Sound — 4
Sprouting up at the time when rock music was dominated with an influx of post-grunge/alt-metal, Shinedown fit right into the homogenous ranks for better or for worse. Though their early radio hits of "Fly From the Inside," "45" and "Heroes" did well commercially, the band's general sound - emulating that of bigger bands like Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Staind and Godsmack - was panned for its derivation more than it was lauded for its mainstream success. Regardless of this panning, Shinedown would climb to the apex of the pop rock mountain with their 2008 album, "The Sound of Madness," with their singles "Devour" and "Second Chance" becoming some of the most ubiquitous radio hits of that year. That momentum would last a couple years afterwards, but when Shinedown returned with their fourth album, 2012's "Amaryllis," which ultimately showcased a tug-of-war between doubling down on saccharine orchestral pop rock ballads and trying to re-hash the tough alt-metal likes of their earlier sound, the band came off unsure as to how to progress.
Now on their fifth album, "Threat to Survival," Shinedown are, like their peers, adapting their rock sound to the grandiose, anthem-hopeful style of arena rock. But beyond the chock full of stomp-clap beats, rudimentary guitar riffs and sing-alongs (including a children's singalong in "Cut the Cord," which was previously tried out in the "Amaryllis" song "Bully," as well as the singalong melody in "Oblivion" being the same as the bridge singalong in Blackstreet's "No Diggity"), Shinedown are still struggling with how to decorate their sound beyond the basics - the worst of this haphazard reaching is "State of My Head," which tries to wrap together serene post-rock sections, ska-style guitar strums, trap-inspired hi-hat patterns and bubbling dubstep-ish synth arpeggios, resulting in a full-blown mess.
Frontman Brent Smith also shows uncertainty in the direction of his voice. Most noticeably in the album, he tries out a country-tinged singing style in a number of songs (like in "How Did You Love," "It All Adds Up" and "Dangerous"), but with him still coming back to his old, Layne Staley-influenced voice (in "Oblivion") as well as his clean, ballad-designated singing style (in "Misfits"), it ends up being an inconsistent and wishy-washy juggling act. In all this change, the few moments in the album that have the band earnestly rocking out are the most enjoyable ones. Though the tremolo guitar solos in "Asking for It" and "Outcast" aren't standout, the bass activity in the Imagine Dragons-esque uplifter "Thick as Thieves" reminds the listener that Shinedown's bassist Eric Bass can still throw down skillfully, and the bridge of "Black Cadillac" not only blooms a nice crest of guitar layers, but also employs a tempo shift that, albeit simply, pays homage to Soundgarden's "Rhinosaur."
Lyrics — 5
With Smith's lyrical matter in the last two Shinedown albums appealing to more revealing and emotional offerings, "Threat to Survival" shows Smith making more efforts for gruff, hard-lined, "take no shit" lyrical messages. But from his warning to smack-talkers in "Asking for It" and his ode to speaking his mind unapologetically in "Dangerous," to clichéd statements of in "Black Cadillac" ("Pay the price / Gotta roll those dice") and an extraneous harping of terminality in numerous choruses ("Don't be a casualty, cut the cord" in "Cut the Cord"; "The only way I'm leaving is dead" in "State of My Head"; "No one gets out alive / Every day is do or die" in "How Did You Love"; "Every murder has a motive, but you ain't killing me" in "It All Adds Up"), this endeavor overshoots its mark.
And again like in Shinedown's previous albums, the most captivating lyrical moments on the album are those that have Smith getting vulnerable and emotional, found in "Thick as Thieves" and "Misfits." Whereas "Misfits" has Smith nostalgically reveling in rebellious camaraderie with an old friend ("And after all, we never played by their rules / We broke the mold and found our own kind of cool"), "Thick as Thieves" shows Smith looking at the present and how a relationship turned to a cold war of disconnection, and though Smith admits fault for the way things are now ("Evidently this is my mistake / Lost touch but I think I've been replaced"), he still acknowledges how he and whomever he's speaking to will always have a connection.
Overall Impression — 5
In the wake of the messy bridging of the gap between Shinedown's alt-metal aggression and elaborate pop rock ballads in "Amaryllis," "Threat to Survival" has the band abandoning the lot of its instrumental prowess from before and entrenching itself in the current, simple tropes of pop rock. But from its lackluster energy failing to live up to the band's previous efforts, to the confused attempts to branch out sonically, "Threat to Survival" is another safe and nondescript iteration of today's pop rock that ends up being a bland listen.