Saturday, November 3, 2018

GODSMACK "When Legends Rise"

(c) 2018 BMG

  1. When Legends Rise
  2. Bulletproof
  3. Unforgettable
  4. Every Part Of Me
  5. Take It To The Edge
  6. Under Your Scars
  7. Someday
  8. Just One Time
  9. Say My Name
  10. Let It Out
  11. Eye Of The Storm
Sully Erna--Lead Vocals, Guitar, Piano
Tony Rombola--Lead Guitars, Backing Vocals
Robbie Merrill--Bass, Backing Vocals
Shannon Larkin--Drums

Additional Musicians
The Gilbert H. Hood and West Running Brook Choir--Chorus Vocals on "Unforgettable"
Zvezdelina Haltakova--Violin on "Under Your Scars"
Irina Chirkova--Cello on "Under Your Scars"

From the very first track on the new Godsmack album, it is obvious something is different about this record...and, indeed, about the band.  Sure, vocalist Sully Erna uses the word "baby" as often as Rob Zombie snarls, "yeah", but musically there's a shift here...sometimes subtle, sometimes not so much.  Just looking at the information above should give you an immediate clue about these changes.  I mean, violin and cello on a Godsmack album?  A choir (which turns out to be a children's choir, no less...)?  What the heck has been going on in the four years since 1000HP?

From the outset in the lead-up to this album, Erna had made it clear that he was looking to take the band in a new direction, aiming for a more modern hard rock sound than the modern metal the band had previously employed.  Don't take that to mean that the heaviness of the band is gone, because that is not true; there are still plenty of heavy moments on When Legends Rise.  However, the metallic bite is not the main focus of the record now, with melody, song structure, and musicianship at a higher premium than sheer aggression, darkness, and anger.

The opening six songs on this album are probably as good as any six songs I have heard in succession on a record in years.  Not kidding, the first 20 or so minutes here is just about perfection for a hard rock record.  The album starts out in fairly comfortable territory, with the album's second single, the anthemic title track, "When Legends Rise".  Big drums pull a distorted guitar line behind them to intro the song before the entire band kicks in and Erna snarls his way into the opening verse.  But it's when you get to the chorus that the new feel of Godsmack kicks in, and if you really listen to the lyrics of the chorus, it seems the band is announcing the alteration of the course of their musical journey, burning down their past and forging a new future:  "It's burning down, It's burning high, When ashes fall, Legends Rise!"  Still featuring the typical driving guitars and catchy drum patterns of old, "...Legends..." sands off some of the rougher musical edges, and leaves behind a really nice slice of modern hard rock that feels like Godsmack, even if it doesn't sound 100% like the band that delivered "I Stand Alone" or "Whiskey Hangover".

"Bulletproof", the album's lead single, is pure rock ear candy, with even my 6 year old son latching onto the uber-catchy, echoing chorus as he rocks out in the back seat!  Definitely more radio friendly than just about anything the band has released since "Voodoo", "Bulletproof" is the perfect song to test the waters with for fans of the band, as Erna's vocals are still instantly recognizable, and the guitars still buzz with edgy life, but there are now hints of synth drawn into the mix, and a slightly reined-in bottom end that doesn't try to overpower your speakers with every drum hit or bass thump.

"Unforgettable" is just that, especially with the use of a children's choir on the second half of the song's choruses, with the interplay between Erna's deeper, edgier vocals being copied by the children word-for-word (including a huge, "whoa-oh-OH-oh-oh"...), while "Take It To The Edge" is a huge, ballsy chant-along rocker that will have fists thrusting into the air in a live setting, as the chorus just begs for Erna to have fans scream along as he taunts them, "I take it to the edge <EDGE!> of life <LIFE!>...".   The punchy, "Every Part Of Me" is sandwiched in there, as well, but should not be overlooked with the grit in the guitars and the thump of the rhythm section driving one of the harder rockers of the first half of the record.

The real curve ball on this album for longtime fans is going to be the beautiful, emotional piano ballad, "Under Your Scars", complete with the previously mentioned strings.  A lyrically raw and vulnerable track, "Under Your Scars" is Godsmack's "November Rain" moment, no question, and if it is not released as a single to massive crossover appeal, I think I may lose any shred of faith I may still have in the music industry, as this is a song unlike any other I have heard in the past few years from a band that was built upon angst and bleakness in so many of their biggest songs.  This song is a huge step for the band and one that really showcases the songwriting of Erna, his ability to structure a song such as this, and his willingness to put himself out there, fully exposed as a lyricist and vocalist.

There are still moments on the record where you can hear elements of Godsmack V 1.0, mostly toward the end, and specifically on the hard-charging "Say My Name", and album closer, "Eye Of The Storm", which seems to straddle the territory between the two sounds of the band while mixing in some thunderstorm effects.  Both are excellent, guitar-driven tracks that allow the band to cut loose a bit more than on other places on the record, and their inclusion actually serves to give the album a completeness that may have been lacking, otherwise. 

Even if the only good songs on this album were the first six, this would be a great effort.  But when all eleven tracks range from really good to excellent, you have a pretty special album on your hands.  When Legends Rise has to be in contention for album of the year when all is said and done in 2018, it is simply that good.  To say otherwise is to simply hold onto any previous biases that listeners may have from the Godsmack of old.

Rating: No way around it, this album is crankable to the extreme.  Crank this to 9.5!

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