Sound — 8
First of all, I would like to mention something really quick. Just as a disclaimer, I want to say that I think Ultimate Guitar is a great website overall; it's my favorite place to get up-to-date/relevant music news, and I check it everyday. But with that said, I'm a little disappointed at the lack of news regarding Chevelle's newest release, "La Gárgola." I feel like Chevelle is generally well liked among users here, and yet there wasn't any mention of their progress with this new album, their new single, or tour dates, or anything. But of course, there was a whole article about how Courtney Love thought she had found parts of the missing Malaysian airliner. I even contacted the UG staff about a month ago regarding the lack of an an article about their new single "Take Out the Gunman." They've been around for over a decade, and I feel like now, more than ever, they could use a little bit of extra publicity. There's a reason they consistently sell out headlining shows and make the top 10 on the billboard charts.
Anyways, on to the actual review...
Although I've been a big fan of Chevelle for many years, I must admit that I was a little bit disappointed by their 2011 album "Hats Off to the Bull." I wasn't very impressed by the overall production, done by Joe Barresi. It's definitely their softest sounding album in my opinion, and although I respect the fact that they were trying something new, I feel like I didn't "get it," and it sort of just fell short. This time around though, on "La Gárgola," the top quality production value was one of the first things I noticed upon listening. Mr. Barresi has redeemed himself in my opinion, haha.
I'll begin by describing some of the songs that I consider to be highlights.
The album starts off with one of the heaviest tracks Chevelle has released since I can remember called "Oujia Board." It is in drop C (I think the whole album is). It has an awesome driving beat to it that is perfect to headbang to. There's a part in the bridge, and at the end, that sort of reminds me of System Of A Down. It's catchy, full of energy, and it rocks. It's a great opener to get you pumped up about what's to come in the album. Awesome song.
The second song is called "An Island." The guitar has a unique, ultra fuzzy, yet smooth sound to it. This is probably the catchiest track on the album. The beat in the main riff is kind of tricky to pin down, and it has a has a really cool groove to it. Very good work by Sam (the drummer) in this one. The vocals sound reminiscent of Maynard from Tool (who their sound has often been compared to in the past) at some parts. Like the last track, this song really picks up in the bridge. Chevelle's creativity has always really shined through in the bridges of their songs in my opinion. It almost sounds like a different song, and then the big chorus comes back with authority.
The fourth track called "Hunter Eats Hunter" was released about a week before the album, and it got me really excited to hear their new stuff. The chorus kind of sounds like something from their album "This Type of Thinking." Again, the bridge in this song is awesome. There is a light part that sounds a bit like something from their album "Vena Sera" (except better haha). It builds with Pete's vocals sounding slightly distorted, and it crescendos into a really cool scream/screech. Then there's a cool, heavy riff that morphs into another heavy riff with Pete singing the title of the song a few times. Layers of guitar screams and backing vocals build on themselves until it sounds almost messy (in a good way), and then the chorus comes back. Definitely one of the best songs Chevelle has released in a while.
The seventh track, "Choking Game," has really grown on me. My first impression of this song was that it was a bit too repetitive, the flow of energy was a bit misguided, and the builds and releases fell a bit flat. But it's now become one of my favorites from the album. It's very progressive and has a unique pace to it. Once I kind of wrapped my head around the structuring of it after a few listens, I felt like I could appreciate it better. There is an awesome build and release at the end of the song that gets me pumped up every time I listen to it. Lots of guitar layers pile on top of themselves and there is an awesome, distorted wah-wah sound that really adds to the satisfying heaviness of the final riff.
There isn't a bad song on the album. My least favorite might actually be the first single "Take Out the Gunman." Mostly just because it's not as heavy as the rest of the album. Although it's said to have been inspired by the recent surge of school shootings, it honestly kind of sounds like they were trying to write a song for a first person shooter game commercial or something haha. There are a couple of slow songs called "One Ocean" and the closing track, "Twinge." The guitar on "One Ocean" is primarily clean with a lot of delay and it is accompanied by light, airy vocals; it's actually pretty beautiful. "Twinge" is also a really good change of pace. The drums and bass are very in sync with each other in a nice slow groove, and the guitar sound is fairly ambient. Something about this song is very hypnotic. It almost reminds me of when I was once prescribed painkillers, just how everything slows down and feels warm when you're on them.
Also, I just want to mention a small part in the ninth song called "Under the Knife." The bass sounds great in this one. At the 2:12 and 2:19 marks, there is this huge, low, bass note that rings out and fills the background soundscape of the song. It's subtle, but it sounds sooo cool when you have headphones on and turn the volume way up.
Lyrics — 7
I bought this album on iTunes so it took me a few days to find the correct lyrics online and actually sit down and read them. I've always liked the lyrics in Chevelle's music. In interviews Pete Loeffler has emphasized that he makes it a point not to write about relationships or breakups or anything too personal like that because it makes for stale lyrical content. Topics such as those have been beaten to death in most all popular music. He has also said that he never considers rhyming when coming up vocals. Like most of their other albums, the lyrics are mostly vague and abstract that occasionally hint at overarching themes. A few themes I sensed throughout the album include: the encouragement of self exploration/actualization, obsession with the night, some environmentalist themes, confrontations with dark parts of the psyche (represented by phantasmal entities), and other progressive themes. Nothing truly mind blowing or anything, but definitely insightful enough to hold the listener's attention throughout.
Pete's voice sounds great. He certainly utilizes his vast vocal range. There are shifts from slow parts that morph into beautifully clean, soaring harmonies, and his energy sounds consistently genuine. I'm also glad that his awesome scream makes several appearances on the album. He's definitely one of my favorite vocalists in rock music today. I feel like Pete's lyrics, voice, and guitar tones are what really separates them from other bands. In fact, Chevelle is basically the only band in the hard rock/alternative metal genre that I really like; most all of the other ones are pretty much crap in my humble opinion.
There are a couple of parts that are slightly cringe inducing though, like when "spooky creatures of the night" are candidly eluded to. But that's fine, very solid lyrics overall which is to be expected by Chevelle.
Overall Impression — 8
Overall, I am extremely satisfied with "La Gárgola." I've listened to it in its entirety about six times now and am still not even close to sick of it. It definitely has that heavy edge to it that I feel "Hats Off to the Bull" seemed to have lacked almost completely. I was glad to find that there is a lot of organic energy that shines through on it. I think they're a great live band, and it's disappointing when their live energy gets drowned out by over-production (which is what happened on their album "Vena Sera" in my opinion). Although it's clear that there was a lot of post-production done on the album, I think it compliments their raw energy rather than overshadows it. The whole album has a wonderful flow to it; the order of the songs is perfect. The slow songs don't sound out of place whatsoever. The band sounds tighter than ever, and each member seems to have contributed an equal amount of creative input. I'm always impressed by the huge, full sound they can pull off being just a three piece.
If I had to criticize it in some ways though, I guess I'm not in love with the whole "gargoyle" thing. The album cover is pretty dumb, and like I said earlier, lyrical mentions to "creatures of the night" and the like, come off as a bit contrived. Although the dark, haunting, creepy vibes the album gives off at points is cool, the blatant allusions to "spooky entities" is a bit trivial and uninspired. In fairness though, the more I read about the history and symbolism of gargoyles in religious text, and sculptures throughout history on wikipedia and stuff, the more interesting it seems. Also, although the production is very on point in general, it does sound a bit too crisp and shiny for my liking at some parts.
The album only has ten tracks, which is one less than their usual eleven tracks. There are no bonus songs or anything. But that's not a big deal, just about every song is well over four minutes. I definitely prefer each individual song to have a distinctly different creative aim and vibe to them (which they do) over having more songs; quality over quantity. Although the slow songs are good, I do wish there was an acoustic track ("Highlands Apparition" off of their album "Sci-Fi Crimes" is one of my favorite songs by them). I could also say that the BIG chorus thing can get a bit old. There are many instances of unique progressiveness throughout the album, but sometimes I wish they'd throw out the whole verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-chorus structure and try something totally new. I may be a bit harsh in that saying that though, The Dillinger Escape Plan is one of my absolute favorite bands, and most of their songs are absolute chaos.
So yeah, Chevelle totally delivered, and this is a very solid album. Their albums "Point #1" and "Sci-Fi Crimes" are tied in first for my favorites by them, but this one comes in a close second along with "This Type of Thinking" I think.
If you made it all the way through, thanks for reading =) I didn't mean to write so much.