CD Review of IV by Godsmack

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starstarstarno starno star Label: Republic Records
Released: 2006
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Have you ever been fortunate enough to discover a band long before the mainstream public? Doesn’t it sort of become a bragging right when said band makes it big? That’s how I was with Godsmack when their self-titled debut dropped in 1998. Released in the heart of the nu-metal movement, the band was heavy, angry, lyrically simplistic and indisputably accessible. There wasn’t unprecedented talent on display, but it got the job done as a road rage soundtrack. I predicted immediate success at the time.

Frontman Sully Erna has been through a lot of personal problems over the past few years, and they are clearly the themes of IV, the bands fourth studio release (not counting The Other Side EP, released in 2004). He even spouted the dreaded standby in a recent Revolver Magazine interview: he didn’t know if he wanted to be in the band anymore. Good grief.

When singers have intense personal problems, weird things can happen. IV shows Godsmack as band yearning to break out of its pigeonhole, namely a bunch of down-tuned, droning Alice in Chains leeches. Here they incorporate a harmonica (“Shine Down”), a bluesier feel (“One Rainy Day”), and even the latest flavor of the year in hard rock and metal, a female singer (Lisa Guyer, on “Hollow.”) The results are largely ho-hum, but nevertheless mildly interesting. Like so many well established, one-note bands (although few are as successful), Godsmack is trying to do too much and are greatly overstepping their musical bounds. Much of IV sounds like a poor man’s Load by Metallica, right down to stealing a track name (“Bleeding Me”) and writing a song about your mom (“Mama”).

IV does have a few shining moments, and they come on the tracks that mirror the sound that put them on the map in the first place. The album’s opener, “Livin’ in Sin,” is a ferocious monster of a song. Erna’s guttural growls have never sounded better, and Tony Rombola’s riffing chops are dead on. “No Rest for the Wicked” and “Temptation” offer up similar ass-kickery. Godsmack has not forgotten what made them popular.

Lyrically, IV is about as generic as their other offerings. Erna has never aspired to write challenging lyrics, but here they sound more personal and honest than in past offerings. Erna also turned over some of the songwriting duties to guitarist Rombola, bassist Robbie Merrill, and drummer Shannon Larkin. The collective result is that of a more fluid, complete experience, but far from outstanding.

Many people have tried to reason why Godsmack is so popular, but the answer is a simple one: they just sound good. Their production is top notch and their live show is truly incredible. They’re the kind of heavy hard rock that even your mom can get into after a bad day of work. That, my friends, is what sells records, regardless of talent level.

~Bill Clark