Big Al’s Metal Shop

It seems that March 6 will bring us the much-awaited, much-leaked, much-debated, and perhaps over-hyped release of Chinese Democracy. For a while, it seemed the real thing (i.e., democracy in China) had a better chance of happening before we got the album, but Axl promises that this is, tentatively, the real thing. Unless of course... Nah, forget it. It’s coming, and if you’ve seen the band live or watched the concert videos on YouTube, then it should come as no surprise that this is worth talking about. Songs like “Better,” “The Blues,” and “There Was A Time” (awesome acronym) all push the envelope of hard rock, building a bridge linking the present to the ’90s. With a musical sense that evokes Stevie Wonder and Queen battling a feral Zeppelin, these three songs alone prove that the man still has it. If only we could get our grubby paws on it...

Speaking of March 6, it’s on that day that another band is due to release an album that will hopefully revitalize its career. Resurrection, from Cleveland’s Chimaira, marks the band’s first album since departing from Roadrunner Records, and it finds the band embracing the core elements of its sound. Of course, there is thrash and yes, there’s the industrial “clang,” but like Fear Factory at their peak in the mid ’90s, the result sounds wholly natural. There are no singles on Resurrection; it is not a comeback. Rather, it is a band whose members have benefited from a steady evolution of albums, allowing them to stretch their legs and settle into a solid unit. If you’ve heard the band before, then most likely you’ve heard the anthem “Power Trip.” Perhaps you even saw Chimaira’s gritty documentary, The Dehumanizing Process, which tells the story of the band’s slow decay and hopeful rebirth.

Still, I would argue that this latest is not a resurrection but an awakening. This is evidenced by epics like “Six,” which begins with simple acoustic guitars and bent-notes evoking Arabic sensibilities — winding into a twistedly simple solo — only to later blend effortlessly into hardcore. Not chugga-chugga like Hatebreed (who I also love), but rather the deliberately slow pace of a band with nothing left to prove. Piano and orchestration weave into the song and dissipate, leaving the listener with a sense of satisfaction that Chimaira has indeed found a formula that should serve the band for years to come. The rest of the album is diverse, but if I was to nominate a coherent theme throughout, it would be the battle between foreground and background. Not to be mistaken with the common tool of light and shade, “The Flame” is another, albeit disturbing, example of that dynamic. Starting off with the tortured screams of a woman about to be struck with a blunt object, the horror we feel is mostly transmuted into rage, but not forgotten. Rather, it lingers there. A polished effort from a band that has established itself as worthy of being in the same league as Machine Head and Testament — as American heavyweights.

Finally, another heavyweight makes a significant return of sorts. While New Orleans is primarily regarded in this country as the home of jazz, the city has hosted a thriving metal scene for the past two decades. Corrosion of Conformity, Down, and Exhorder are just a few of the bands that combine Southern sensibilities with punk to form a sludge that works oh so well. Exhorder is even credited by some pundits as being the true originator of the power metal groove that is commonly associated with Pantera and White Zombie. For one thing, lead singer Kyle Thomas did his part to expand the range of metal vocals and is not given the attention he deserves among the general public.

After Exhorder disbanded, Thomas went on to front various bands and has now landed with Alabama Thunderpussy. Though I can honestly say that I was never really into the band before, it’s clear Monsieur Thomas has brought something extra to the table. Perhaps a throwback to the early ’80s new wave of British heavy metal, the structure is classic metal with precise guitar work. What’s interesting is the way that Thomas contrasts with this change in style — imagine Phil Anselmo as the frontman for Iron Maiden. It’s a curious mix, and I must say that this apparent disconnect between vocal and musical styles is what has kept this album in my car for the past couple of weeks. It’s one of those types that may turn some off the band, but I’d say it’s one of the most interesting albums of this young semester.

Before I go, a big thank you to last year’s Pillbox staff, especially to our editor Kristen, whom I unceremoniously forgot to thank after thanking a list of publicists and label people in my year-end column. Obrigado!

Rock Hard, Ride Free