Sound — 7
Right now, one of the biggest stories in rock music is the feud between Chad Kroeger of Nickelback and Stone Sour/Slipknot's Corey Taylor. Both have new albums that have just been released, and both kind of fill that "mainstream hard rock" top spot, both being regarded as highly influential within the genre. But one of the things that was quite intriguing about the feud was Chad calling Stone Sour's music "Nickelback Lite". Never mind that for the most part, Stone Sour's music is far heavier, but of the two bands, it's seemed that Stone Sour was the more likely of the two bands to experiment, with their last two releases being two halves of the "House of Gold & Bones" concept album cycle. While Stone Sour's biggest hits, "Bother" and "Through Glass", may suggest a sound more in direct competition with Nickelback, other hits like "30/30-150" have proven to be quite important metal hits. Some preliminary opinions based on early listens to the record have seemed to have some fans worrying that the album would be "Nickelback Lite", as Chad has claimed.
While the album is far less experimental lyrically and thematically than "House of Gold & Bones" and not quite as heavy as "Come What(ever) May", there are still a fair number of chunky, heavy riffs spread throughout the album. With the intro, "YSIF", leading into "Taipei Person/Allah Tea", the album gives us a riffy, heavy start, with Corey Taylor's harsher vocal style taking front and center, but surprising us with an uplifting melody in the chorus. Fans of Corey's work with Slipknot will no doubt be happy with his vocals here. Josh Rand's and newcomer Christian Martucci's guitar playing is thick and heavy as you'd expect, and both take a fair number of solos throughout the album. Replacing Jim Root, who left the band in 2014, Martucci does a great job stepping in, though I still prefer Root's soloing style. Drummer Roy Mayorga also gets some pretty incredible fills on the song.
The other songs on the album mostly stick close to the formula, heavy riffs, rocking grooves, huge choruses, ripping solos, and bursts of Taylor's vocal aggression. "Knievel Has Landed" boasts an incredible chorus hook, and some grooving bass from Johny Chow. The album's title track is a bit more of a mid-tempo rocker, with some creepy lead guitar hooks. "Song #3" (which, aptly, is the fifth song on the record), seems to be a fair attempt to write a radio-friendly rocker that still has some integrity and credibility to it, and I find this song to be a highlight on the album. "Fabuless", despite its title, is chock full of fabu. Okay, that made no sense, but the album's first single also boasts an incredible chorus and some big Corey shouts, though perhaps the way each line of the chorus ends with "motherfucker!" is a bit too late-'90s nu-metal. "The Witness Trees" seems to evoke 90s-era Rush mixed with more recent Dir en grey in its guitar lines at times, and is a much more melodic song than many of the others on the album. The album seems to get into a bit more of a melodic frame of mind at this point on the album, with the next song "Rose Red Violent Blue (This Song is Dumb & So Am I)" seems a bit more musically adventurous mixing a sort of dark, gothic atmosphere with some good ol' classic rock riffage.
"Thank God It's Over" almost gets into '80s hard rock territory, sounding influenced more by Guns N' Roses and Motley Crue than Alice in Chains and Metallica. The album takes a big departure with the country-rock ballad "St. Marie", which features some great authentic pedal steel guitar (played by Joel Martin), and it's actually a rather pleasant-sounding tune, though perhaps a bit out of place among the much heavier tracks on the album. "Mercy" brings us right back to the formula of the rest of the songs on the album, as does the much heavier "Whiplash Pants", though that one does begin with a nice, creepy piano intro. "Friday Knights" starts with some really great, doomy guitar, and at times almost feels like it could have easily fit on Slipknot's "Vol. 3" with its darker, slower vibe. "Somebody Stole My Eyes" picks up the pace quite significantly, being one of the faster tunes on the album, and a definite headbanger all the way through, one of my favourite heavier tracks on the album. Closing out the record is the lengthy, moody "When the Fever Broke", that, like "St. Marie", showcases a much more mellow side of the band, but in a much different way, with its heavier emphasis on synths and swelling distorted guitars.
Production-wise, Jay Ruston has done a pretty excellent job, having mixed the band's "House of Gold & Bones" records, moving to the producer's chair. The mix is quite loud, but it's not a bad mix, either. The writing is decent on the album, though one of the biggest issues I have with the record overall is the monotony of it. While the band does throw a couple of curveballs like "St. Marie" and "When the Fever Broke", most of the album's 15 tracks are just so similar in composition and tone that it can be quite difficult to get through the album in one sitting without getting bored. That said, the songs, as individual tracks, are quite excellent. The album does have a tendency to get a bit overly long, but listening to chunks of it at a time reveals it to be much better.
Lyrics — 9
"But what does Corey Taylor think?" may well be one of the single most-asked questions to appear on Ultimate-Guitar, and Corey's opinion on things may well be a meme unto itself at this point. But those genuinely looking for the answer to that question generally need to go no further than checking out the lyrics to any song by either of his main projects, and on "Hydrograd", Corey doesn't do well to keep his opinions to himself. Lashing out at social media on "Fabuless", for example, Corey makes it quite clear he's not a fan of internet and reality TV celebrities who are famous for pretty much nothing: "Your beast is just a burden that you never keep in line/This fabuless is really less, gets 'em every time/You roll your eyes for money, don't act like you're impressed/You spread your legs for TV time, baby, who fucks you best". This anger is also present on "Taipei Person/Allah Tea", which presents itself as a more nihilistic theme: "Well you can only scream your heart over and over for so long/Before you know it, you’re gonna lose your fucking mind/So don’t love, don’t hate- everybody’s dying baby I feel great/I’m running out of road but I’m still doing 75".
Corey does show a bit of a sensitive side at times on the album as well, with "Song #3" being about "a passionate, undying love with an unknown outcome": "If you take a step towards me/You will take my breath away/So I'll keep you close/And keep my secret safe/No one else has ever loved me/No one else has ever tried/I never understood/How much I could take/Then I saw the worst was over/When I laid my eyes on you/It was all that I could do to know my place". Corey's vocals are soaring and epic as ever on this album, with a lot of the huge melodies in the choruses showcasing the fact that his voice has become no less powerful over the years. And when the album does take a breather episode, like in the country-rock "St. Marie", Corey shows a surprising amount of versatility and vulnerability, with his voice still fitting in with the music perfectly. Say what you will about "Hydrograd", but Corey Taylor is still one of the greatest vocalists in metal at the moment, and his work on this album only serves to reinforce this. Even his use of harsher vocal elements that one would associate more with Slipknot is still remarkably on-point here on this record.
Overall Impression — 7
So while this current Nickelback/Stone Sour feud is still rather fresh and hardly put to rest yet, the one takeaway a lot of folks had from it was whether Stone Sour would really come off sounding like "Nickelback Lite". And the answer to that is rather simple: no, it isn't. While "Feed The Machine" did have its fair share of heavier moments, it's as heavy as a feather compared to many of the tracks on "Hydrograd". The musicianship between the two bands is also greatly tilted in Stone Sour's favour, with the guitar playing of Christian Martucci and Josh Rand being a far step above Chad Kroeger's and Ryan Peake's.
Compared to other Stone Sour releases, it's pretty much average. The band has not really expanded too much on its formula, and have pretty much stuck to their guns on this record. There's a little bit more classic rock pandering at times, and "St. Marie's" country-rock influence is a bit of a curveball, but if you're a Stone Sour fan, there's little else I can see turning you off from this record. Jim Root's departure does mean some of the soloing is not quite the same as it used to be, but this is hardly an issue, as Martucci's playing is still great.
The biggest issues with this album are really down to its length and monotony. Where Nickelback does have the advantage in this one is that "Feed The Machine" is a bit more diverse of a record, with more ballads, more different tempos and moods, and a bit of funk/pop influence where this album mostly just sticks to alternative metal/hard rock the whole way through, and with 15 songs and over an hour of music, it does have a tendency to drag on quite a bit once you get past the halfway point.
Overall, though, this is a solid record, and far from being the "Nickelback Lite" some have accused it of being. Sorry Chad, but I think we gotta hand this one to Stone Sour. I wonder what Corey Taylor will think of that?