Music Review: Messgram – Cheers for the Failures

Photo Credit: Official Messgram Facebook Page
Photo Credit: Official Messgram Facebook Page

Hello everyone, it sure has been a hot minute since I’ve posted something here, so here I am breaking the radio silence by delivering to you my review of Messgram’s first full length album Cheers for the Failures.

Messgram is an electronic/screamo/metal band hailing from South Korea that consists of the following members:

  • Jiyoung – vocals
  • Jahnny Shin – vocals, keyboards
  • Yushik Shin – lead guitar
  • Chanhyun – bass
  • Soojin Lee – drums

Messing Around With Messgram

I was first graced by Messgram’s existence in 2017 and 2018 when YouTube’s algorithm recommended to me their covers of Drown and Avalanche by Bring Me the Horizon. I was instantly intrigued by how the female vocals added a whole new emotional dimension to Oli Sykes’ heartfelt lyrics, and that the band had their own keyboardist who helped maintain the cinematic feel of the originals.

This made me grow curious of what Messgram’s original songs would sound like and so I checked them out. Even back then I knew they were talented musicians and that they definitely deserved more recognition, but for some reason none of it really clicked with me.

At least not yet, anyway.

Every few months since then, YouTube would remind me of Messgram’s existence and I would watch their videos, have a little fun, but then move on to whatever other random A.D.D. riddled YouTube watching I typically do.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago, Friday April 17, 2020, Messgram released their first full length album Cheers for the Failures along with the music video of their lead single Karma. 

And what can I say?

If I thought Messgram was talented before, I now knew they were also incredibly skilled, and that shows with how much they’ve grown as musicians with their release of Cheers for the Failures. It is now that they have clicked for me because I have been listening to this album, along with their previous EP’s, nonstop everyday ever since this full length release.

So without further adieu here’s a quick preview of the album and my review for each song:

Messgram – Cheers for the Failures Review

(Quick disclaimer that this is all my personal opinion despite making claims through seemingly objective statements. This is just a way to cut back on the over use of “I think,” and “I feel like,” statements that would bog down the flow of the review.)

1. Little but Fierce

This opening track comes in hot with a very brief soft section, just to showcase the kind of electronic samples to expect throughout, and then wastes no time having the full band jump in with the pounding drums, blazing guitars, and Jahnny’s wild screams. Jiyoung’s clean vocals come in at the pre-chorus and chorus while Jahnny still screams in the background to emphasize certain lines during the chorus.

The bridge also simmers down long enough for you catch your breath with more of that soft electronic stuff found in the intro but this time with the addition of soft vocals, all before bringing the full band back in for an epic heavy and emotional outro. It all happens pretty smoothly so there isn’t much more you can ask for here.

This is Messgram at their finest balance of heavy metal verses and instrumental sections, and emo choruses to emphasize melody more over instrumental complexity and intensity.

Song Score: 9/10

2. Rockstars

Following the opening metal track comes Rockstars which showcases Messgram’s pop-punk/emo side. This song reminds me of early 2010’s screamo, but with keyboards to keep it fresh and to continue the cinematic feel brought from Little but Fierce. It also kind of reminds me of the Final Fantasy theme to a little degree so that helps boost the nostalgic feel brought from the lyrics and the song’s overall feel. The second chorus getting the extension also helps pack a bigger emotional punch to it.

The bridge has a lot going for it, mainly how it brings back the intro riff with a few electronic and bass changes. However it’s difficult to appreciate the new string section and slightly different bass line with Jahnny screaming over it all. It could have worked better as an instrumental section since the following rhythmic pop-punk breakdown, and soft electronic section are already so vocal heavy.

This brings us to the final chorus which teases us with a momentary modulation that makes me wonder how the song would have fared if the chorus got a full key change for the outro, but that would detract from the synth outro, which itself could have been longer by another measure that faded out slowly, instead of ending abruptly.

Overall still a damn good song. It has a grand and epic sounding instrumental section that gets repeated a second time for a nice callback to it, even if it is mired by misplaced screams. The catchy chorus thankfully gets an extension the second time and even gets a momentary modulation the third time as to keep the song staying fresh.

Song Score: 8/10

3. Karma

Karma wastes no time endearing you to its emotional intensity with the heavy guitars and both vocalists belting it out with no restraint in a pretty damn cool trade off with each other. They reverse the order of their vocal trade off in the second verse while the guitars get a little more dissonant than the first time around, while also adding new lead riffs between the chord strikes.

The chorus is quite lengthy right away, but that’s fine as all three sections of it are awesome and help keep the pace going. It would not have worked if they saved the two extra chorus sections for later in the song, You got the first part where Jiyoung belts it out with a lot of sustained notes, the second section that has those backing “whoa” vocals with more subdued main lyrics to follow, and then finally the non-verbal vocals to soften it out momentarily before bringing in the heavy parts back in for the second verse.

The third part of the chorus is ommitted after the second chorus, which was a good call because the mid-section of the song very much calls for a cathartic heavy section and this is where Jahnny really shines. If his screams did not fit well with Rockstars’ pre-bridge, they fit perfectly for the pre-bridge for Karma. 

If it weren’t for Yushik’s super bluesy guitar solo coupled with Jiyoung’s backing vocals, the brief piano and vocal solo rendition of the chorus that follows would feel too abrupt with the full band interruption–but for the outro and the way it simmers out makes it work well enough. Part of me wishes that  the piano part was a bit longer, but it probably would have dragged the song out too much.

Awesome lead single, it was the one to make the band finally click for me so there isn’t much more I could ask for from this song. Once again it’s Messgram at their finest striking the perfect balance between heavy and emotional, neither veering out too be too metal nor emo.

Song Score: 10/10

4. A Handful of Light

I fell in love with this song right away because of that cinematic intro carrying on with the hard rock riff to come in hot right after that. The verses for A Handful of Light are a perfect showcase for Jahnny’s screams and how his synths compliment the more spaced out guitar riffs. Even though there’s a lot of layering with the screams happening in the background, it doesn’t come off as messy, rather filling in some gaps as they should

The chorus showcases more of Jiyoung’s belty vocals that I am so glad she is pushing herself to do to match the heaviness of the instrumentation. She definitely has a damn good melody for the main chorus as well the chorus tag that comes after the second and third choruses, but Jahnny just steals the show for this song. His bridge screams and the lyrics to go with them feel very empowering. Makes you wanna tap into your badass energy.

Keeping it heavy with the metal and hard rock feel, A Handful of Light is another one of those songs that screams Messgram at their finest, but doubling down more on their metal side. The energy and the feel of it is just so uniquely them.

Song Score: 10/10

5. Signal

Signal is one of those mid-album songs where it makes sense to slow and simmer things down, but makes you feel disoriented that the energy has dropped after songs like Karma and A Handful of Light.

As a stand alone song alone, it’s a very good to showcase Jiyoung’s range between soft emotional vocals with slightly restrained power vocals to match their softer pop-punk side. They definitely doubled down on the emo sound for this one!

But as a song that comes after two intense ones, it felt too soft and abrupt of a vibe change. Having random screaming in it doesn’t help ground it and remind you that you’re still listening to a metal album, they just feel out of place as they tend to for these more pop-punk/emo songs.

One thing it has going for it though is perfect pacing with a much needed extended bridge section where the clean guitars and drums take their time to build up to the post chorus. And what a post chorus! Soojin stops holding back on that drumbeat and gets more intense with the keyboards before bringing the song to a close. The guitars, bass, and vocals take a step back here so it’s good to have the drums become the centre stage of intensity.

Decent song on its own, but not placed well to mark the mid point of the album. It’s straightforward with a few misplaced screams, but overall gets the job done in being one of the more hopeful sounding songs to bring some light into an otherwise gloomy sounding album.

Song Score: 7/10

6. Purgatory

If Purgatory and Signal switched places in the album it would actually flow a bit better. I know it sounds like a very menial nitpick, but Purgatory is just a bit heavier than Signal due to its melancholic feel and would flow better after A Handful of Light. And since it does pull you down to a pretty melancholic feel, Signal would have worked to bring some hope back into you instead of having that hope torn away by the somberness of Purgatory.

This song doubles down on their emo side and the synth sound for it fits so perfectly for it. Extra points for the first chorus teasing us being so brief because the chorus tag added for the second and final choruses really hold down the emotional weight this song conveys. That bridge build up is also pretty awesome with the drum rolls and the atmospheric synths. Or is it the guitar with volume swelling? I can’t tell. Either way I love that sound to break apart the usual crunch of the distorted guitars.

The chorus revisiting outro with altered and intensified vocal lines real bring the emotion alive. Good call on having the chorus tag repeated to really emphasize those lyrics and to make good use of that catchy melody we just didn’t get during the first chorus and not enough of after the second chorus.

Another pretty straight forward emo song to give us a little bit of respite mid-way through the album, but done a lot better than the ones that came before it. The chorus tag repetition for the outro was great, along with the electronic instrumental slowly fading out at the end was very much needed so it can prepare us for the upcoming song.

Song Score: 8/10

7.  As Times Goes By

Now that we’ve gotten time to catch our breath with slower and softer songs, why not bring back the heaviness? Once again Jahnny just rocks the verses here with the screaming, and I gotta say this is the best riffage Yushik did in this album. The chugginess never ends, and carries on into the chorus. Speaking of which, is Jahnyun doing a sick tapping bass riff before the chorus or even throughout it? It’s the grooviest bass I’ve heard throughout the album so far, we definitely need more of that. He’s gotten the job done so far, but it would be nice to have the bass get more of a spotlight in Messgram’s songs.

Soojin’s calculated beats in the intro and chuggy parts are only rivaled by Yushik’s bluesy hard rock guitar solo 3/4 into the song. And since I’m such a stickler for soft electronic bridges, I get my wish with the best soft electronic bridge in this song: softly sung version of the chorus under a new instrumental context. It doesn’t out stay its welcome and gives you the right amount of time to take a breathe before bringing the heaviness back in. There’s just something about this song where the instrumentation’s complexity and flavour is ramped up more than they already were throughout the album.

This is the perfect lucky track 7 to bring the metal energy back into the album with its speed and intensity. It would be redundant at this point to mention how well written Jiyoung’s melodies are and how awesome her power vocals are, but along with the band she just really brings it up a notch as well in this song. It catches me off guard because I get used to a certain standard before the bar gets raised once again.

Maybe this is why it helps to have had two emo songs back to back? To downplay the expectations a little bit since the album has already set huge precedence, it doesn’t need to impress you anymore until it does when it wants to on its own volition in this incredible track?

Anyways, I’ve spammed the line “Messgram at their finest” already,  and I’m not gonna say that here because As Time Goes By is Messgram beyond their finest.

Song Score: 11/10

8. Omen

Omen feels like the band went, “let’s do a similar intro to Rockstars, but wait we’re also a metal band, so let’s rip the listener’s face off with this moshpit worth riff!”

Ah yes, the good ol’ metal is back in full swing some more in this song. The ominous synth section before the rest of the band comes in eases us toward Jiyoung’s soft vocals finally doing something foreboding over a chuggy verse riff.

This is also the first song where she sings in Korean on the album and it’s a very welcomed surprise. It makes me wish she sang more parts of the other album in Korean because damn it sounds so badass in metal.

The chorus opts out for a “brighter” sound, but continues to pack the heavy hitting punch it needs to. The lead guitar in this song whether during the chorus or to compliment the chugs during the verse, are a nice reminder of Yushik’s guitar chops since there’s no room made for a guitar solo in this song. It definitely could have benefited from one, but beggars can’t be choosers.

What can I say? The energy was picked back up thanks to As Time Goes By and is maintained greatly by Omen. My only gripes with this song is that it’s too short and that it makes me wonder if their songs would benefit with more Korean lyrics either sprinkled in, or if they had more songs written fully in Korean.

Basically I have nothing bad to say about this song and I’m straining to find something because I’m getting self conscious about sounding too much of a fanboy at this point.

But screw it, this band deserves some more fans!

Song Score: 10/10

9. Poena

Poena is a very strange song and I’m still trying to figure out whether that’s a good thing. This is the song where they tried to blend the metal and pop-punk in one song and it comes with very mixed results. The intro reminds me of Paramore’s song Misery Business, but heavier with synths and screaming so it makes me think, “okay for this track they’re going the pop punk route again?”

Not that that’s a bad thing, of course, since they do well with either genre.

The verse’s chuggy riff is pretty damn heavy, though Jahnny’s screaming was dialed a little too far here on the high side. He really shines when he can add more lows for variety, but there weren’t enough low screams here. Although they aren’t layered like they were in A Handful of Light, they seem messy here due to being sustained for too long.

I’m also pretty sure I can hear Jiyoung and some random electronic samples coming in to add a bit of melody in these sections, but they’re pretty hard to hear over all the overdone screaming. The clean vocals in the verses could either have been extended or removed completely, and somehow that would have made it better than being interlaced here and there.

It also took a few listens, but I can finally anticipate when the choruses come in now, because this is an epic and uplifting anthem for a chorus. Catchy and empowering both lyrically and melodically. Upon my first listen it was hard to tell when it was coming in and works as a double edged sword for a surprise. Genre changes within a song are always welcomed, especially when they’re unexpected, but this one was too unexpected. It doesn’t help that the second chorus’s beginning is further obscured by clean sustained vocals that overpower the start of the second chorus.

The second half of this song, however, is a bit of a smoother listen and that long and soft electronic bridge really helps slow and clean this song up a bit. The disorientation kind of continues with the key changes, but those are great to allow the emotional guessing game to continue. The outro is also a nice opportunity to spam that anthem of a chorus with more melodic variation and harmonies layered on top of them.

Probably my least favourite song on the album, but definitely not a deal breaker this far into it. While I do like songs with experimental structures and genre mixing, Poena was a bit too messy, even for my liking. That anthem like chorus does help in being the other hopeful sounding song on this album so at least it’s got that, and its experimentation going for it.

Song Score: 6/10

10. Lightfall

And finally there is Lightfall, the final song that carries the burden of being the album closer. Now we finally get to really simmer down with the chill electronic sound and more of Jiyoung’s soft vocals, and in Korean no less. This is a good way to help you catch your breath once again and lets us feel the entire album’s sense of a roller-coaster ride with the mostly appropriate switch ups between rise and fall.

Ominous synths also really bring this song home and entire album home as the verses sound reminiscent of the darker K-Pop you can find when a group does a bad-ass or girl crush concept–but it doesn’t go too poppy because then the electric guitars come blazing in for the choruses that give the song’s overall feel a deeper depth than it begins with.

For an album outro, it doesn’t go out in a bang as hard as it first came in with Little but Fierce, but still gets the job done by switching up the vibe and formula enough to really signify things coming to a close. It’s a side of Messgram we haven’t seen before where there’s even longer emphasis for the electronic side during the verse, as to serve as a subdued counterpart to all the electric guitar we’ve been treated to.

While Lightfalls’ outro could have been stretched out a little longer with an electronic fade out section, it still gets the job done by adding more variety to Cheers to the Failures.

Song Score: 8/10

Cheers to Messgram and Their Future Success

So there you have it, my somewhat in-depth and comprehensive review on Messgram’s first full length album Cheers to the Failures. This band definitely has a decent enough range in genre exploration, excelling both in the metal and emo categories, and while I do appreciate both genres, it’s quite clear which genre I lean more toward. Especially since most songs on this album clearly declare themselves as either more metal than emo, more emo than metal, or just straight up emo.

Modern metalcore elements and 2010 emo makes for a pretty good sound that, while we’ve heard it all before, Messgram does it their way and it’s nothing to scoff at because when they bring it, they really really bring it! I am still blown away by this album and will continue to listen to it from start to finish in the following days, possibly weeks, months, and years because I think I’ve stumbled upon quite the gem of a band.

On a selfish level I’m hoping Messgram sticks more to their metal side while sprinkling in some emo and pop-punk sections in their next release, but at an objective level they’re definitely free to do what they did here with Cheers to the Failures with switching between genres in a manner that kept it fresh for variety sake. They keep you guessing and that’s good to prevent becoming too formulaic and predictable.

And although their previous albums followed in this vein already, there’s just something about the entire songwriting quality that has been greatly improved in this full length release, and I hope I did a good enough job in explaining how.

I definitely look forward to more from Messgram, and will continue to rock out to everything they have so far in their ever growing discography!

Final Album Score: 87/100

Be Sure to Support Messgram by Purchasing/Streaming Their Music:

  1. iTunes
  2. Apple Music
  3. Spotify
  4. YouTube
  5. Bandcamp

What are your thoughts on Messgram’s first full length album?

What are your thoughts on my thoughts of the album?

Agree or disagree, let me know in the comments below!