After setting the scene with their previous two concept albums, Chicago alt-rock four-piece Madina Lake now face the difficult task of drawing their tale of a missing socialite in a fictional 1950s town to a satisfying conclusion with the third and final installment of their ambitious trilogy, World War III. Continuing to explore wider universal themes of materialism, violence, and celebrity culture in addition to the ongoing battle between good and evil, it's a challenge they triumphantly rise to on a record which, for the first time, features a sound that matches the invention of their lyrics. There are still the usual shouty emo-rock anthems, such as the Lostprophets-esque quiet verse/loud chorus formula of "What Is It to Wonder," the gang mentality harmonies of "They're Coming for Me," and the crunching angst-ridden metal of "Blood Red Flags." But taking a cue from Nine Inch Nails' influential foray into electronica, the majority of its 13 tracks pursue a more eclectic synth-led direction, which they only previously hinted at on their first two chapters. At times the reinvention is surprisingly radical, particularly on "Fireworks," whose falsetto vocals and electro-funk production could have been lifted from the last Justin Timberlake record, and "Take Me or Leave," which combines shuffling acoustic hooks with laid-back beats and even a brief flash of MCing to produce a rare but convincing venture into hip-hop territory. But even on its slightly more conventional offerings, the band still sounds reinvigorated, such as on the Billy Corgan-produced "Imagineer," which starts out with some industrial techno synths before bursting into a blistering slice of thrashing punk-pop; the post-hardcore screams, grungy basslines, and twisted bleeps of "Hey Superstar," an attack on the importance society places on fame; and the soaring new wave of "Across 5 Oceans." While most film trilogies adhere to the law of diminishing returns, World War III's clever storytelling and unexpected shifts in sound show that Madina Lake have wisely saved the best till last.
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AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien