Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Godsmack: The Oracle (2010) Review

Godsmack has always inhabited that murky borderland between hard rock and heavy metal. Their 1998 debut incorporated obvious influences of two other groups which lived in that same region, White Zombie and Alice in Chains. In 2000, their sophomore release Awake saw them developing a more original, and decidedly more metal-oriented sound, and 2003's Faceless was more of the same, though slightly less inspired from a songwriting perspective.

Perhaps sensing a decline in their songwriting, the band recorded the all-acoustic EP The Other Side the following year (much like AiC). Without massive sound and distortion to hide behind, it forced them to approach songwriting differently. They used these lessons well on 2006's IV, which incorporated blues-rock elements. Though extremely well-written, that album didn't have quite the energy and punch Godsmack was known for; instead of leaning toward metal, it leaned much further toward rock.

After four long years of nothing but two new tracks (one original and one cover) and a compilation, The Oracle represents Godsmack's triumphant return. To prepare for this review I listened to it, then their entire back catalog, and then listened to it again.

Anyone put off by the relative mellowness of IV can breathe easy. The album has no acoustic tracks, and it's as heavy as their debut. At the same time, they've managed to keep the high-quality songwriting of their last album, including some of the bluesy parts. In fact, it seems they've drawn on all the elements that made their prior albums work, and built on top of it: compare "Time Bomb" to "Saints & Sinners", "Situation" to "What If?", the instrumental title track to "Vampires", "Make Me Believe" to "War & Peace", or "Speak" to "Cryin' Like a Bitch."

This is not to say they're simply rehashing old material; instead, it feels more like they've built a new album firmly on the foundation of their past. If you're looking for a truly new addition, "Devil's Swing" has a jazz scat kind of rhythm to it, and "Love-Hate-Sex-Pain" is a total original.

The production is also of much better quality than IV--more on par with Awake or Faceless. My only quibble is it seems like they've turned the instruments down slightly during the verses in favor of louder vocals.

The Verdict: The Oracle proves that the multi-platinum hard rock/metal band still has it. They've captured the songwriting prowess of IV and combined it with the heavy intensity of their debut. Because they don't explore much new territory, it's unlikely to win any new fans, but it will definitely please anyone who's already a fan. I have been one for 12 years now, so I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

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