Ah, heavy metal. The popular stereotypes of this beloved “parent” genre include, but are not limited to: male lead vocalists with long, straight hair, jackets festooned with metal spikes, and aggressively angular electric guitars. But as with anything, stereotypes can be misleading. Metal can encompass a wide variety of musical movements, from innovative 80’s pioneers Saigon Kick, to the hair metal school populated by bands like Ratt and Winger, to even the arena metal of Quiet Riot and Def Leppard. And of course, then there’s the paragons of metal themselves, Metallica, and their signature 80’s hard hitting brand of rock.
But what of the genre today? Alas, modern metal, or post-grunge, is, (with the refreshing exception of bands like hair metal parody group, Steel Panther, and avant garde cello metalheads, Apocalyptica), for the most part, crude and repetitive. It is in this bleak environment in which the lads of SOiL find themselves. And what are they contributing to the community, you might ask?
Their newest effort, Whole, of course! Where do I begin with this album? The opener, Loaded Gun, is a raucous beginner, but highlights several problems that plague the rest of the album: 1. The lead vocalist, Ryan McCombs, sounds exactly like Metallica’s James Hetfield. 2. While the instrumentation is fantastic, the lyrics are sometimes weak, and feel altogether too “safe”. 3. The lack of innovation at any point in the album.
This sounds overly critical, but even among modern metal groups, this album misses the mark. Cue Example “A”: The Hate Song. The lyrics are as follows: “I wrote this love song to let you know I hate you”. Points given for honesty, but there are ways to write ironic love songs, and this isn’t one of them. The only factor that saves this track, and this will be a recurring element, is the incredible guitar solo.
Then comes Ugly. The track perfectly exhibits the inherent verbal degradation tendencies of post-grunge rock and heavy metal. “You are sick, you are ugly, you are nothing”, but then these lines are confusingly followed by “you are something, you are anything, you are everything.” It makes the track’s message not only hard to determine, but also seems to be reaching towards a provocative line, only to make it more perplexing.
But then comes Psychopath, the redeeming light at the end of the tunnel. This number features McComb’s most impressive vocals, the greatest energy, and the most face-melting solos on the album. For once, all the elements work in perfect unison, and it’s enough of a glimmer of hope to urge the listener to continue on.
However, the next three songs (Shine On, Wake Up, Amalgamation) fail to leave an impact, which is to be expected, considering the material that came before it.
Although weak on the part of wordplay, My Time has a rollicking and non-gregarious attitude that gives it a nice contrast to the “thrash” of the rest of the album. Little Liar feels like late Queensryche, but just plods along, and as with most of the tracks, the chorus is repetitive at best, and uninventive at worst.
The album finale, One Love, begins sounding like something from Saigon Kick’s smoother, lucid progressive period (a la “Love is on the Way”), where the vocals take the backseat to a much more cosmic, and somewhat psychedelic, sound. That is until McComb explodes with his usual repetoire of yelling, shouting, and yet more yelling. Granted, its not the best to end a bombastic album like Whole on a soft note, but the song feels like it should have been split into two separate movements. However, the track does showcase SOiL’s expert instrumentation.
While scoring points for excellent overall instrument mastery (which one would hope, since SOiL has been playing since ’97), the lack of originality, and the overall mimicking of their forbears styles (one should never have to namedrop Queensryche) ad nauseam, makes it seem like McComb and the gang don’t care what they produce anymore. And until they do, I’ll stick with my Tyketto. Cue Forever Young.