Review Summary: Chevelle is back and ready to rock with another solid release, but don't expect anything mind-blowing
Chevelle, all members of the Loeffler family, initially played a balanced style of alternative metal when it formed in 1999. This style of music exploded in the late 1990s and early 2000s, dominating rock stations across the country.
Over a decade later, Chevelle is one of the few bands from this scene that is still thriving, due in part to a gradual shift in stlye and an accessible sound.
On Dec. 6, Chevelle released its sixth album, Hats Off To The Bull. This album has had a tough task: following up on Sci-Fi Crimes. But in the week since its release, the album’s opening track has already shot to the very top of the rock radio charts. Entitled “Face To The Floor”, the album’s opener immediately sets a furious pace. From the Audioslave-esque main guitar riff to lead singer Pete Loeffler’s aggressive vocals, this track is a rocker throughout, sure to have the listener bobbing their head a long with the beat.
Hats Off To The Bull then continues with “Same Old Trip” and “Ruse”, two immediately infectious tracks. These songs build up momentum with dramatic verses and guitar lines before exploding into choruses that will echo in your head for days.
Two mediocre (for Chevelle) tracks follow in “The Meddler” and “Piñata”. With bland guitar lines and a simple chorus, the aforementioned track screams “hit radio single”. "The Meddler" has been hailed as a standout by many, but I just don't hear it.
“Piñata” is a fast, fun track that even includes a guitar solo. Almost halfway through the album at this point, there are still none of the “wow moments” I was hoping for – moments that I savored on Sci-Fi Crimes.
However, this complaint was remedied on the very next track. “Envy” is the song where Chevelle branches out the most, and the risk pays off, as it is the most special song on the new album. With a beautifully complex, rumbling bass line and the most dynamic vocal performance on the album, this track is one that should not be skipped. The “wow moment” comes at the epic conclusion of the track when Loeffler repeats “to the one” in signature high voice.
“Envy” contrasts wonderfully with the next track, the title track. Perhaps the heaviest song on the album, “Hats Off To The Bull” does not hesitate to assault the listener with a barrage of distorted guitar riffs and angry vocals. When Loeffler reaches the chorus his voice is nearly at a scream. Despite the pounding drums and relentless guitars, this track is contagiously catchy. After only my first listen it became a quick favorite.
From there, the album begins to taper off, however. “Arise”, “Revenge” and “Clones” have potential but are outmatched by the first half of the album. They are still listenable tracks, as all of Chevelle’s are, but there is simply nothing great about them.
Amidst these mediocre tracks is a gem – “Prima Donna.” This elegant acoustic track is similar to “Highland Apparition” off of Sci-Fi Crimes. The track features just Pete Loeffler and his acoustic guitar, no other instrumentation at all, and its simple melodies are astonishing. Chevelle has gotten into a habit of releasing one acoustic song on each album, and I have quite enjoyed these serene jams. There has even been talk of an all-acoustic Chevelle album, which, if as good as "Prima Donna", I would most definitely purchase.
But back to this album. Overall, the songs do almost seem to blur together, and there are too few incredible moments, too few of the kind of moments I’ve come to expect from Chevelle over the years. There is no jaw-dropping, bona-fide best track on the album, at least not one on the level of Shameful Metaphors, The Red or I Get It from previous efforts.
Hats Off To The Bull features 11 very dense tracks that pack a punch, whether it be with heavy guitars and aggressive vocals, or a more progressive and emotional approach. The band weaves in a lot of impressive flourishes with the bass guitar, always downright groovy or sinister.
There are some memorable guitar riffs on Hats Off To The Bull. There are also a couple of guitar solos (“Piñata”, “Ruse”) – an element not used often by Chevelle – although neither of which was much better than “just good.”
The atmosphere has darkened since Sci-Fi Crimes, but this album is not as heavy or guitar driven as previous albums. If there is a clear difference between the guitar work in this album and previous ones, it’s that the guitar has taken a slight back seat for Hats Off To The Bull. Don’t get me wrong, Chevelle has maintained its melodic hard rock sound, but the guitar riffs, while still present, are no longer the primary driving force behind many of the songs. That role has been delegated to Pete Loeffler and his commanding vocal ability.
The true highlight of Hats Off To The Bull is Loeffler’s incredibly unique voice – any song by Chevelle is worth listening to just to hear him. Loeffler’s wide range, soft-loud dynamics and even his subtle stylistic nuances are reminiscent of Maynard James Keenan (Tool), not in any way a bad thing, while also having the accessibility key for rock radio success.
The songs on this album are enjoyable, some are fantastic, but the formula is starting to sound a little worn after six albums. Maybe it’s me just being overly critical because Chevelle is one of my favorite bands, a band I’ve loved for a long time. But I feel like this release, while definitely worth its price and a very fun listen that anyone would return to often, was not their very best. I wouldn’t even go as far as to call it a disappointment; it’s too good for that label. This album is very good but not quite excellent, and it had to be excellent in order to surpass previous work.
Standout Tracks: Face To The Floor, Ruse, Envy, Hats Off To The Bull, Prima Donna