Chimaira

The Age of Hell

01. The Age of Hell
02. Clockwork
03. Losing My Mind
04. Time Is Running Out
05. The Year of the Snake
06. Beyond the Grave
07. Born In Blood
08. Stoma
09. Powerless
10. Trigger Finger
11. Scapegoat
12. Samsara

[08/16/11]
[eOne Records]

Cleveland, Ohio’s finest are back with another concrete slab of American metal. After shedding half their lineup last year, they have come back leaner and meaner by adding Daath’s Emil Werstler on bass, Daath’s Sean Z on keyboards/samples and backing vocals, and Bleed the Sky’s Austin D’Amond on drums(although their producer Ben Schigel hammers all the skins on the album). I had the priviledge of seeing this lineup play it’s first ever live show a few months back and they fucking dominated, so I was more than excited to hear what a revitalized Chimaira could come up with for The Age of Hell.

Fans will be relieved to know that the classic Chimaira sound is fully intact.  The songwriting is there, the heaviness is there, and the band has never grooved harder or more confidently. But fans will also know not to expect Chimaira to ever make the same record twice, and they definitely have not done that here. There are some interesting creative developments taking place, the most salient of which being the increased use of clean vocals and electronics.  Both of these differences are noticeable almost right away.

The title track opens the album in a blaze of thrash fury that is somewhat par-for-the-course but very well done.  The next track “Clockwork” delivers the album’s first left turn, when halfway through the band abruptly drops out and a momentum killing techno and saxophone(!) interlude takes over for about 30 seconds before the riff kicks back in and starts building up.  It’s a bit weird and seems unnecessary at first, but it’s pretty cool nonetheless.  Ditto the electronic break at the end of the track.

“Losing My Mind” jumps headfirst into an Infection style mid-tempo groove that is actually so reminiscent of a few tracks on the 2009 album that this could have been a leftover track from those sessions.  Mark Hunter’s vocal kicks it up a few notches though-he nails a Layne Staley influenced harmony line in the pre-chorus that is surprising to hear. It’s not surprising to find out he can sing, as he‘s done some singing before. But it’s surprising that he can sing so well-a trend that continues throughout The Age of Hell. The very next song, “Time is Running Out” extrapolates this Alice In Chains influence by including haunting harmony lines as counterpoints to Mark’s gruffer roars and shouts throughout the verses.

Truth be told, this album is the performance of Hunter’s life. He sounds as great and unique as ever during the heavy bits, but actually sings his ass off as well. It’s not a gimmicky good cop/bad cop thing, it’s just incorporating cool melodies that work and/or singing entire songs in addition to his trademark heavy vocals.  He also does a great job of getting the Layne Staley/Jerry Cantrell vibe by tightly executing his harmonies, not just ripping off the general aesthetic of the classic Alice In Chains duo.

At this point I think it’s important to note that the first three songs on this album are probably the worst three songs on this album.  Not to say that they are bad, but they don’t strike me as songs that were incredibly difficult for Chimaira to write.  They feel a bit stock at times, and as the techno sample in the outro to “Losing My Mind” bleeps and bloops away as the song fades, some fans may have their doubts. But do not despair, The Age of Hell picks up more and more as the album goes on. And you may be missing Chris Spicuzza for the first three tunes, especially since the electronics seem a bit unnecessary and possibly overdone. But where the electronics fall a little flat at first, they add exponential amounts of atmosphere elsewhere, like on the totally awesome quarter time breakdown in “The Year of the Snake”. Easily one of the coolest songs I’ve heard this year.

“Beyond the Grave” is a creepy, melodic groover with large doses of melody and atmosphere, with Hunter sounding a wee bit like Scott Weiland in the catchy chorus. “Born In Blood” brings the thrash back in a way that works even better than the title track. Whitechapel front man Phil Bozeman adds a fucking ace vocal appearance to the songs deathy midsection. Then there is the creepy interlude “Stoma”, and the sludgy “Powerless” followed by the classic Chimaira sounding “Trigger Finger” and “Scapegoat”, which are underpinned by some killer drums that compete with even the best performances of an Andols Herrick or a Kevin Talley. The whole thing is capped with monster instrumental “Samsara” which features new bassist Emil Werstler ripping a guest guitar solo.

The future remains bright for Chimaira, and with all due respect to the band’s past and present lineups, I think Chimaira will always be just fine as long as the triumvirate of Mark Hunter and guitarists Rob Arnold and Matt DeVries stick around.  Arnold’s songwriting and leads coupled with DeVries’ jackhammer right hand and Hunter’s unique style and vision are the core of the band’s identity. Then just insert sick drummer here and insert cool keys and electronics there.  After listening to The Age of Hell, it is clear that we are entering an exciting new chapter in the band’s history and evolution. And while it may not be their best album, it is still a damn good album that contains some of their best work.

Chimaira – The Age of Hell gets

4/5

– JB

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