But Listen: 143: Coal Chamber – Rivals

It’s kinda weird, really. One throwaway Facebook post a few months back resulted in a massive wave of nostalgic recollections from a whole host of my friends, which led to a surprisingly popular Tuesday Ten on the subject of Nu-Metal. It then got distinctly odd when the revival gathered pace, with yet more reformations and tours, JNCO trousers becoming available again, and then a UK package tour involving Coal Chamber, SOiL and Dope got announced, as well as the first new Coal Chamber album in twelve years or so.

I was beginning to wonder “what had I unleashed?”. As were a few of my friends, who kept sending me links about this Nu-Metal revival. It had to come eventually, I guess – the nostalgic music press are always keen to hark back, much as the labels are, never mind the bands, and it means another payday for the bands, and a chance to reminisce for the rest of us.

The thing is, if we’re being really honest, not all of the bands that are returning were actually that great in the first place, particularly from this scene, and I’m not convinced they all deserved a first chance, never mind a second.

Which brings me onto Coal Chamber’s new album. Was there really that much of a clamouring for their return? Dez Fafara had long since moved onto his (far more successful, both critically and commercially) new(er) band DevilDriver, which a much heavier, less derivative sound, and the less we say about the second and third Coal Chamber albums (“there was a third?”, you say? Trust me on this when I say “don’t bother”. Really.), the better. Ok, so there were, if I’m being charitable, four good songs on their debut – immortal metal-club floor-fillers Loco and Sway, the grinding, seething Bradley, and the toy-truck ode of Big Truck. But the rest was throwaway, and this doesn’t seem enough for a retrospective.

But what do I know? The tour – particularly the London show, which sold out KOKO – apparently was well-attended, and word was that it was good fun. Was this purely nostalgia, or is the album actually any good? Let’s dive in…

From the off, there isn’t anything particularly surprising about opener I.O.U. Nothing. It chugs, it has a chorus roaring the title, it’s a cross between DevilDriver and Coal Chamber. Bad Blood Between Us continues with a similar idea, but is a bit slower, and Light in the Shadows follows that at exactly the same pace.

Three songs in, almost exactly ten minutes, and I’m already wondering what the point of this was. It’s not that bad, I guess, but by this point I’ve forgotten about nine of the minutes that have passed.

It doesn’t improve, either. Suffer In Silence has a cool, effects-laden guitar solo, but otherwise doesn’t deviate at all (apparently Al Jourgensen – from another band, of course, long-since not worth bothering with, sadly – is bellowing along with Dez, but is almost unrecognisable), while The Bridges You Burn sees Dez attempt a rap-style, staccato vocal delivery, which interestingly enough simply makes him sound like Rob Flynn on The Burning Red, while the intro riffing sound like it was taken wholesale from Mudvayne’s far-superior Internal Primates Forever.

By the time I get to the title track, twenty-five minutes have passed, and absolutely nothing of note has happened. This track has a distinct Korn-like feel to it, and it also is where I realised the main problem with this album. It isn’t that it is dull – it is just so one dimensional. The guitars and rhythms sound the same on basically every track, Dez has little variation to his vocals, meaning that there is no subtlety to this album whatsoever. I know that’s a big ask when Coal Chamber were anything but subtle in the first place, but at least songs were discernable from each other.

As well as this, there are no hooks. Loco and Sway might have hit like a baseball bat to the head, but they had hooks the size of sea monsters and as a result worked brilliantly. Here, any possible hook gets buried in a never-ending torrent of buzzing guitar and smothers the life out of every single song.

By the close of the album, I’ve lost approximately forty-five minutes of my life that I will never get back. Nu-Metal may have had many flaws the first time around, but it was at least never this boring. Prior to listening to this, I thought I might have missed out by not seeing them live recently – the album confirms that I absolutely didn’t.

If you want nostalgia, revisit the first album, and avoid this. I’ve suffered reviewing and listening so you don’t have to.

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