By Keavin Wiggins
Boston heavy rockers Godsmack appear to
be in it for the long haul. While many of their contemporaries that they
came to fame with have fallen by the wayside, Godsmack still commands a
large and loyal audience.
Their formula for success wasn’t exactly
groundbreaking, but it was unique enough to set them apart from the other
bands striving for fame and fortune. They took the evolution of grunge
into nu-metal into a slightly different direction when they mixed in just
enough tribal sounds and industrial to create a distinctive style. Comparisons
to Alice in Chains have been rampant since day one, since Godsmack vocalist
Sully Erna does sound quite a bit like the late Layne Staley. But in all
fairness to Godsmack, their music takes a different direction than AIC
with more of a metal edge, “Man in the Box” aside.
Godsmack’s rise to fame wasn’t overnight.
They originally released what would become their self-titled debut album
on indie label EK records in 1997. Originally titled, “All Wound
Up”, the CD captured their attention of several major labels. A bidding
war ensued and Universal Records came out the victor and released the disc
with some additional tracks in August of 1998. From there the band methodically
plodded ahead, slowly building an audience. By the time they were asked
to join Ozzfest 99, they had already sold 500,000 copies of their debut.
But Ozzfest and a string a successful singles kicked their profile into
high gear. When they returned to play Ozzfest in 2000, this time on the
main stage, their debut album had sold 3 million copies (eventually going
Their sophomore album, “Awake”, was released
on Halloween of 2000 and continued the band’s momentum, selling over 2
million copies and earning them a Grammy nomination for the song “Vampires”.
A massive headlining tour followed. Then
frontman Sully Erna took the helm of the soundtrack to “The Scorpion King”
as the Executive Producer. Godsmack’s single from the soundtrack, “I Stand
Alone”, was an instant smash hit and you couldn’t turn on active rock radio
in the Spring of 2002 without hearing it.
The rest of 2002 and early 2003 were spent
on the road and putting the finishing touches on the band’s third release,
“Faceless”. For this album the band refined all of the elements of
their previous work, the industrial edge, the grungy vocals and the post
punk overshadows. The addition of former Amen drummer Shannon Larkin infused
the bottom end with a bit more energy and a different dynamic, which was
really evident on the single, “Straight Out of Line”, which shot to the
top of the radio charts.
In late 2003, the band announced that they
were planning to show the world another side of their personality, with
an EP project called “The Other Side”. It’s an easy guess to say that if
MTV’s “Unplugged” was still in existence Godsmack would have been a shoe
in for the program. But the band liked the idea of an acoustic album, so
they took the task upon themselves to translate some of their previous
hits and present some new songs in a toned down “unplugged” format.
It’s always a risk, especially when you
take hard rockin’ songs and try to present them in the much more subdued
acoustic format. But the format also allows groups to strip their songs
down to the barest essentials and hear the songs at their core. A strong
song can stand on it’s own in this format. Other songs that need the extra
electricity do not.
The irony for Godsmack is that their older
songs, given the unplugged treatment actually come across better than the
new tracks featured on “The Other Side”. “Running Blind” sets the mood
for the CD, the music sounds great but the vocals get a little monotonous
after a while, like the song wants to go somewhere else but doesn’t get
there. Sully sounds strangely similar to James Hetfield’s treatment on
“Nothing Else Matters”.
The second track, a reinterpretation of
“Re-Align” from “Faceless”, makes up for negatives on “Running Blind”,
and really shows what the band is capable of in this format. The vocals
are powerful despite the striped down music. The acoustic guitar solo and
the driving bass also help make this a standout track.
Things only get better with “Touche”, which
features guest appearances from John Kosco (Dropbox) and original Godsmack
guitarist Lee Richards. This probably would have been a much better choice
for the first single from the disc. The lead guitar really leads the song
and Sully has his best moments on this disc. With this track they leave
their AIC influence in the dust and actually come across more as The Doors.
It has that haunting quality in the vocal lines that was so evident in
the more reflective music of Morrison.
“Voice” captures the tribal feel of the
first album but without the electric backdrop. With this one they evoke
a “Moody Blues” vibe. But it’s the next track that is the signature song
for this disc, the band’s unplugged treatment of the classic from their
debut “Keep Away”. It remains powerful but shows more depth. Then
the band revisits “Spiral”, a favorite from “Awake”. If any song was crying
out for an unplugged version, this one was. It comes out flawlessly and
really showcases Sully’s rich vocal style.
The CD ends like it started, with a new
original track--“Asleep”. The subtle music backdrop brings the vocals to
the forefront. My only complaint is the vocal melody doesn’t really take
any risks as it falls into the all too similar Godsmack “Voodoo” direction.
Perhaps that’s why the band decided to leave off a new version of “Voodoo”.
That might be another complaint some fans have, the absence of some of
the Godsmack standards like “Voodoo,” “Whatever” and “I Stand Alone”.
Overall, this experiment really pays off
for the band. It shows a much deeper side to Godsmack when you take away
the wall of electric guitars and the industrial elements. Very few bands
can pull this off but Godsmack make it seem effortless.
To promote this CD and their latest studio
album, “Faceless”, the band has hit the road hard. Even most of their detractors
have to admit that Godsmack puts on one hell of a live show. They are headliners
in their own rights and we will likely see plenty of headlining dates in
2004 but if there is one band that Godsmack would be willing to take a
second chair to, that is Metallica.
When it came time for Metallica to find
a supporting band for their 2004 tour they turned to Godsmack and it was
the right decision. Although not all Metallica fans are likely to have
given Godsmack a chance in the past, it’s a good guess that Godsmack won
over a good share of their previous detractors. Having witnessed them open
for Metallica at the Forum, I’m happy to report that what was once a powerful
live show from the band has gotten more powerful. Unlike this disc where
they strip down their sound, live the band still packs a mean punch as
they plow through their favorites including “Straight Out Of Line”,
“Re-Align”, “Moonbaby”, “Keep Away”, “Whatever” and “I Stand
Alone”. But the real show stopper continues to be the part of the show
that got the fans out of their seats during the 2000 Ozzfest and every
Godsmack tour since, when the band breaks into “Voodoo” and then bring
it down for the drum duel between Sully and now Shannon.
Godsmack may not be for everyone but they
have proven time and time again that they are in this for the long haul
and in 2004, six years after they made their major label debut, the band
appears stronger than ever and ready to keep evolving, rocking their faithful
but also surprising their critics with curveballs like “The Other Side”.