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 with time.
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 f***ing 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 album.
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?