When in 1998 Godsmack released their multi-platinum homonymous debut, they became the first Boston band in years to attain Monsters of Rock status. Since then, theyíve toured the world, scored another hit with the 2000 album Awake (Universal), and landed three Grammy nominations. This month, they return with their third disc, Faceless (like their first two, on Universal), which pushes in more melodic and introspective directions and just might be the best thing theyíve done.
The smash lead single from Faceless, " Straight out of Line, " delivers exactly what rock fans have come to expect from Godsmack: vicious new-metal grooves and some choice words of retribution from frontman Sully Erna. " Iíll confess this, youíre my tragedy/Iíve laid you to rest just as fast as youíve turned on me, " he growls over the tumbling rhythms of bassist Robbie Merrill and new drummer Shannon Larkin. The singer shares the spotlight with guitarist Tony Rombola, who reels off a scorching wah-wah solo to bring the song to a climax.
Erna has made a career out of addressing people who piss him off in song, so itís no surprise that " Straight out of Line " is dedicated to old friends who sneer at him across a crowded room because of his fame. According to Merrill, the track speaks for the entire band. " I can relate to that song big time, " he says over the phone from Hollywood, where the band are fulfilling some promotional duties. " Even your family ó all the sudden I have some success, and I come off tour and my momís got 20 people outside waiting for me to sign shit. Iím like, ĎMom!í Same thing with friends. Iím the same person ó I do my motocross and my hockey with my same buddies. Those guys are pretty cool with it, but you get other people that just look at you different, and itís sad. "
A Methuen native, Merrill first met Erna in the early í90s: when the singer needed a place to stay, he ended up crashing in an extra room at the home of his future bassist. At the time, Erna was still playing drums in the Boston metal band Strip Mind; a couple of years later, he decided to front a new group of his own and called Merrill. Rombola and original Godsmack drummer Tommy Stewart fell into place around the same time, and before long the band had amassed a huge regional following. Soon after they got signed, they conquered rock radio with hits like " Voodoo " and " Whatever, " and the rest is history.
Godsmack spent the next four years on the road, barely even taking time off to make their sophomore album. They finally took a break at the beginning of last year, but they werenít out of the spotlight for long. " I Stand Alone, " their contribution to The Scorpion King soundtrack (Universal), became one of the biggest rock hits of the year. Built on a gargantuan guitar riff and boasting some sharp vocal harmonies, the track (also included on Faceless) finds Erna at his most contentious: " Iíve told you this once before, canít control me/If you try to take me down youíre gonna break. " The song has action-movie soundtrack written all over it ó even if the group didnít realize it at first.
" Sully had the riff on the Awake tour, " Merrill explains. " I went into the studio not even knowing what he was going to sing. When we got the final product, we were pretty much happy, but we never really thought it would turn out the way it did. We just got a breath of fresh air with the song. "
With the success of " I Stand Alone " under their belts, Godsmack decided to up the ante for their next album. First, they replaced Stewart with Larkin, a veteran skinsman known for his work with Ugly Kid Joe and Amen. Erna and Larkin had known each other since the early í90s, when Larkin played in the Baltimore metal band Wrathchild America. The group also retained the services of producer David Bottrill (Tool, Mudvayne), who first worked with them on " I Stand Alone. "
Merrill praises Bottrillís personality as well as his work ethic. " David was a positive person ó there was no negativity at all. He worked our asses off, especially my ass. I went in there thinking I could wipe it out like I did the first two CDs. You know, on the first CD, I finished my bass tracks with the drum tracks. I came into this CD to do the same thing, but it didnít work out that way. He got the best out of me, I know that much. "
Hoping to avoid distractions, Godsmack wrote and recorded Faceless in Miami ó the first time theyíve made an album outside Boston. " We got down there in August, and we lived together in one house, " is how Merrill describes it. " We wanted to get to know Shannon better, and that was the best way to do it. We were at rehearsal five or six days a week. All we did was write and play, so by the time we got into the studio in November, we were pretty much prepared for what we needed to do. "
The results speak for themselves. Like " Straight out of Line " and " I Stand Alone, " " Faceless " is a punishing diatribe that features nuanced vocals from Erna and a blistering guitar solo from Rombola. On " Releasing the Demons, " Erna dredges up the sins of his past over a track that sounds like an unholy marriage between Dio and Rob Zombie. " I Am " uses the albumís most sophisticated melodies and a brutal thrash breakdown to confront the miseries of alcohol abuse: " This isnít the life for me/This isnít the way I wanna be/And let me tell you/Death will come when Iím good and ready. "
Now that Erna and manager Paul Geary (who used to play drums in Extreme) have joined forces with Larkin, Godsmack are probably the most formidable collection of drum geeks the commercial-rock world has seen. So itís fitting that they close Faceless with " Serenity, " which Erna wrote after reading Ghost Rider (ECW Press), the book written by Rushís Neil Peart ó the ultimate rock drum god ó about coping with the pain of losing his wife and his daughter within a year of each other. " Where do we go when we just donít know/And how do we relight the flame when itís cold, " chants Erna over a haunting bed of acoustic guitar and tribal percussion. Like " Voodoo " and " Spiral " on the bandís first two albums, the song is both a worthy tribute to Ernaís beloved Dead Can Dance and an effective change of pace.
Next week in Miami, Godsmack are returning to the stage for a headlining tour that will stop by the Tweeter Center on May 22. And with a couple of recent live TV appearances ó the Grammys, Leno ó in the bag, the band might not be able to joke about being faceless for much longer. " I appreciate it, " says Merrill of the groupís increasingly high profile. " People are listening to us and hearing the name, and it feels good. "
LIKE GODSMACK once upon a time, Event are an emerging Boston rock band with commercial airplay on their minds and an audience that doesnít often hang out at traditional downtown live-music venues. The groupís new Scratching at the Surface is their second album for the internationally renowned prog-rock label Inside Out, and theyíre supporting it with a nationwide club tour that starts at the end of next month. Before they hit the road, theyíll play a home-town show at the Compound in Fitchburg on May 23.
On Scratching at the Surface, Event split the difference between progressive metal and modern rock ó as their label put it, they sound like Kingís X meets Nine Inch Nails. The group are the brainchild of guitarist Shaun Michaud, a part-time instructor at Berklee College of Music who has also toured with the long-running Hartford metal band Fates Warning. He produced the album at his home studio, and its digital sheen is ultimately more pop than prog: he plays few guitar solos, and none of the 13 songs eclipses the five-minute mark.
With its yearning chorus and mid-tempo brawn, the opening " Make Your Way " is the catchiest track. " Every time it ends like this/I can tell them all that I just missed, " sings frontman Dave DeLuco, his soulful bray offering hints of psychedelia. The prog element is mostly in the bandís attack: bassist Jay Rigney and drummer Matt Scurfield are as nimble as they are energetic, and the songís arrangement is clever without being ostentatious. Michaudís production is the main attraction: he opens the proceedings with an electronically mangled heavy-metal guitar riff, and he keeps things interesting by throwing stray industrial beats into the mix.
Like his production techniques, Michaudís lyrical approach strays from the prog-rock norm, encompassing themes of human uncertainty and self-discovery instead of fantasy. On " Siren, " he confronts his romantic headaches with a breezy chorus and a smirk: " You seem to be the perfect catch/But you know I should know better. " The band wander off in search of a little silent lucidity on the philosophical " Under My Skin, " an upbeat rocker that could almost pass for vintage Soundgarden. On Scratching at the Surface, Eventís prog-gone-pop æsthetic is as rich as it is intriguing.
Godsmack perform on Wednesday May 21 at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland; call (207) 775-3458. Theyíre at the Tweeter Center in Mansfield on Thursday May 22; call (508) 339-2333. Event perform on Friday May 23 at the Compound in Fitchburg; call (978) 348-2500.