Nu-Metal, one of the things many people my age were into at some point or other. Whilst it was ridiculed by fans of other sub-genres and fiercely defended by those who worshipped it, the ‘black sheep’ of the metal family in the early 2000’s was responsible for some good moments and for me, Coal Chamber was one of those. The four piece were one of the standard bearers for the sound of Nu-Metal – detuned guitars, angst ridden vocals and heavy riffs being the main order, and with classics like “Loco”, “Sway”, “Fiend” and “Big Truck”, they still get a good reaction when played in metal clubs now. After reforming a couple of years back and doing a few festivals and tours, Dez and the band decided it was time for some new material. The inner 15 year old in me was delighted with this, let’s see if it lets me down.
“I.O.U Nothing” opens the album up and right away, you can hear the Devildriver influence, which is hardly surprising as that is Dez’s current day-job. Groove laden with a real heavy tone, it blends the Nu-metal approach with a more modern metal edge which works well. The chorus is powerful and the bass provided by Nadja (The better of CC’s bassists I add) is tremendously heavy and hard hitting. The traditional nu-metal styled breakdown brings back the ‘tortured snarl’ style vocals too. “Bad Blood Between Us” follows a similar approach – hard hitting heavy grooves with a real meaty sound and aggressively delivered vocals where the rhythm section really stands out. Again, another Devildriver styled track.
Track 3, “Light In The Shadows” is where it starts to get interesting. Although it is heavy with its big stomping groove, it has more of a traditional Coal Chamber feel to it which is very reminiscent of their debut album. Clean leads in the chorus, quirky sounding effects laden verses, whispered low vocals and tight rhythm work really help this track make an impact. The following tracks, “Suffer In Silence” and “The Bridges You Burn” fully embrace the band’s history and have a clear Nu-metal template to them. Angsty, heavy and straight forward musically, the only real variance comes from Dez’s vocal switching at will from spoken to screams with no warning and the powerful bass which at times really overpowers the guitars.
“Orion” is the first filler track of the album. It acts more like an intro to “Another Nail In The Coffin” with its clean, droning start laced with effects and its eerie vocals which grow in volume before turning to a sinister whisper help set the mood. The drums on ‘ANITC’ are fantastic and the riffs have a real punchy feel to them as they go with the groove. The chorus has a big sound to it and a feel which invites the listener to headbang along and the middle section whilst revisiting the intro adds some more flair to the drums and paves the way for a massive sounding heavy breakdown. Title track, “Rivals”, starts off with some samples before it really sets the tone in the first verse with a moody vocal delivery in tandem with haunting clean guitars which ring out to the slow pace of the song. The chorus flips the switch, allowing the song to explode to life with the simplistic and straight forwards chugging riffs and powerful screamed vocals but overall, it isn’t that special. It may go down well live, and I’ll get to judge that at the end of May.
“Wait” sounds a lot like a KoRn track at times with its delivery – a moderately paced groove from the bass under a quirky, odd sounding lead and its heavily effects laden chorus, but it lacks the balls and the bite of some of the previous tracks which is a shame. “Dumpster Dive” is a pointless filler track which is just samples and noises and normally you would be forgiven for thinking the album is all down here from now, but “Over My head” saves it. With a storming groove to start with, the more upbeat tempo pulls us back into the action. The vocals in this one pick up intensity for the chorus which brings back that Devildriver feel to it and as the song gets on, the obligatory breakdown with whispered vocals gives way to a heavier section and it makes you wonder why didn’t they add a little extra Devildriver into some more of the tracks just to keep the listener engaged. “Fade Away (Karma Forgets)” brings back the classic Coal Chamber feel. Fast paced verses, slow and hard hitting choruses both have a thick and heavy sound which is drove on by a good groove for the duration of the track and the stomping breakdown really picks it up with some harsh vocals which work great.
“Empty Handed” is the album closer, and it is one of the more interesting tracks on the album, most notably for its rhythm section work. The bass and drums are quite tight and powerful whilst the guitars have that ‘hollow’ sound to them. Initially it isn’t that spectacular, just more of the same but when the chorus kicks in, it stands out well with its great lead melody and the tight rhythm work which throughout the album has been outstanding. Round the halfway point, a harmonic laden breakdown gets real heavy and the track really comes to life. Harder hitting and with more beef in its sound, it thunders on with the rhythm section really stealing the show before the melodic chorus closes it and the album.
Overall, “Rivals” is pretty much what I expected it to be. Yes, there was bound to be Devildriver influence in there given the connection, but it was used sparingly after the first two tracks, giving the band a chance to revisit their old sound and try a few newer tricks. This isn’t for everyone, much like the genre of Nu-Metal and the album is clearly one of two halves, a strong first half and a testing second half, but the new material will be received well in the live setting. The question is, will it hold up to the power of their debut? I think it can, but the live setting will be the true test of that. For now, my inner 15 year old, chain sporting, baggy jean and Slipknot hoody wearing self is appeased.