Album Review: Coal Chamber – Rivals

For some reason, I’m not sure where to start on this one. I guess I will just start at the end then. It’s a good album, I like it. A few small problems detract from it, but nothing major. However, the main thing I get from this album is a strong desire to go listen to either one of their first two albums instead. I guess I just really like big, dumb, simple Coal Chamber.  This album tries to be more than that and, in the process, becomes more generic.

Having this kind of nostalgia for a band’s prior work is unusual for me. Unless something drastic happened to the band (Boston losing Delp, for example), I generally like it when bands evolve. I may have favorite past albums and such, I probably even have a favorite “golden age” for bands that I love. But I still greatly appreciate changes and experimentation within a band’s sound and am generally able to follow and thoroughly enjoy these things. For whatever reason, I am having trouble doing that with this album.

This album has all the things you associate with Coal Chamber, and I feel like I should like it more than I do. For starters, on guitar, you get some great grooves and those fantastic big dumb riffs that a lot of modern metal shuns nowadays for either technicality or “breakdown #1,726.” I love it. Meegs branches out to good effect with a few more straight up metal riffs and some noodling here and there.

I absolutely love the drumming on this album. It may not be about the technicality, but it doesn’t need to be, it’s concise. It accents what it needs to accent and waxes and wanes appropriately for each song. Cox isn’t flashy, but he doesn’t need to be. I honestly feel like the drum performance is the standout on this album. Contributing to that is probably the fact that the drum sounds on this album just may be my favorite drum sounds ever recorded. They are perfect in every way imaginable.

The bass exists. Barely. Not much to say there. That’s one of my problems. Part of the “Coal Chamber sound” is a deep, grungy (ok, crappy) bass tone. This is not it. It’s got some grit too it, but it has zero low end filling it out. I actually miss that a lot.

Oddly enough, Dez feels a little off here. He’s kind of just doing DevilDriver light. There are not very many catchy vocal lines, and it really holds the album back. One of the things that always made Coal Chamber work for me was the interplay of all the simplistic rhythms between the instruments. With Dez in DevilDriver mode, he’s more interested in spitting venom than doing anything memorable or even that interesting. That style works well for DevilDriver, since the instrumentation is so dense, but for Coal Chamber, he really needs to be more ear-worm focused and less plain old angry.

I’ve listened to this album front to back about 10 times in a few different environments, and no matter what, I end up spacing out at random points. It just doesn’t hold my attention very well.   It also doesn’t feel like they took 13 years off. This album feels like a straight follow up to Dark Days, which is where they started to lose it, in my humble opinion. There are some great bits that harken back to what made me love Coal Chamber back in the day, but those spots are more effective at reminding me of the big, simple fun I used to have with the earlier albums rather than being what they should be – jumping off points to get you into the new album and hoping for another.

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Album Review: Coal Chamber – Rivals

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