Review Summary: Shinedown takes a hack at their magnum opus and goes down swinging.
It probably goes without saying at this point in the band’s career (nine years and counting), but Shinedown have always been a cut above their mainstream rock peers. Whether it’s been the superb vocal abilities of frontman Brent Smith and or the band’s refusal to limit themselves to the generic formulas of radio rock, they have consistently found a way to produce solid music, and that alone is commendable. Tasteful may be the right word to describe the band’s approach. Even the most melodramatic parts of Leave a Whisper
were kept in check, and Us and Them
played well into this artsy vibe. Where their contemporaries would attempt to go over the top, Shinedown would play their hand slowly and skillfully, as evidenced last by the impressively mature seven-minute trip of “Lady So Divine” and the emotional lace that the band put even on their most radio-ready songs. When Smith commented that on Madness
the band wanted to go “over the top, literally above and beyond what a human being thinks they're capable of recording,” it seemed tantalizing, yes, but also an uncharacteristic approach for the Jacksonville quartet.
Judging on musicianship and production alone, The Sound of Madness
is in another league than its predecessors. On the opening, foot-stomping combo of lead single “Devour” and the title track, serpentine riffs put an exclamation mark on easily the heaviest one-two punch the band has ever packed. The immediate effect is startling, but the simplicity of the tracks makes them wear off far too easily. Although the musicianship behind Smith has stepped up to his level for really the first time in the band’s career, his vocal performance surprisingly deviates from his typical smooth approach, channeling more of a David Draiman than a Chris Cornell.
The album, like its two leadoff cuts, also suffers from simplicity of sorts. Mega-single “Second Chance” begins an awkwardly evident divide between the heavy and soft, with the latter taking the prize as far as quality is concerned. Sweeping ballad “The Crow & the Butterfly” single-handedly redeems a lackluster first half of the record, while “If You Only Knew” works well enough on similar radio-friendly grounds. Madness
does settle into a bit of a grove by the end of the record, alternating skillfully between two of its more powerful moments in the chorus of the pure headbanger ‘Sin With a Grin” and the bridge of “What a Shame,” an ode to Smith’s uncle in which he finally shows off his considerable pipes, but it can’t overcome its initial ineptitude, and to be blunt, lack of knockout tracks.
It’s not that The Sound of Madness
is a poor effort by Shinedown, and the band certainly can’t be knocked for lack of effort. What really holds the album down is that while they took time to perfect every riff, make every note crystal-clean, and send every ballad into an epic finish, Shinedown’s songwriting has taken a giant leap backwards. They certainly aren’t the first band to dumb down their music for a bit of added power, and it’s far too soon (and unjustified) to label them with the dreaded “sell-out” tag, but it is a wholesome disappointment from a band that had found such a niche in their previous work. While there’s nothing here that could be considered insulting, there’s not enough that rises from a rather generic wash of mainstream rock (although “Butterfly” and closer “Call Me” come close). To be blunt, it’s sad that this is the record that Shinedown will most likely be commercially remembered for when it truly doesn’t encompass who they are as a band.