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Coal Chamber: Rivals

I know this is long overdue, and at this point perhaps even pointless, but here goes…

When it was announced that Coal Chamber not only had reunited for a string of shows, but would continue on and actually write a new album, the young Metal fan in me (like many others who started venturing into the Metal universe during the nineties) almost wet himself with pure delight. It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of this band, not to mention a die-hard DevilDriver loyalist who had the honor to see them live at least twice (I feel like it’s three times, but not sure off hand). That said, when the Youtube streams for three of the songs off Rivals, the long overdue fourth full-length album, hit the internet, well, I hesitated. I honestly didn’t want to spoil my first romp through the new album in full by sampling these possibly compressed tracks that early. But, I gave in and proceeded with elation and dread, unaware of what I was going to get out of them.

“I.O.U. Nothing” does have that simpler Groove Metal presence with a little more hostility on par with Chamber Music, though the louder lead riffs in the main verses and start of the song sound a bit on par with early DevilDriver. Honestly, they just epitomize the nineties in practically every way possible, not to mention similar to Static-X‘s “This is Not”, another of my favorite bands/songs to get their start back in the nineties. Despite those two factors, these hooks aren’t really all that necessary, and I wish like hell they just didn’t exist here to begin with.

But that’s not all. This first glimpse into Rivals also showed off the terrible audio quality. Coal Chamber has always been a very downtuned bass-dominated group, and, coupled with their simpler, aggressive performances with a dark twist, it’s one of the reasons fans embraced them. Here, however, the bass sounds hollow. There’s no rattling or tighter riffs from it to fill the barren spots and leave a haunting atmosphere at all. Instead it sounds like a faux analog album with guitars that vary between obnoxiously loud to incredibly distant, the latter being the guitar solo that is almost muted, solid drum performances, and boring as hell bass lines behind Dez’s vocal performance that, while clearly enthusiastic, sounds just as muffled as the rest of the mix.

Just as I feared, the audio quality didn’t get any better during “Rivals”. The Dark Days raped Marilyn Manson style introduction left me scratching my head at first, all the while bracing for impact, but then those haunting elements eventually came into play, sporting a decent bleakness. However, the music still didn’t quite seem as rich due to the lack of rattling bones in the mix from the down tuned bass guitar. Once in a while you could pick up on that in the main verses behind the eccentric vocal style that is a welcome reminder of the band’s past, but, again, the chorus just sounds like generic nineties MTV Metal fodder, as if trying to capture their self-titled debut, instead accidentally taking a page out of KoRn‘s old playbook on accident. The two worlds just don’t work together sadly, leaving the eerie overtones to be completely revoked by the far more mainstream, even rather generic chorus.

Finally there’s “Suffer in Silence” with Al Jourgensen (Ministry, Buck Satan and the 666 Shooters), which was only recently released on Youtube. Of these three tracks, this is the closest to the Coal Chamber we all remember. The tone of the music sounds a hell of a lot deeper in comparison for some reason, carrying a very creepy b-grade Horror atmosphere with tight, bulky riffs, superb drumming, and the most enthusiastic vocal presence so far from both contributors. Even the bass sounds a little more dominant overall, though still restricted to a dull lower buzz. Also unlike the other two, I found myself banging my head along through the whole performance.

I have the feeling that I’m going to need to hear these three songs in context with the album in order to fully enjoy them. There’s nothing vehemently wrong with these tracks, but the first two released to support the impending album sound very little like Coal Chamber. Had “Suffer in Silence” not come along to save face with the fans, you’d do the same thing I did and think someone swapped the music tracks from another group somewhere in the manufacturing plant and slapped Dez Fafara’s vocals on as some weird belated April Fool’s Day gag. But, it’s not all the band’s fault, really, as the audio quality of this release is just terrible. There’s very little that actually resembles anything that made Coal Chamber a band that has been able to stand the test of time through market oversaturation and a lengthy disbanding to come back with as much anticipation as they have at this very moment. Hopefully diving head first into Rivals will put it all into perspective because, if not, this is going to be one hell of a let down…

Coal Chamber
Coal Chamber

Digital material for this article based on public Youtube videos
via Napalm Records.