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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 4xPlatinum). 

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”.  

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