On Thirty Seconds To Mars’ follow-up to their 2009 effort “This Is War,” frontman Jared Leto takes the production reins alongside the group’s longtime producer Steve Lillywhite and brings a marked sense of variety and experimentation along with him. For the Los Angeles group, which kicked off their career in 2002 with their self-titled debut album, “Love Lust Faith + Dreams” offers an opportunity to explore the boundaries of rock while drawing inspiration from electronic music in a way that’s not necessarily innovative but that feels fresh for these particular musicians.
Leto infuses these epically charged anthems with an even fuller sense of grandeur than on those past releases, creating dynamic numbers primed equally for radio waves and stadium shows. The swollen tracks are juxtaposed with more experimental, plodding instrumentals, some of which create vast expanses of sound and some seemingly serving as interludes. Some of the music occasionally leans toward being overwrought (Leto is first and foremost an actor, after all), but mostly “Love Lust Faith + Dreams” – along with its Leto-directed visuals – invests itself fully and artfully in its own vision.
Which tracks on Thirty Seconds To Mars’ latest opus are worth repeat listens? Check out our track-by-track breakdown below.
1. Birth – Leto and crew lure the listener in with this surging opener, mixing an experimental female voiceover that recites the first words in the album’s title along with reverb-heavy guitar (the other words follow in later tracks). “Birth” is more of an introduction than an actual song, eschewing traditional rock structure for an explosion of sound that fizzles out as the next track begins.
This thudding rock number, an early listen for fans via a lyric video released earlier this month, features a chanting chorus of “We will we will we will rise again,” making the song feel almost like a war cry. It’s one of the grandest numbers on the album, and an appropriately compelling early track.
3. Up In The Air
The album’s flagship single, which the band premiered in space in March, is perhaps the best showcase for the expansively epic tone of the disc. The music video, directed by Leto’s alter ego Bartholomew Cubbins, features appearances by Neil Strauss, Dita Von Teese, Olympic gymnasts McKayla Maroney and Jordyn Wieber as well as artwork by Damien Hirst, and was referred to as a “hallucinogenic journey through a incredibly surreal landscape” by Leto.
4. City Of Angels – Variety and experimentation seem to be Thirty Seconds To Mars’ overarching aims on this album, both of which initially surface here. “City of Angels” is a pulsating, subtler track that employs a blipping electronic beat rather than the band’s usual rock backdrop. It mostly works, giving Leto the perfect instance to wail with urgent emotion.
5. The Race – This track sounds partially akin to Thirty Seconds To Mars’ last album, 2009’s “This Is War,” and partially like a tribute to Nine Inch Nails. The industrial beat that emerges toward the end is straight out of the Trent Reznor playbook.
6. End Of All Days – A potentially overwrought balled, “End of All Days” finds Leto murmuring apocalyptic imagery over a whispering piano line. It’s very much an extension of Muse’s aesthetic, although there are worse artists from which to take inspiration.
7. Pyres Of Varanasi – Orchestral strings build into “Pryes Of Varansi,” a hugely dramatic, mostly instrumental track. Chanting vocals appear nearly two minutes into the song, aiding a transition into pulsating ambient beats. It’s hard to categorize this one, but it’s certainly one of the album’s artsier numbers, and for the most part, it works.
8. Bright Lights – “I’ve been dreaming of things yet to come,” Leto moans on this emotive moment, which (presumably) references Jay McInerney’s infamous 80s novel “Bright Lights Big City” in its lyrics and title. Leto backs off the instrumentation, allowing his pensive vocals to take the lead in what has the sense of aching nostalgia.
9. Do Or Die – Between the album’s eclectic experimentation and voiceless soundscapes, Thirty Seconds To Mars slotted in this propulsive rocker, an arena-ready anthem that seems primed to be an eventual single. “Do Or Die” is one of the album’s most straightforward tracks — and definitely one of the easiest to sing along to.
10. Convergence – This meditative track feels more like an interlude as the band lays out a sparse collection of monotone beats that rise and fall slowly. It’s hard to imagine this was a collaboration between band members, but Leto’s production skills are becoming notably diverse as crafts a track that’s effectively delicate and restrained.
11. Northern Lights – Another page from the Nine Inch Nails playbook is ripped out here, as the band builds urgent rock melodies around ambient synths while Leto translates his acting skills into seriously intense vocal delivery. “Northern Lights” finds a middle ground between the album’s huge numbers and quieter instrumental instances, which is slightly problematic for fully captivating the listener.
12. Depuis Le Début – The album’s closer kicks off as a gritty acoustic ballad, with Leto’s graveled croon calling for blood. Quickly, though, the number transitions into cinematic ambience, and the songs ends with the chime of a music box, strange and effectively chilling. Is it a song or a collection of sounds that the band couldn’t fit anywhere else on the album?