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Maximum rock
Sevendustís bitter hooks
BY SEAN RICHARDSON

The maximum-impact world of hard rock is the ideal place for a good old-fashioned pissing match, so it was fun to see Sevendustís Morgan Rose take his fighting gloves off in a recent MTV interview about his bandís current hit single, "Enemy." "That song is about the person in the world that I hate more than Saddam Hussein," Rose seethed, referring to Devil Driver frontman Dez Fafara, who used to be in Coal Chamber with Roseís wife, Rayna. Taken from the Atlanta groupís fourth and latest album, Seasons (TVT), the track finds drummer Rose on the microphone unleashing a fiery rap-metal battle cry: "Step up to me, step up to me/You wanna be a big-time player, itís not to be." Fafara has been doing his best to defuse the situation in the press, but the chorus of the current Devil Driver single, "I Could Care Less," speaks for itself: "I could care less than for your sickening, pompous ways."

Things werenít so hostile between the two camps back in 1997, when both Sevendust and Coal Chamber debuted in the midst of the Korn-led alterna-metal revolution. Dissension in the ranks led to the premature decline of Coal Chamber, but Sevendust have since scored three gold albums and established themselves as one of rockís most consistent hitmakers without pandering to the pop mainstream. Although the bandís subsonic lurch and Roseís vocal style remain indebted to early Korn, theyíve also stumbled upon two calling cards of their own in their soaring, harmony-rich choruses and frontman Lajon Witherspoonís versatile black-rock howl.

Sevendust peaked in 1999, when they released the mosh-happy disc Home and performed at that yearís metal-edged Woodstock festival. But "Enemy" marks another career high for the band: thanks in part to a kick-ass video starring former WWE beatdown queen Chyna, itís their first single to reach the Top 10 on the Billboard rock charts. In an era when Korn themselves are struggling for airplay, thatís no small feat ó and itís one that Sevendust are celebrating with openers Ill Niño and Element Eighty on a six-week US tour that hits Boston this Friday and Providence next Wednesday.

Part of the credit for the commercial success of "Enemy" goes to modern-rock cult hero Butch Walker, who wrote the song with Rose and produced Seasons. A fellow Atlanta native who worked on the demo that got Sevendust their record deal way back when, Walker made his name five years ago as the frontman for one-hit wonders Marvelous 3 and has since gone on to help write irrepressible Disney-punk hits for SR-71 and Bowling for Soup. Thereís more than a little of Marvelous 3ís "Freak of the Week" in the chorus of "Enemy," on which Witherspoon takes over on the microphone and gives Roseís bitterness a hook: "How does it feel to be the enemy?"

Walker helped pen three other tracks on Seasons, which retains the punch of 2001ís Animosity but outdoes its predecessor in terms of both melody and soul. "The season is way too cold/Will we last another year," croons Witherspoon on the title track, looking back on a somber period in which his younger brother was murdered and the band joined the rest of the hard-rock community in mourning the death of Drowning Pool frontman Dave Williams. With the chainsaw groove and lead-guitar flash that power "Separate," the group suggest that at least a few of the cheap thrills associated with the new-metal era were built to last.

Even when Walker doesnít get a writing credit, his pop smarts are a good match for the bandís raw power. Since the programmed beats and the new-wave melancholy of "Broken Down" would sound right at home on a Linkin Park album, itís no surprise that Sevendust have earmarked that tune as the albumís second single. "If I can feel again/Will you tell me now or wait until Iím broken/Down again," wails Witherspoon over a spectral guitar hook. The riffs get greasier on "Burned Out," but Witherspoon is still asking the big questions: "Why does it feel like the sun has just burned out?"

Maturity suits Sevendust well on Seasons: the disc lags only during the ponderous unplugged ballad "Skeleton Song." They bring a little more oomph to go with the tenderness on the tastefully layered "Gone," a 3 Doors DownĖstyle love letter to their wives and kids from the road. On the closing "Face to Face," Rose delivers a rap-metal outburst to rival his performance on "Enemy" and storms off in a fit of rage: "Stop fucking with my head!" The new-metal generation might be starting to grow up, but its members arenít ready to stop causing trouble just yet.

Sevendust perform this Friday, January 9, at Avalon, 15 Lansdowne Street in Boston (617-262-2424), and next Wednesday, January 14, at Lupoís at the Strand, 79 Washington Street in Providence (401-272-5876).

 


Issue Date: January 9 - 15, 2004
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