One of the biggest issues to plague this reunion album is the way it all sounds. Coal Chamber had this intriguing blend of modern gothic eccentricities against a haunting mixture of crisp audio and enough analog traits to amplify that atmosphere. Rivals, however, doesn’t really have that. There’s a little too much digital presence throughout the mix, taking away some of the noise that helped make the haunting undertones so vital on past releases, thus making Rivals sound too clean to the point you culd argue it being a bit over-produced. Sadly, the most damning aspect is the lack of a rattling bass. Instead of adding the sound of bones from deeper tuning, we are giving a mild hum, something that makes the simpler performances often sound generic, even outdated due to it.
“I.O.U. Nothing” is a prime example of this thanks to the opening leads and dull rumble of the bass guitar. Not only does it scream staple nineties MTV fodder with a hint of Hard Rock thanks to the hooks, but it also is similar to something Static-X would churn out (among many others), leaving you expecting Wayne Static to have risen from the grave to contribute vocals instead of Dez Fafara. Aside that, there are plenty of vacant spots that really rely on the drums that do their best and flat bass presence to support them.
Aside that glaring oddity, there’s some tracks that try to capture the Coal Chamber fans have come to love. “Bad Blood Between Us” doesn’t have that rattling bones effect, but the main verses do allow the bass guitar a little more breathing room. The chorus, however, stands as an odd twisted chunk of Post-Rock influence, a nod to Miguel and Mikey’s recent band perhaps, and the semi-Shoegaze touch to the leads works to create an eeriness during it that manages to stand out nicely, but can take a little time to get accustomed. This tendency also shows in some of the metallic sounding Punk-ish leads of “Fade Away (Karma Never Forgets)”. While it works as the introduction and as a bridge later on, you can pick up on these chords in the background of the faster, more complex main verses, which only clashes given how shrill they are against the moderately thick sounding riffs at the forefront. Next to “Suffer in Silence”, however, this is the only other track to really lay on the hostility, which compliments the album better than the barren sounding final track, “Empty Handed”, and how little life it contains much of the time.
“Suffer in Silence” has just the right of aggression behind it, as well as a good deal of eeriness to the start of each main verse. While one of the stand out tracks with a fairly Horror b-movie atmosphere, ritualistic drum patterns, and lyrical theme, the vocal effects on Al Jorgensen (Ministry) just don’t suit the tone, especially when shouting the title of the song in the chorus. “Wait” is a fairly basic track overall, though an incredibly infectious bare bones rendition of the group’s past. There is a dark introduction to it that makes you expect another semi-eccentric track like the predecessor “Rivals”, but that’s not what you get. In fact there’s some distortion during the chorus that will remind children of the nineties of tactics the band Rage Against the Machine would use on their guitars, thankfully fitting right in with this rather traditional performance.
While Rivals does manage to capture some of the qualities that made Coal Chamber such a powerful force back in the day are present, there’s just not enough quality material to really make it that engaging. One of the bigger faults comes from the band’s sound really relying on the late nineties to early two thousands mash-up of analog and digital traits, a benefit exhibited by the lack of intrigue on this offering thanks to the largely clean sounding digital presence, not to mention general traits from the member’s other groups following the break-up in 2003 creeping in. The ideas are there, but the execution just falls flat one too many times. Rivals is an effort you need to enter with an open mind, allowing it to grow on you, which it can, just very, very slowly. But, even when it finally does, you still can’t feel it just would have sounded better had it come out in 2005 or 2006. Whether it’s just how far along technology has progressed, or just the years of being apart creating too much rust to shake off this time around, Rivals isn’t that memorable an album, nor does it live up to the band’s legacy.