Sound — 7
Pennsylvania natives CKY have always seemed a bit enigmatic to me. Associations with Bam Margera (whose brother, Jess, plays drums for this band) and the whole "Jackass" series have always kind of turned me off from this band, but any time I've ever heard songs by CKY, I'd always been pleasantly surprised by the band's talent and writing skills. Their genre-defying style has incorporated elements of punk, stoner rock and alternative metal over the years, and on "The Phoenix", the band seems to opt for a dance-y mix of hard rock with slight industrial and stoner-rock tinges. This is their first release since 2009's "Carver City", and the long wait since then comes down to some massive internal turmoil within the band, leading to the departure of former frontman Deron Miller and the switch in position for lead guitarist Chad I Ginsburg to lead vocal position, leaving the band as a trio, including drummer Jess Margera and bassist Matt Deis.
The first thing one notices about this album is that it's quite short, barely over 30 minutes long with its eight tracks. Starting with lead single "Replaceable", it's clear that Chad is quite vocally different from Deron Miller, featuring a deeper voice that lends more to the album's "stoner rock" comparisons, and a highly effected guitar riff that almost gives the track a dance/industrial edge. "Days of Self Destruction" continues in a similar vein, with a heavy synthesizer influence, but a bit less of a dance-y beat, and being rather an effective continuation of the alt-metal of "Carver City". Chad absolutely rips during the song's solo section, putting his Paul Gilbert influence to good use, in a blistering guitar duel with Brent Hinds of Mastodon that will make you incredibly upset at the solo's quick fade-out.
"Unknown Enemy" pushes the synthesizers and vocal harmonies to the forefront again, giving the track a sort of post-disco kind of vibe, and honestly, I consider this one of the weaker tracks on the album, though the band does pull off the disco-metal thing better than Nickelback has at times. "Head for a Breakdown" is another somewhat weak track for me, one where I just don't feel the vocal melody really works and the song as a whole feels kind of plodding. "The Other Ones" returns to the sort of dance-rock style, with heavy effects on Chad's vocals. "Wiping Off the Dead" grooves on a strong odd time signature beat, and features another strong Ginsburg guitar solo. "Lies From You" is another sort of plodding mid-tempo alt-metal tune, nothing incredibly memorable. Same goes with the closing track "Better Than Get Even", which features more of that sort of disco-beat hard rock, though the track culminates in a pretty epic riff to close out the album.
All in all, the writing is not bad on the album, but it does feel like there's a disproportionately large number of plodding mid-tempo alt-metal tracks, and the production is a bit on the overblown side, with more effects on the guitars and vocals than is entirely necessary, sometimes ruining what could otherwise be perfectly serviceable parts. But the musicianship is still incredibly solid, especially from Chad I Ginsburg, who steps up to the frontman position quite well without sacrificing his guitar skills.
Lyrics — 7
Much like the demonic image on the front cover of "The Phoenix", this is an album that deals with some dark subject matter. While tracks like "Replaceable" are almost kind of empowering, being about letting no one stand in your way ("My mind is my weapon/Strong from within/And I will live forever/The phoenix is born again/Yet you lie, deny, and steal/Delusional for real/So when you're in my presence/You should fuckin' kneel/You need attention/You're replaceable/And have I failed to mention?/You're replaceable/Yeah you're replaceable"), the majority of the lyrics seem to deal with battling one's own demons, and such subjects are the central feature to tracks like "Days of Self-Destruction": "Anger/There left to burn a lonely hole/Question your goals/You haven't earned any answers/Patience/Your swollen greed surpassed your needs/Enough's enough/And you will rot from the inside".
Chad I Ginsburg steps up to replace former frontman Deron Miller, and while Deron's vocals were more in the vein of classic metal, Chad tends more for the bassy stoner rock vibe, and it's a good fit for the music, but there are often so many vocal effects on the album that it tends to obscure otherwise good performances, and a few of the vocal melodies do nothing for me, such as the one on "Head for a Breakdown", which almost evokes country-rock. Even so, his vocals, while different, are still competent and mostly work well with the songs.
Overall Impression — 7
While this band has been traditionally known for being rather difficult to pigeonhole, it seems that without Deron Miller, the band has taken a bit more of a straightforward dance-rock/alt-metal approach, and in a way, rather comparable to the recently released "Feed The Machine" by Nickelback. It's a bit of a mixed bag, with some excellent performances and a couple of pretty good songs, but some overblown production and some rather boring mid-tempo numbers that fail to really pick up the pace or mood of the album. It leads to the otherwise very short album (just clocking in at a little over half an hour long) to feel much longer than it is. That said, there's no questioning this band's talent and ability to persevere without one of their founding members, and the good moments are definitely worth checking out this album for, and while easily comparable to Nickelback's latest release in terms of stylistic convention, this is definitely a better album in many ways. Overall, a pretty solid record.