StoneSBy keeping his cards close to his chest, little has been revealed about frontman Corey Taylor’s concept propping up this double-album. Taken word for word from the preview for the forthcoming Dark Horse Comics’ story (yes, it’s due for a staggered release as a graphic novel too) we have this – “Trapped in an alternate reality, the Human must make his way to the House of Gold & Bones as he is chased by a crazed, mindless mob, and taunted by his mysterious friend and foe, Allen. What the Human discovers on his journey will be his salvation or his destruction.”

Now what became apparent, when Part I was released last year, was that it really didn’t matter too much if you weren’t aware of the concept. The individual tracks all had their own identity with the whole struggling to flow like a good concept should. This may have been possibly because it had been hyped up (by its creator) to be the best thing since sliced bread, so naturally it underwhelmed with its middle-of the road, dull chuntering. Part II will be judged with expectations adjusted accordingly so, naturally, it will have similar shock value, but for entirely different (and all of the right) reasons.

The first thing to hit you is just how fucking intense this thing is. I suspect the reason for the difference is that it’s all integral to the story with Part I being the build and the introspective maudlin and Part II having all the chase scenes and the drama. Guitarist Josh Rand summed that idea up quite neatly when he was quoted recently as saying “the riffs, the lyrics, the grooves and the songs are like Stone Sour times ten.” Listen to the dissolute screams on the bridges of “Gravesend” or the manic, lung-bursting roars that tear out the heart of “Red City” and I reckon you’ll agree he’s got a point. By comparison, all of this album’s constituent parts have been beefed-up making them bigger, bolder and a million times more effective.

The big-hitting singles are going to come from places like the 10-foot groove dug by “Black John”, the maniacal villain that haunts our hero (any connection to TV’s The Mentalist and their resident psycho “Red John” is probably coincidental), the bouncy rock licks of “Do Me A Favour” and the title-track which cuts down hard enough to release a line like “I’ve got nothing to prove to a son of a bitch like you”. Look elsewhere and you’ll hear piercing, instantly recognisable riffs in sweet cuts like “’82” and “The Uncanny Valley” whilst the post-rock mystique of “Blue Smoke” strip the vocal back and murmur pedal effects that render it strongly reminiscent of bands like OSI and Porcupine Tree.

Now before we get carried away here, Stone Sour’s tendency to revert to a mundane, predictable, static AOR plod does pop up here and there. Poppy ballad “Sadist” drifts along offering little whilst “The Conflagration” pulls in an orchestra for little more than a dull spot of 80s soft rock a la Foreigner, Mr. Big, Scorpions, etc. Even worse is the horrendous double key-change in “Stalemate” which deserves the obligatory inside-out face cringe.

Only a fool could fail to see the money-making, wallet-draining potential of this entire multi-platform project (intentional or otherwise), but that’s another matter altogether. What really counts here is that even including these weaknesses, and excluding the back story, accompanying album and ephemera, HOGAB2 is one hell of an album and a solid challenger for the title of Stone Sour’s finest album. Even if you disagree with that assessment, it’s their first worthy output in seven years, so it’s not one to be dismissed lightly.

(7.5/10 John Skibeat)