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Back in the Groove

Max Green saw it coming, the way the sky darkens ominously before some violent thunderstorm.

But instead of heavy clouds, it was heavy hearts that prefaced it all.

The name of his band is Escape the Fate, and in recent years, Green has tried hard to evade his.

Last year, he succeeded.

His band’s former singer, Ronnie Radke, wasn’t so fortunate.

Upon the release of their bruising 2006 debut, "Dying Is Your Latest Fashion," Escape the Fate seemed like the next band poised to break big out of Vegas, with well-received stints on the Warped Tour, solid backing from sizable indie Epitaph Records and a minor hit single, "Situations," the video for which racked up tens of thousands of views online.

But trouble clung to the band like some stubborn infant unwilling to let go of its mother’s leg.

There were aborted tours, Radke and Green’s drug addictions and that fateful night in May of 2006, when Radke was involved in a brawl where a friend of his shot and killed another man.

Eventually, Radke would end up in jail, while Green struggled to get his life together.

"From the beginning, even before Escape the Fate was Escape the Fate, Ronnie and I would like to go out and party. We liked to have a good time and we loved playing music," Green says from aboard a tour bus en route to Salt Lake City. "I saw what Ronnie was doing, we were right there with each other the entire time. I can remember countless times saying, ‘Far be it for me to tell you not to do drugs or not to party. Do drugs, but don’t let the drugs do you.’

"Just seeing how he let it run his life and get out of control, it was like seeing firsthand what not to do," he continues. "It was a reality check. Unfortunately, he didn’t see it when he was going through it. But I saw it, and I decided, ‘I need to relax. I need to calm down a little bit.’ "

And so he did just that.

Green eventually would detox and get clean, and Escape the Fate began to piece back together a promising career.

If bad fortune has hounded this band for much of its existence, a bit of good luck led its members to their current singer, former Bless the Fall frontman Craig Mabbitt, who officially was introduced into the fold earlier this year.

"He was actually going to try out for another band that we’re on tour with right now called A Skylight Drive," Green explains. "He got a number for their guitar player Joey, and that happens to be the name of our manager. He got a couple of the numbers wrong and called our manager instead and tried out."

Green initially had his reservations about Mabbitt, mainly because he was known as more of a raw-lunged shrieker.

"I was really hesitant at first, because we all wanted someone who could sing and carry a tune, could do more than just get up there and scream into a microphone," Green says. "When Craig came to try out, during the first song, I stopped playing in the middle of it and was like, ‘Holy (expletive). Why didn’t you sing like that before?’ Craig is someone who can both sing and be brutal and in your face. Now, we can really go farther with both."

They’ve done just that on their sophomore disc, "This War Is Ours," released on Tuesday.

A dynamic, melodically savvy disc, the album sees the band pushing the bounds of its sound, coming with anthemic rebel yells ("10 Miles Wide") and yearning, soft-hued ballads ("Something") that seem destined for the radio.

Save for the pummeling title track, where guitarist Monte Money practically solos his fingers down to their nubs, the band mostly moves away from the brutish screamo that colored much of its debut in favor of a more hard-rockin’ approach that swings like a prizefighter’s fists.

"Good rock ‘n’ roll music, whatever it may be, if it’s metal or soft rock, hard rock, whatever, we just wanted to branch out a little bit more from the emo/screamo/hard-core label," Green says. "That’s totally cool, those kids are rad, I want to have those kids (as fans of the band), but we want the whole world. We want to go big."

Of course, Radke is a tough presence to replace.

Onstage, the guy was electric, a natural showman who, like a devil on your doorstep, was hard to take your eyes off of. But despite some initial resistance, Green says the band’s fans mostly have come around to Mabbitt.

"In the beginning, there was a lot of haters, man, let me tell ya," he notes. "But it’s really cool, because we’ve actually gotten a lot of letters of apology from fans saying, ‘I’m really, really sorry. I thought you guys were going to be nothing without Ronnie.’ "

Listening to Green speak, the relief is clear in his voice. He sounds relaxed, like he’s doing the interview while lying on a masseuse’s table. It’s the sound of a dude who’s chiseled his way from his jail cell with little more than a nail file and a dream — or should that be a nightmare?

"Oh my gosh, it’s amazing," Green gushes of finally having his band’s second record see the light of day. "For real, it felt like it was never going to happen. We’ve climbed a mountain, and we’re right at the peak. It feels so good to finally be there."

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

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