Chevelle

Hats Off To The Bull

01. Face to the Floor
02. Same Old Trip
03. Ruse
04. The Meddler
05. Pinata
06. Envy
07. Hats Off To The Bull
08. Arise
09. Revenge
10. Prima Donna
11. Clones

[12/06/11]
[Epic Records]

When it comes to radio-friendly hard rock, it’s hard to get it right while maintaining a certain level of intelligence and staying true to your craft in avoiding dumbing yourself down. Chevelle has always been consistent with their ability to capture my attention without guilt, enjoying some moderate mainstream success with their Tool-influenced sound and enigmatic lyricism. They’re also consistent with their sound in general, with each album keeping the core Chevelle sound without much sway in any direction. I appreciate the fact that the band haven’t sold themselves out for a bigger paycheck, but at this point, Chevelle are a band that aren’t bothered with fixing what isn’t broken. Hats Off To The Bull is the exact record that everyone expects them to make.

Obviously, the idea of a predictable album is bittersweet. As a fan of progressive metal, I enjoy being pleasantly surprised by a band moving their sound forward. Chevelle was never really known for making huge shifts in sound, but the slight progression between 2004′s dark and grungy This Type Of Thinking (Could Do Us In) and 2007′s Vena Sera rated quite well with me, with faster and more upbeat, memorable tracks. Ever since then, Chevelle have settled into their established sound in a way that hasn’t really dazzled me on first listen like it once has. While Sci-Fi Crimes and Hats Off To The Bull are quite solid albums that are far better than pretty much whatever else is on modern rock radio, they’ve taken a few dedicated listens to really sink in.

To be sure, Hats Off To The Bull is a definitely solid album once it has had room to grow, filled with strong songs that focus on groovey riffs and catchy choruses that aren’t overly poppy. Pete Loeffler is probably my favorite frontman of the genre, due in part to his Maynard James Keenan-esque vocal cadence and intelligent lyrics. His performance is as good as ever, with his crooning being the focal point of much of the album. As with most bands of this nature that reach a certain point in their careers, the screaming is very few and far between, but the haunting quality of his vocal melodies are suitable for big choruses and quieter, spacier moments alike.

Pete’s guitar work is also as good as ever, and at times shining brighter than it ever has. Being the sole guitarist and lead songwriter, there are plenty of layers worth picking through. It’s good to know he can still write some catchy riffs that manage to groove. Pete’s always been vocal-conscious, rarely taking an overtly technical approach at his riffs and leads, but he takes a guitar solo of sorts on “Piñata”, which is something I’d like to hear more of out of Chevelle.

Doubling as the band’s only guitarist and singer, Pete isn’t above letting Dean Barnardini’s basslines carry much of the song while he focuses on singing. While not particularly impressive or show-offy, Dean is always present and audible in the mix in that regard, keeping a tight ship ran in the rhythm department alongside drummer Sam Loeffler. This power-trio are able to craft songs that are better than bands with five members, which really speaks on their songwriting and performance ability.

However, as mentioned previously, Hats Off To The Bull suffers in not doing anything at all different, even having the token acoustic track in “Prima Donna.” If you’re a fan of Chevelle though, you won’t find much particularly wrong here. If you never really enjoyed them, then this is the last thing that is ever likely to change your mind. While Hats Off To the Bull isn’t the best work Chevelle has ever done, it’s still miles ahead of what you would consider post-grunge radio rock, which really says something about this band’s quality discography and longevity.

Chevelle – Hats Off To The Bull gets…

3/5

- JR