I don’t believe Godsmack have ever had the easiest run in this country compared to their success with our less cynical trans-Atlantic cousins. Perhaps it is their name, wilfully pilfered from an Alice in Chains song, perhaps it is their timing; appearing soon after the grunge explosion along with bands such as Creed (although in truth Godsmack were always considerably better than Scott Stapp and his nausea-inducing cohorts) but whatever it was, they just never really seemed to do so well over here despite having a handful of decent tunes (‘Voodoo’ in particular was a highlight) and a good singer in Sully Erna. Now, back with prodigious timing (following AIC’s hugely successful reformation) and a fifth album Godsmack have a lot to prove.
Opening with ‘cryin’ like a bitch’ is a good move, its mid-tempo stomp nicely aligned to Sully’s earthy, James Hetfield-esque vocals and the band offering up a more straight forward rock approach than AIC’s soulful groove, although the chorus is weaker than one might have hoped, the whole track actually recalling Metallica around their much maligned ‘Load’ era. ‘Saints and sinners’ is a bass-led groove that reaffirms the notion that Godsmack have set out to prove themselves on this record although Sully’s vocals, while competent, once again veer so close to Hetfield’s that it is quite distracting at times. Nonetheless there is a solid rock at Godsmack’s core and Tony Rombola peels off a guitar solo that helps to keep things moving forward. ‘War and peace’ is definitely a step in the right direction, an off-kilter track that sees the band assert their own sound far more than on the previous two tracks and with good effect. ‘Love-hate-sex-pain’ is a better song than its sixth-form title would suggest, offering up a world-weary sound that is straight out of the AIC school of song-writing, albeit with a more metallic slant. ‘What if?’ is a better track with a haunting vocal and a strong bass groove underpinning the guitar-work. It evokes mixed feelings as it highlights the heights to which Godsmack can climb when they step away from their AIC fixation.
Having slowly established their own identity on the preceding tracks, Godsmack continue the good work with ‘Devil’s swing’ a heavy track with a strong vocal performance and an addictive groove. ‘Good day to die’ is another standout track, opening with a spidery riff that crawls over the main track which is a brutal mid-tempo groove that reminds the listener exactly why alternative metal was so enjoyable. Nostalgic it may be, but it’s also undeniably Godsmack’s own and all the better for it. The same cannot be said of ‘Forever shamed’ which is merely OK thanks to an overly Metallica-esque sound that does credit to neither band. ‘Shadow of a soul’ fades in with wah-inflected guitar and pounding drums and it firmly makes up for the previous track, all shimmering cymbal and squealing guitar recalling a metal version of Mad season. Final track ‘the oracle’
This is a strong album and my words will not change the minds of the band’s fans, nor would I wish to, but Godsmack still suffer from a tendency to rely too strongly on the works of other bands when they are more than capable enough of crafting their own sound as evidenced by the second half of the disc. As a result, they produce albums which are merely good, rather than stunning which is a shame because every member of the band is a strong performer and you can’t help but feel that if they broke out of the self-imposed straightjacket of familiarity they could produce something truly world-beating. That said, if you dig mid-nineties rock/metal in the vein of Metallica, AIC and STP then you could do a lot worse then get hold of this record – it’s sure as hell a lot better than the current resurgence of nu-metal bands that are threatening to strip the soul from heavy music once more.