Sound — 8
Coal Chamber formed in 1993 as one of the earlier nu metal bands, though with a darker gothic vibe and without the hip-hop element that later became one of the defining characteristics of the genre. The current lineup of the band is essentially the same lineup as when the band disbanded in 2003. The founding bass player, Rayna Foss, had been replaced by Nadja Peulen shortly before the breakup, which makes her the only non-founding member in the band (if you don't count drummer, Mike Cox, who came in a few months too late to technically be a founding member). While the band's early singles charted fairly well, their last album, "Dark Days," only had one charting single - "Fiend." Their current and fourth full-length studio album, "Rivals," has 14 tracks and clocks in at approximately 45 minutes. The first single released from the album, "I.O.U. Nothing," was released in early March. A video for "Suffer in Silence" was released in mid-April and features industrial music icon, Al Jourgensen of Ministry.
The album opens up with the lead single, "I.O.U. Nothing," which actually provides a pretty good microscopic view of the album. The riffs are interesting, though maybe a little cliché, though the vocals are strong. The song's weak point is definitely the chorus - at least for this listener. "Bad Blood Between Us" opens up with an almost psychedelic delayed riff, but moves into a phased groove on guitar and drums which is really the defining quality of this track. "Light in the Shadows" really shows off Fafara, and it has an interesting little lead guitar part, but doesn't quite open up like I'm waiting for. I do enjoy the portion near the end where the drums and bass have a march-type of riff going on. "Suffer in Silence" is basically heavy guitar with a wah effect and includes Al Jourgensen from Ministry as a guest on vocals - and he does an excellent job. "The Bridges You Burn" is going into the realm of groove that was probably the strongest characteristic of good nu metal (if that isn't an oxymoron?). The vocals are mixed pretty good on this track, too, which really helps keep this track from sounding monotonous. "Orion" has its own style of vocals, and really a pretty unique sound compared to the rest of the album - weird disjointed guitar riffs and clean spoken vocals, and whispers, mostly. "Another Nail in the Coffin" is mostly a straightforward track, though it does get kind of frenetic during the choruses.
Next up is the title track, "Rivals," which opens up with some guitar noise and some other random sounds before you hear Fafara breathing and vocals coming in. This track has an exceptional vocal performance. "Wait" opens up with a bassline you can hear, but once the other instruments come in it seems the bass is mixed too low, like most of the rest of the album. The chorus on this is really just kind of funny when you think about it, "wait just a goddamned minute, let me catch my breath"... that doesn't exactly sound tough and metal. The solo on this one is kind of simple, but is very welcome due to the spare lead guitar work on the album. "Dumpster Dive" opens up with a little bit of an industrial vibe to it, and is essentially a 70 second instrumental interlude. "Over My Head" is really carried by the vocals - the guitars and the drumming are heavy but not really innovative, the actual lyrics aren't anything great, but the vocal performance is really strong. The track "Fade Away (Karma Never Forgets)" is a pretty strong track, but the lead guitar is mixed too low for my tastes. I really trip out at how heavy-handed (in a good way) that Mike Cox is behind his kit - some of the heaviest drumming I've heard lately. It just makes the drums seem more present. "Empty Handed" is largely carried by a heavy riff that ends with some natural harmonics, then rinse and repeat. I don't think that Nadja Peulen is gonna get credit for being a "great" bassist, but between her and Mike Cox, they get into some strong grooves. The album closes out with the track, "Worst Enemy," which sounds kind of like the opening to a horror movie in the first 20 or 30 seconds, but stretches its legs a little after that bit. It is a good track to end the album with - not one of the strongest tracks, but similar to "I.O.U. Nothing" as it seems to be a microscopic view of the album. I really find myself enjoying this album more with each listen.
Lyrics — 8
B. Dez Fafara has had a lot of practice since Coal Chamber broke up as lead vocalist for his band DevilDriver. This essentially has Fafara coming back to the game with a serious upgrade in vocal chops from the last Coal Chamber release. I can't appreciate all the lyrics on the album, as some of them come off just a little bit silly, but I absolutely respect the vocal skill that Fafara brings. Al Jourgensen of Ministry provides some guest vocals on "Suffer in Silence" and it is definitely a strong track. I'm finding very limited information on the internet about this, but Al Jourgensen was initially going to collaborate on the album and not just one track - there are several times I've found myself listening trying to decide if I was listening to Fafara or Jourgensen... but according to a few people I've spoken with and some articles online, their collaboration ended with "Suffer in Silence" on the album. The backing vocals on the album certainly aren't "bold" or "defining" for the most part, but they add value subtly to the album, as a whole. As a sample of the lyrics, here are some from the track, "Suffer in Silence": "Suffer in silence/ Underneath the darkened skies/ Through sleepless eyes, it leaves me wanting/ It keeps raining all day and all night/ The wind it bowls like it never happened, never happened/ The moon is so full we're losing all sight/ It's just like it never happened, never happened/ Midnight walks through cemetery blocks/ Won't be the same without you." These are some of the stronger lyrics from the album, and they just don't seem very creative or original to me.
Overall Impression — 7
I was a fan when Coal Chamber came out in the '90s, but not such a big fan that I realized they had broken up when I didn't see any new releases from them in the mid 2000's. The compilation albums kept coming, and they never really got played on the radio, anyway, so I assumed they were wiling away in a studio somewhere, working on a new album until I kind of forgot them completely. When I heard about "Rivals" and caught up on the history of the band, I started getting carefully excited for this new release and luckily I wasn't let down. This is a pretty solid album - especially for a band that has pretty much been out of the game for over a decade. My absolute favorite track from the album would have to be "Suffer in Silence," if for no other reason than Al Jourgensen is a genius and it shows on that track. I like "Orion" quite a bit, too, just because it is an interesting change of pace from the rest of the album. There is really a lot that I found to enjoy on the album, and I couldn't name a track that I dislike.