Is it a hit, *hit or miss?
Hit, *hit or
Hearing “Faceless” for the first time was
a little surprising and gave me cause to reexamine the group. Let me back
up a bit so you understand that statement. Although some people found fault
with the group’s debut album, I thought it was a pretty solid CD from start
to finish. Most people who wanted to dislike this band went with the idea
that they are too similar to Alice In Chains but I never really subscribed
to that. Sure Sully sounds a bit like Layne at points and the music has
some similar dynamics but overall it’s a bit heavier and once you give
it an honest chance you see where Godsmack is coming from is a totally
different place. The core of their sound isn’t steeped in grunge but more
in metal. What confuses people perhaps is the fact that Godsmack draws
from both alternative rock and metal to build their sound. Musically, they
were miles ahead of most of their nu metal contemporaries.
Here is the problem. A problem that many
bands seem to have when they have a successful debut. When they recorded
their first album they had the material they had written and played for
quite a while in order to land their record deal (yes, most of the songs
came from their indie debut, but this principle still holds).
Once Universal released their debut album
and it became a hit, the band spend the next couple of years on the road
promoting it. The clock was ticking and the fans were hungry for a new
album, so most of the music was apparently written on the road and the
band rushed into the studio to record as soon as they came off tour. (yes
I know it was a little more involved than that, but this works). As a result
their second album, “Awake” seems a little off focus and in some ways rushed.
You can’t really fault the band for this, since that was the cards they
were dealt and that’s the way the game of rock n roll is sometime played.
But the resulting album didn’t really live up to the group’s debut.
When Godsmack got ready to record this
third album, they decided to take a different approach. Maybe they were
fueled by the addition of Shannon Larkin, an old time friend of Sully’s
who brought to the table an impressive resume of playing various styles
of music ranging from thrash with Wrathchild to the straight ahead rock
of Ugly Kid Joe to the more somber hard rock of Amen. Whatever it was,
it seemed to work for the group this time and they took the time to insure
they wrote some solid tracks for the album.
Shannon told us that they wrote the basic
framework of the lead off single “Straight Out of Line” during one of their
first sessions together and you can definitely feel a new energy coming
from the group. On “Faceless” they hit a little harder, playing a little
heavier but also branch out in new directions without forsaking their core
sound. In other words, this is a true testament from a band that is evolving
One of Godsmack’s biggest strengths on
their debut was the ability to be heavy yet very melodic. I wouldn’t go
as far as to call it pop, but some of the same principals were at work
here. They seemed to have lost that somewhere on their second album. Maybe
they were trying to disprove their critics? No matter, this time around
the magic formula that worked so well on their debut is back, just further
down the road.
The opening track and first single from
this album, “Straight Out of Line” is the perfect example. They managed
to capture the almost tribal rhythm that made “Voodoo” so popular but use
it in a new context. While the song is pure Godsmack, those who like to
compare the band to Alice In Chains will find that this track has more
in common with Tool, especially the verses. This song is a strong wake
up call to those who may have written Godsmack off that they aren’t going
anywhere and have continued to evolve their sound.
The second and title track from the album,
“Faceless,” takes things a little heavier and makes you think that the
band may have learned a thing or two from Pantera when they toured with
them on Ozzfest a couple years ago. But they contrast that with the multiple
shades and temperaments giving this track a very dynamic feel.
They really go for the throat with “Changes”
with layered power guitars and vocals. This is Godsmack finding their metal
core but still keeping their alternative influences, especially with the
vocals. “Make Me Believe” kicks off with chainsaw guitars and a rhythm
that beats you over the head at full power and yet they still manage to
deliver a convincing melody that drives the song.
“Re-Align’ starts in with a wall of guitar
and then Sully delivers his patented vocals. Although this isn't the most
radio friendly track on the album, it’s probably one of the strongest songs
here and shows us Godsmack at their raw core. The guitars at most times
are unmerciful and at others multi-dimensional especially the solo (something
we don’t hear from mainstream hard rock bands that much these days). The
drums pound with a furious brutality and yet at moments show Shannon’s
soft-touch. Lights and shades.
They take things to the next level with
“I Fucking Hate You” and like the title suggest this song is loaded with
venom and is the closest the band comes to typical nu metal. “Releasing
the Demons” is a soul searching song where Sully comes to grips with his
personal demons and attempts to exorcise them through song. Thematically
it’s the most potent song on the disc.
The guitars on “Dead and Broken” again
have a bit of a Tool vibe that contrast nicely against the vocals where
Sully sings about what appears to be a women with major issues who likes
to play head games. A theme that worked well for Nickelback and their breakthrough
hit “How You Remind Me.”
“I Am” is classic Godsmack where Sully
walks the tightrope between power, intensity and melody. The minute and
a half instrumental “The Awakening” pays homage to the group’s tribal influence
with what appears to be an ancient Indian chant set against hypnotic percussion.
They carry that tribal feel forward to
the next song, “Serenity,” the album’s only ballad. A powerful song that
shows a different side of the band. The vocal production is remarkable
with layered vocals and the song captures a bit of the same feel as “Twilight
Time” from Moody Blues and this track is the perfect swan song for this
The good news for longtime fans is that
Godsmack have returned with their strongest effort to date. “Faceless”
is a bit more refined and mature than their debut and features far stronger
songwriting and delivery than “Awake”. This also might be a good
time for those who never gave this band a fair chance to reexamine what
they have to offer. One thing is sure, if this album doesn’t break the
Alice in Chains stigma, nothing will. But in reality and contrary to this
album’s title, Godsmack have forged their own musical identity and justified
their position as one of the top selling bands in hard rock. There is a
lot more substance here than their detractors give them credit for and
it would be a shame to miss out on what Godsmack has to offer with “Faceless”
simply because of a closed mind. But that’s their loss, now isn’t it?
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