In China, there is a myth that carp swimming upstream try valiantly to swim up a waterfall, a clearly impossible task. Yet, they persist and persevere, straining every muscle as they strive to reach the top, and sure enough, a rare few are able to get there. It is said that any carp which successfully makes the climb is then rewarded for their determination with transformation into a mighty dragon. After swimming upstream for a decade, Stone Sour announced themselves a dragon of rock with their last two LPs, House of Gold and Bones (HoGaB) Parts 1 & 2 respectively. The masterful double album was the epitome of progressive hard rock in the modern era, infused with a thrilling concept, reoccurring musical and lyrical motifs, seamless transitions and excellent riffs. Taylor’s vocals moved effortlessly between unbridled aggression and morose beauty. The songwriting was inspired, each song standing proudly on its own two feet, yet even better when placed alongside its brethren. It was a rare release to draw inspiration from the giants of the 70’s and, when all was said and done, comfortably stand shoulder-to-shoulder beside them. Thus one could be forgiven for feeling optimistic about where Stone Sour went next. Unfortunately, Jim Root’s acrimonious departure in mid-2014 led to doubts over their future sound and direction, doubts which a pair of cover EPs did little to dispel. And so here we are in 2017, four years on from the magic that was HoGaB. Stone Sour is back, with Christian Martucci (Black President, ex-Chelsea Smiles) having replaced Root on guitar. The question though, is can they live up to the hype?
From the opening line of the introductory track, it’s clear we’re in for a very different album. ‘Hello, you bastards’ shouts a jovial voice, the emotional weight and storytelling of HoGaB making way for a much more relaxed and fun record. The 70’s inspirations are still audibly apparent, but rather than drawing from progressive goliaths they instead turn to fun and carefree rock ’n roll. The album gets off to a great start, with “Taipei Person/Allah Tea” and “Knieval Has Landed” providing plenty of punch, with the bridge and closing riff of the former a particular highlight. The production is crisp, the guitars delivering plenty of metallic crunch, the drums rumbling and powerful, and the bass audible and driving.
Lead single “Fabuless” has polarised listeners with its somewhat schizophrenic structure, though upon repeat listens it begins to click into gear, and the same can be said for the album as a whole. This is not a bad album, and it is certainly a grower. Catchy melodies abound, there are some great guitar solos and solid riffs. However, despite some great tracks such as “Thank God It’s Over”, the record’s flaws begin to creep out from beneath the woodwork as it progresses. Hit single “Song #3” is exactly that, a vocally-driven and melodic radio rock single. If the album had been full of such tracks, Chad Kroeger would have been vindicated in his statement that Stone Sour are ‘Nickelback lite’, the track devoid of inspiration save for a mildly interesting guitar solo. It is the band’s latest attempt at “Through Glass”, only this time the songwriting simply isn’t as good.
The album’s sixty-plus minute runtime begins to outstay its welcome, their preceding releases having shown that they excel when releasing records in the 40-50 minute range. Hydrograd certainly showcases the diversity they’re capable of throughout; however, this too is potentially detrimental. The band move from various incarnations of rock to the country-driven ballad that is “St. Marie”, the thrashy “Somebody Stole My Eyes” and finally to the experimental closer “When the Fever Broke”. Whilst such variation occasionally works, such as with the latter track or the middle-eastern melodies of “The Witness Trees”, it leaves the overall record feeling inconsistent, scattered and confused. Unlike the magnificent double-album we were treated to four years ago, we are instead left with merely a collection of songs. Such criticism is often leveled at young bands trying to illustrate each of the different things that they can do, even if those ideas don’t necessarily work alongside one another. Thus, it is disappointing to see us describe Stone Sour’s sixth studio album in such a manner and to have seen them regress so visibly. In 2012-2013 Stone Sour stepped out of Slipknot’s shadow and stood proudly as a dragon of rock. In 2017, they’re once more just another fish in the stream.
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Stone Sour released Hydrograd on June 30th through Roadrunner Records. It is streaming on all major services, and can be purchased here.