Review Summary: Commercial, experimental, brutal, and simply fucking amazing.
In a wash of mediocrity in hard rock (Breaking Benjamin, Nickelback, Theory of a Deadman), there is Chevelle. There has always been Chevelle. They’ve stuck around churning out ridiculously consistent albums (even if they never really stretched any boundaries), and have found moderate success with this formula. Yet, on Chevelle’s latest release, “Sci-Fi Crimes”, it’s a bit different for Chevelle. They’ve torn down a lot of these cliché boundaries that has burdened them, and ended up releasing one of the most solid, consistent, and strong hard rock albums in recent times.
Nearly abandoning their cliché loud/soft rock dynamics and angst-ridden vocals that they’ve literally worked over throughout their career, Chevelle has evolved into something no one expected. Suddenly, Chevelle is brooding, dark, aggressive, and completely immersive. The track all still sound pretty obvious at first, but songs like “Sleep Apnea” and “Roswell’s Spell” have this slickly hidden, darkened tempo that includes, dare I say it, a bit of rhythm. The album’s most unexpected tracks, the completely acoustic “Highland’s Apparition” and the short “Interlewd” just expel this uneasy, foreboding tone that is absolutely surprising, especially coming from Chevelle.
With all this “progression”, Chevelle hasn’t necessarily forgotten how to make a smash hit radio single, however. “Shameful Metaphors” and “A New Momentum” are classic Chevelle material destined for radio exploitation. Yet, “Shameful Metaphors” is just too damn good to ever become radio trash. It’d still be amazing even if “Kidz Bop” covered it or it ended up on “Now! That’s What I Call Music”. The constantly building groove, Tool inspired guitar riff, Pete’s heartfelt vocals, and the unusually dark lyrics just altogether form the best song Chevelle song of all time. In fact, “Shameful Metaphors” is so good the rest of the album tries it's damnedest to stay on the same level raised by this song. The typical rocker,“Jars”, which keeps the album from being perfect, would have been amazing on a different album, but when you have songs as strong as "Shameful Metaphors" it's nothing. Looking on to the rest of the album, the quick-sped grit of “Mexican Sun” just exhumes pure adrenaline (it’s a hell of a workout song), and “Letters From a Thief” is a great track that has a pretty awesome guitar solo with an oddly dark atmosphere surrounding the sound.
My biggest problem with Chevelle’s past albums is that they always seemed so mechanical. It was hard to hear a band through all the slick production. “Sci-Fi Crimes” has all the trademarks of the polished classic “Wonder What’s Next”, the noise and human sound of “Point #1” without the ridiculously mechanical sound of “Vena Sera”. “Vena Sera”-not to say it wasn't good-suffered from the same issues the Smashing Pumpkins’ ambitious “MACHINA” album had. That album was just so produced it didn’t have any spirit. Whether it be Pete’s unrestricted vocals, the vintage guitar sound, or Chevelle actually making an album that sounds like an album and not just a collection of ass-kicking songs. But “This Circus” finally shows Chevelle developing an ability to make an epic closing track as they slowly strip away instruments towards the album’s end. It’s the first Chevelle album in which the closing track actually sounds like it's actually supposed to close out the album. There’s plenty human touch, as Pete sings unrestrained and the guitars roar sloppily, similar to their debut. Even then, this album is so much more refined and eclectic then, for example, albums like their repetitive debut.
At the end of the day, Chevelle have settled into a niche, and found that, much like the Deftones found with “White Pony”, hard rock isn’t a black hole. Instead, the Loefflers discovered that if you play hard rock right, it can be accessible and lead to stardom but still kick plenty of ass while sounding experimental. Chevelle essentially just blew the doors off of the hard rock scene and made life a whole lot harder for their peers. That’s how awesome “Sci-Fi Crimes” is.