April 23, 2018 Godsmack – When Legends Rise (Album Review)
Sometimes when the road appears the darkest, light emerges from it all, shining a new way. This could very well be the case for the multi-platinum selling Hard Rock behemoth known as Godsmack as they prepare to unleash their new album, When Legends Rise, on Friday, April 27, 2018 through BMG.
Out of the working class town of Lawrence, Massachusetts, Godsmack has been a band that’s image has been cloaked in dark lyrical and musical undertones for over 2 decades. Combining a mix of an impeccable rhythm section, a unique singing style of Sully Erna, and songs that thematically range from personal anguish to straight up anger, they are arguably one of the biggest heavy Rock acts to emerge in the modern era. Additionally, their imagery has always been that of a darker nature, with each of their album covers dressed in a black backdrop with orange and red accent colors. That in mind, When Legends Rise, baring a white cover with grey and a faint red tint, insinuating Godsmack are set to step in a new direction.
Coming 4 years after 2014’s 1000hp, the band’s 5th consecutive album to break the top 10 on the US Billboard 200, a lot has happened in the world of Godsmack. First, the band had to fight off rumors they were were breaking up, which was simply never the case. In fact, each respective member – Leader Sully Erna, Lead Guitarist Tony Rombola, Bassist Robbie Merrill, and Drummer Shannon Larkin – made it quite clear Godsmack, as a unit, was as strong as ever. Like any group of colleagues/friends, a diversion from the norm is needed, and in 2016, Erna put out his sophomore solo album, Hometown Life, while Rombola, along with Larkin, teamed up for a Blues Rock hybrid project called The Apocalypse Blues Revue. Secondly, for the first time in 20 years, they have a new label, bidding adieu to Universal/Republic and signing on with BMG. Not really all that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, but in a way, could be looked at as a fresh start.Reconvening after writing, recording, and touring each of their other respective creative outlet, Godsmack’s When Legends Rise was born.
Quite different than what you might expect from Godsmack, who as stated, has been known for a gritter sound, When Legends Rise is sonically their most clean record to date. Before jumping the gun and writing off the new direction, take a closer look and understand what it really all means. Recorded at their headquarters (GSHQ), in Derry, New Hampshire, this go around, Erna changed it up, teaming with Erik Ron to produce the album. Ron, who has had success with other modern Rock acts such as I Prevail and Motionless in White, certainly brings a new perspective to the Godsmack den. What does that mean exactly?
For one, the album possesses a little less of the dirty bite of their prior recordings, but again, do not jump ship just yet. The guitars are thick and up front, the drums are large and full of life, while Erna’s voice is as passionate as ever. So what is really all that different then? Well, instead of creating that fury in your chest like say 1998’s self-titled debut album or 2006’s IV did, When Legends Rise provokes a sense of relief, and dare we say, a sense of hope. You see, like any good lyricist/songwriter, Erna writes from real life situations, and in the past, he had a lot to be pissed off about. Now a seasoned father of a lovely young lady, beyond such, Erna has weathered the storm of external and internal demons. With a sense of clarity, that truthfully only comes with age, there is still a fight and resistance felt on When Legends Rise, but it is more about finding resolve and tranquility in this wild world rather wanting to pulverize it.
Take the album’s lead single, “Bulletproof,” for example, one that may have initially come as a surprise to longtime fans. Here Godsmack offer their signature guitar crunch but with an out of character melodic layering amidst it all. More colorful, once Erna’s voice kicks in, the emotion remains as sincere as ever, but appears to becoming for a different place than the past. Truthfully, it is a flawless introduction to the direction of Godsmack version 2018.
From there, other songs like “Unforgettable” and “Every Part Of Me” have a similar larger than life sound to that of “Bulletproof,” but even more irresistible chant-along chorus lines. That in mind, perhaps the strongest and most cutting moments early on come with “Take It To The Edge” where Erna blasts out a rough and clean vocal style that is right from the heart, as the backing instrumentation support the emotion. Perminating the sense of a man who refuses to go out quietly, this is the fire Godsmack is known for!
Of course diversity is the spice of life, and if everything remained the same for 20 years, what would be the point of it all? Processing that for a moment, one of the biggest and most pleasant surprises of all comes with “Under Your Scars.” Begun with a simple piano, it builds to a beautiful orchestrated piece of music with layers of strings matched with shimmering drums and guitar. Clearly a product of Erna’s experimentation on his solo albums such as 2010’s Avalon and the aforementioned Hometown Life, it is a masterful song Godsmack should wear proudly.
Picking it right back up, Godsmack continue to show there is plenty of fire left in their belly on “Someday,” “Just One Time,” and “Say My Name,” a song where Rombola really shows off his brilliance as a lead guitarist. Then, perhaps one of the most perfectly mastered tracks on the album, “Let It Out” takes it back to yesteryear with a classic drum stick click-in before the guitars emerge on the right and then left as each instrument sounds level, but dynamic, fitting right into place. A wonderful display of audio engineering, this before Godsmack leave you with one last parting gift that is a throwback to the gritter feeling of their earlier material with “Eye Of The Storm.” Without copying themselves, they keep it fresh and genuinely furious to the very last note.
When it is all said and done, When Legends Rise settles in as one of Godsmack’s strongest records in years. Yes, it is a bit different, but that is not a bad thing. Evolution is important and Godsmack has done that all while not veering too far off the path of who they are. Each song is equally as potent as the last thanks to some really strong writing and arrangements. That is why CrypticRock gives this album 4.5 out of 5 stars. Step out of the darkness and into the light, Godsmack are back with When Legends Rise!