Music progression. We are all well and truly aware that it has to happen at one point or another. Bands can’t produce the same album over and over again because they’ll be criticized by fans and peers for “staying safe” and not challenging themselves musically. We’ve seen enough evidence in this with bands like Parkway Drive, Bring Me The Horizon and even Metallica for example. Then you’ve got the bands who start off with a sound that attracts one audience, builds additional fans with their follow up albums and somewhere along the line proceeds to completely (in a way) shit on that original following by releasing music so far removed from their original sound, it almost seems like it’s more of a piss-take than something to be taken seriously.
Then you’ve got Thirty Seconds to Mars. A band I have been appreciating the sounds of since the very early years of their 30 Seconds To Mars/A Beautiful Lie album eras, mainly because I was first a fan of Jared Leto, the actor, from movies like Urban Legend, Requiem for a Dream and Lord of War to name a few. Upon hearing he was in a band that actually had a heavy rock sound behind them, I was in awe and completely drawn into them and everything they stood for.
Back in 2005, I remember calling my local radio station (90.9 Sea Fm on the Gold Coast) and requesting/demanding they send me a copy of the new 30STM album A Beautiful Lie because I was too poor to buy it myself and that album changed my life. It was the first time I showed my friends a band they hadn’t heard of before and they actually appreciated the music too. At that time the members included Jared’s brother Shannon Leto on drums, Tomo Miličević on guitar and Matt Wachter on bass. The awesome-foursome as us members of the Echelon (30STM fanbase) used to refer to them as. I remember whoring the album in all of our cars when you used to be young, careless and free driving around pointlessly as a teenager and to this day I still haven’t managed to perfect Jared’s scream from their completely underrated opening track ‘Attack‘.
The band had just started making BIG waves in Australia in 2006 following the release of ‘The Kill (Bury Me)‘ as a single which stayed in the ARIA Charts for 13 weeks straight and it wasn’t long before they made their way down to Australia for the very first time in support of A Beautiful Lie alongside Angela’s Dish in 2007, playing Festival Hall in Melbourne, Hordern Pavilion in Sydney (after moving from Luna Park’s Big Top due to overwhelming support) and the small and shitty venue The Arena in Brisbane. Prior to this Matt Wachter departed the band to spend more time with his family, only to pop up a few months later in Angels & Airwaves alongside Tom Delonge. Being an AvA fan myself I was also supportive of this move, regardless of the fact he dogged his former bandmates in the process before I got the chance to see him live.
Times were tough back then, long before buying tickets online like we do nowadays we had to do the old “waiting in line at Ticketek at 2am the night before to make sure we got tickets” trick. The shows (from memory) sold out and upon arriving at Brisbane’s gig, there were swarms of fans lining up down the street at The Arena in Fortitude Valley. That performance was one of the best experiences I’d had (having only been to my first gig two years prior) because the band met fans backstage after the show signing merch and shaking hands. From that moment I dedicated myself to them, buying up merch, promoting them via MySpace, supporting their activism/conservation plans after drawing attention to the melting ice caps in the Arctic Circle in their ‘A Beautiful Lie‘ music video and spreading the word about them to those who would listen… Speaking of, also check out the song ‘Battle of One‘ which served as a hidden track on the album and really showed the potential they had as an upcoming heavy band.
Then came the standout, career-defining album This Is War in 2009 which catapulted the band to an international scale level and spawned the singles ‘Kings & Queens‘, ‘Closer to the Edge‘, ‘This Is War‘ and ‘Hurricane‘. It also spawned one of the biggest fights the band would be involved in when their former label Virgin Records filed a breach of contract lawsuit and sued them for $30 Million (funny that) after they failed to produce the five albums they were obliged to record as per their 1999 contract with the now defunct Immortal Records. Long story short, because that label flopped and was bought out by Virgin, Jared fought his case saying the contract should have then become null and void. You can catch up all the drama that unfolded in the band’s 2012 documentary movie Artifact which took fans behind the scenes of their legal battles, the music industry and showed them the extreme and heartbreaking ways labels take control over bands and musicians with unfair and almost illegal contracts. The film won the ‘People’s Choice Award’ for Best Documentary at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and was a surprise, eye-opening doco I think every music fan should watch.
During that time, you may remember Thirty Seconds to Mars broke the Guinness World Record for the ‘most live shows during an album cycle‘ with a total of 300 performances including a couple trips to Australia for shows in Sydney and Melbourne and their Soundwave Festival slots in 2011. I was lucky enough to meet the band for a second time during an interview I assisted with which took place backstage at Soundwave in Brisbane and this time around the band seemed less enthusiastic to meet a real fan, compared to their previous visit to Australia. I remember barely getting a word out of Shannon, Jared let me shake his elbow instead of his hand as he was sick, totally understandable by the way, and Tomo was the best of all, offering a handshake or two and a photo opportunity. He even invited us to watch the band perform side stage during their late afternoon slot which hands down, is still one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had working in the music industry. I immediately went and got a tattoo dedicated to the band two days later to prove my loyalty moving forward. Shout out to Andrew Dobbins @DobZombe for the footage below, if you look close enough you can see me crying on stage to the left-hand side behind Tomo.
Now, this is where the story takes an interesting turn. It wasn’t long after this moment that things started to get… well, weird is one way to put it, with 30STM becoming more of a business/brand than a band. I remember Jared flogging off drawings he did called Creeps and they weren’t anything flash, mainly just scribbles he had done and people were paying through the teeth for them. I have to admit at one point I was looking at spending $150 of my own money on one before I came to my senses. There’s a full website you can go to and still purchase them, if you want, but that was the start of what seemed to me, like a money grab from one of the biggest bands in the world at the time. Can’t go without mentioning Jared’s own JL Merch site containing items of clothing with his “signature sayings” on them…
Don’t get me wrong, I understand being in a band, you need to make money any way you can, touring and merch can only get you so far, but when you have a name behind you like Jared Leto, you know that anything you do is going to draw attention and loyal fans. The band began VyRT sessions which were essentially on-demand, pay-per-view, behind the scenes streams from the band’s studios, lives and even concerts. 30 Seconds to Mars became the first band to virtually stream a gig online via this service which at times would crash and experience very poor connections due to the sheer number of fans trying to get online at the time according to one die-hard fan, Ness from Sydney, Australia who adds:
“VyRT’s first proper thing was a live stream of the Mars X concert in Vegas. It was glitchy, delayed and cut out quite a bit, BUT in my opinion was still worth the money. It was a special thing to be a part of. He (Jared) did attempt to redeem himself and offer it to download and keep at a later stage. I think I still have my copy somewhere.”
“The other VyRTs were mostly at his house just fucking around, playing a couple of songs and cooking pancakes. Wasn’t really a fan of them at all, especially those that needed to be paid for.”
I myself never took part in one of these streamings or showed an interest in the band’s Camp Mars, Summer Camp experiences where you meet up with fellow Echelon/Mars fans and the band may drop by for a visit. To me, that was the final nail in the coffin for getting involved in the band’s merch/experience side of things which came across more like a fan exploitation and money grab thing rather than a fun, enjoyable experience.
My last experience of actually enjoying 30 Seconds to Mars‘ music came in 2013 during my time in Orange, NSW as a breakfast radio announcer when I managed to track down their brand new single ‘Up In The Air‘ and play it for the very first time on Australian radio. I got a shout out from the band’s twitter account (I’m sure it was their manager) and I was stoked. Their new album Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams was set for release on May 21st and the first single, although different from their previous albums, was a welcoming change and I thought the rest of the album would be just as good, if not better than this release… boy how wrong I was.
— THIRTY SECONDS TO MARS (@30SECONDSTOMARS) April 4, 2013
The album, was good at best. Featuring overly produced songs like ‘City of Angels‘ and well, that’s about all I remember from the whole album. I tried my hardest to appreciate it because, apart from blink-182, this was one of my favourite bands who I had been following for close to a decade and throughout my time working in commercial radio, these guys produced countless bangers and catchy AF number one hits. I just wasn’t feeling anything from what they had released. Now before you go on to say I should be accepting of what they were trying to do, moving forward progressively as a band, I had already accepted this change with This Is War when they left behind any connection to the post-hardcore/emo/alt-rock band they were back in the Beautiful Lie saga, this just wasn’t that band I once knew and loved.
In theory, they were an unstoppable force, but by this point, their artistic desire to change and try new things had lost me as a fan. I didn’t listen to LLFD after this and still to this day haven’t played anything from it until posting the above video. But I held out hope that maybe they’d return to their rock/heavy roots, especially last year when I saw they had a new album coming out after a long five-year wait. ‘Walk on Water‘ was the first sample of what was to come and at first, it had elements of their This Is War album which was fine with me because that album still rules to this day due to the number of experiences I had that came from it. In the lyrics Jared yells (not screams) “Times Are Changing” and to me, unfortunately, that was the first warning sign this album wasn’t going to reflect on where the band has come from and their past but focus on yet another direction filled with synth, choir-like backing vocals and overproduced autotune.
The last time I was so critical of an album for being so different was with Linkin Park‘s One More Light (my review here) and I’ve admitted in the past that I no longer hold my grudge against the album due to the nature of the lyrical content and it’s association with the consequential and tragic passing of frontman Chester Bennington.
From that moment on I decided to listen to all the aspects of an album, not just how it sounds, but the meaning behind the songs OR the way I interpret them (as most bands want you to connect it to something in your life, not theirs). However, upon hearing ‘Dangerous Night‘, the second single from Thirty Seconds To Mars‘ new album America (Out Now), I just could not get into it. And right now as I sit here with the album playing in the background while I write this, there has not been one single stand out track where I’ve thought, “holy shit that’s good!!” or “wow, that’s impressive“. Even when it comes to their various album artworks, it’s like they’re not even trying anymore.
But don’t just take my word for it, I wouldn’t dare class myself as an ultimate fan or “Stans” as they’re called these days, you know, the ones who lap up everything thrown in front of them and dedicate their time and energy into following everything the band does, below is a collection of 30STM Echelon members who have shared their opinions online of the band’s new album and progression to where they are today:
- Athena M. – This video was cool because it has you thinking about Mars’ previous albums and you think “yes, one of the best rock bands ever is back”! And then you hear that song at the end (Rescue Me) and it’s such a let down. R.I.P 30STM. It was great being an Echelon when all that mattered was the music.
- Ness V. – I feel like I’m mourning the loss of 30STM and inadvertently purchased tickets to the new “Jared Leto and friends Show.”
- Barry L. – Ok I’ve listened to it now and I’m disappointed. Way too much auto tune. Jared can sing so why is this so used on this album. Bands change I know but this is not the TSTM that I know and love. Sorry guys not your best work. You’re a rock band, where’s the energy, where’s the power gone? Compared to A Beautiful Lie this record is so poor.
- Robert S. – Maybe a couple decent tracks. You guys have given up. Great wide open literally has the same opening as bright lights. There are glimpses of great music, but dragged down by over production, and lazy writing. You guys are better than this
Their most disappointing effort, if you can even call it that since it sounds like no effort was put into it at all. Just the most bland and boring attempt at trendy pop music.
— Keegan Littlewood 🌐 (@Techzebra) April 6, 2018
— Kaydan Howison (@Unicorn_Christ) April 6, 2018
What a disappointment … what a shit sound … when I remember the first two albums, it hurts to hear this crap. Sorry guys, you fail here…
— Jé (@corgan81) April 6, 2018
So how can a band with so much potential, on top of the world and at the top of their game, just completely lose everything in a few short years? To go from being one of the most sought-after acts, to sounding just like anything/everything else you hear on radio and tv at the moment. A band with a “no fucks given” and “fight until you die” mentality, caught up in a world of money-hungry fame and exploitation of those who love and cherish them dearly. And last but certainly not least, ‘WHERE THE FUCK IS TOMO?”
We wanted to let you know that Tomo is taking a break from tour to deal with some personal matters. Thank you for respecting his privacy at this time. We will be continuing the Monolith Tour and are looking forward to seeing you all on the road very soon.
— THIRTY SECONDS TO MARS (@30SECONDSTOMARS) March 16, 2018
Take a look at the album teaser below where Jared states this “could be their last chance to share their art with the world” and tell me why their longtime guitarist and member Tomo Miličević is absent, nowhere to be seen except for one shot of the band on stage from a previous tour. He’s also been very quiet on social media lately and as fans would know, this is very uncommon for him as he’s usually quite the active tweeter, but considering there’s not even one mention of the band’s new album or press for it on his twitter account, I’d say this leans towards indicating his departure from the band…
I have no doubt this could be the beginning of the end for Thirty Seconds to Mars. Their fifth album America is out now (grab a copy here if you want) and is receiving mixed reviews from fans, mainly negative from most accounts I’ve come across, so if this is really it and they do call it quits following their upcoming tour, as a fan, will you be happy with the way it’s ended?
I sure as hell won’t.
Thirty Seconds to Mars – America tracklisting
1. Walk On Water
2. Dangerous Night
3. Rescue Me
4. One Track Mind (feat. A$AP Rocky)
6. Love Is Madness (feat. Halsey)
7. Great Wide Open
8. Hail To The Victor
9. Dawn Will Rise
11. Live Like A Dream