotically cinematic clip, I was overwhelmed with emotion. At one
point, the words “Yes this is a cult” appear on the screen and from what
I can see, this is a band doing everything right. The may not have sold
100-million records around the globe, but as one can see from the
video, this is a band with a fervent fan base. It’s a stunning testament
to the band as a live entity and more importantly, the relationship
they share with their fans. This is a clip not about ego, but an example
of the adoration their fans feel for them and their music. In a day and
age where we scoff at big budget videos, Leto takes the fan on the
other side of the television/PC screen and thrusts them into the mosh
pit of one of their concerts. There’s a reason the clip has over
twenty-million views on YouTube (pre and post Vevo). The video is more
than an advertisement for their music or even one of their concerts, but
a philosophical manifestation of sentiment. It makes you want to be a
member of their family.

As I listen to songs like “Kings and Queens”, “Vox Populi” and “Closer
to the Edge” I feel my life pass before my eyes. It’s the aural
equivalent of a first kiss, a first heartbreak, it evokes the scent of
incense at a funeral for someone we don’t want to let go and even the
smell of a newborn baby’s head. When I listen to This Is War I’m
reminded of just not the good times, but the challenging and turbulent
ones as well. One has to remember, it’s the extremes of life that allow
us to feel the most and it serves as a reminder for when things are
good, they feeling is heightened. There’s loneliness and alienation that
can’t be placed into words and we search for the pieces of the
puzzle. Remember, if any song or album has the power to change your view
of the world in even the minutest manner or more importantly, if it
provides comfort and hope you don’t need Rolling Stone, Pitchfork or
Spin to tell you it’s revolutionary because in your heart and mind it
already is. 30 Seconds to Mars is a band who isn’t merely running
through the motions but letting every bit of their being flow through
their instruments. Some have said This Is War and songs like
“Closer to the Edge” rely on bombast. I disagree and believe it’s not
bombast the band embodied, but bravery. These are three men bristling
with sentiment and feeling and they’re providing their fans with prayers
for their daily lives. I’m sure there are many out there like me who
weren’t willing to give the band a chance because I would have preferred
to see Leto in front of the camera working with the best directors
alive. Now that I’ve seen and heard what he has to offer, I can’t wait
to see them live or for the next record.

We should love our musicians the way we love our children; by embracing
and loving them for their differences while never comparing them to
anyone else. Each artist on this planet brings something to the table
that makes them wholly unique. The key is for each particular artist to
be the best they can be without selling themselves short. 30 Seconds to
Mars is a group creating the best damn music they can at this moment in
time and if you’re not listening to them, you should. Originality is
overrated. If you dig deep enough, everyone owes a tip of the hat to
those who came before, so don’t try and tell me how some act isn’t great
because they’re not as good as the Beatles, no one is. The secret is to
love your influences and find a filter to pass them through with your
own imprint. When I watch the video or hear This Is War I think
to myself, “Is it wrong to love something as simple as a song so much?”
Even worse is the expect so much from it. We demand the artists we love
to change the world when in reality they’re just as flawed and human as
we are. While no one can really change the world, a great and
instinctual musician knows that it’s all about connecting, not
converting, one fan at a time. There’s a part of “Closer to the Edge”
where Leto screams “No, no, no” and in the video, you see him thrust his
arm and the crowd of thousands follow his lead. It’s as powerful as a
music moment as I’ve ever experienced and I wasn’t even there to witness
it. I want to be in the crowd singing with their fans, weeping away my
sorrows and wiping away the tears of joy because the sensation their
songs provide is a reminder of how grand and wonderful life truly is. If
it’s been a while since your heart skipped an extra beat seek out
“Closer to the Edge” and This Is War and be prepared to feel more alive than you have in years.

Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter

Posted 3rd June 2011 by Anthony Kuzminski


This review is over 4 years old – but I just stumbled upon it and had to share. How epic and gorgeous is this?

It captures that feel that invades your soul when you first hear “Closer to the Edge” – which is only magnified when you first see that video… that feeling swallows you and you immediately feel so much more capable of so much more in your life, in your dreams. Like anything is possible.

It’s a kinetic. It’s addictive. It’s what this is really all about.

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