Review Summary: On the brink of destruction, Chimaira have pushed forward and crafted one of the finest and most suprising additions to their discography with The Age of Hell.
With all of the misfortune that Chimaira has undergone in the last year alone, you'd be surprised that they are back with a new album in 2011. After touring the 2010 stint of the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, problems began to arise in the band. Bassist Jim LaMarca decided he didn't want to be with the band anymore and retired to spend more time with his family. Then a few months later, Keyboardist Chris Spicuzza decided that he too didn't want to be a part of the band anymore, declared the music industry "dead" and left the band. As if this weren't enough nails in the coffin, Drummer Andols Herrick (who was a vital part of the bands sound and one of their prime assets) wasn't seeing eye to eye with the remaining band members and was dismissed from the group, later declining to rejoin after the band asked him back in. Mark Hunter, Rob Arnold, and Matt Devries decided to enter the studio with only half a band to record Chimaira's sixth full length, and the results are surprisingly not as grim as they would seem.
One of the things about this album that you can easily tell is that Chimaira doesn't exactly sound like half the band they used to be on The Age of Hell
. In fact, most of the bands signature sounds are still intact on this album, they just seem tired and outdated at some points. Lets face it; LaMarca's bass lines were most of the time not memorable, Spiccuzas parts could be played by just about anyone who knows how to properly use a keyboard, and although Herrick's drum fills were really interesting Kevin Talley still displayed an effective and extremely aggressive approach behind the kit on the bands self-titled album, proving that they can still survive without him. Lead guitarist Rob Arnold handles all of the bass tracks on the album (and they are still unmemorable), vocalist Mark Hunter handles all of the keyboards and sampling (which turn out pretty well, especially on "Clockwork" and the instrumental "Stoma") and producer Ben Schigel provides the drum tracks (which are aggressive and reminiscent of Talley's self-titled performance). The three see to it that the record sounds like it was recorded by a six piece band.
Groove has always been one of the aspects of the bands sound that has flowed through all of their work. This aspect reached its peak on the bands self-titled album and on 2007's Resurrection
. On The Age of Hell
, this is still present, but on some songs it feels like its been done before several times. The title track is a typical aggressive Chimaira track and opens the album well and songs like "Trigger Finger" and "Year of the Snake" show Chimaira firing on all cylinders with Arnold and Devries providing some of their most groove inspired riffs to date. Arnold's lead work is as interesting as ever, and DAATH lead guitarist/new Chimaira bassist Emil Werstler adds a tasteful guitar solo to the beginning of the instrumental album closer "Samsara" (which has some of the best fretwork on the album). However, the album is damaged by bland tracks like "Losing My Mind" where Hunter attempts to get really melodic with his clean vocals, which he still hasn't fully harnessed yet. His performance on this album is varied; his screams keep improving (particularly his lows, which on tracks like "Year of the Snake" are the lowest he's ever gone and features an awesome breakdown at 2:18) but his cleans are still developing and are good in some songs and mediocre in others. "Beyond the Grave" is a perfect example of how he is utilizing his cleans more, and presents the band taking a step out of their comfort zone to create a really melodic track which puts strong emphasis on the aforementioned groove aspect of their sound.
After being nearly dismantled after several lineup changes and many record label changes, Chimaira have returned with one of their strongest outings yet. On the brink of destruction, the band have pushed through the corner they were backed into and have breathed new life into their sound, which was becoming stale on The Infection
. Now, with the new lineup of Mark Hunter, Rob Arnold, Matt Devries, Emil Werstler, Sean Zatorsky, and Austin D'Amond, the band seem to be finding a ground in their sound that have had trouble doing for quite some time now. Throughout The Age of Hell
, you will find aspects of every record they have done - the speed and industrial effects of The Impossibility of Reason
, the groove and blazing fret work of the self-titled, the technicality of Resurrection
, and the breakdowns and industrial ambience found within The Infection
; but they have twisted all these aspects together to form something new rather than rehash any of these previous works. The Age of Hell
is the sound of a band reinvigorated, and with a handful of new musicians now in the fold their next outing could be their most interesting release yet.