Review Summary: With Staind, Lewis is just as haunted as ever, but this time the pain feels real.
Cavities are rotten. Over a length of time, plaque accumulates only to become joined with bacteria inside the mouth. This bacterium produces acids that painstakingly eat away at the outermost layer of the tooth, called the enamel, resulting in contact with nerve endings and a potential outburst of anguish. Though Staind’s artwork hardly depicts an actual cavity, the cover could ultimately be viewed as an artistic representation of one because Staind’s seventh full length record, Staind
, is a bleak, wearisome inspection of a group deteriorated and anguished by the strains of daily life.
General fans of Staind may be pleasantly surprised to discover that the outfit’s newest album is also easily the heaviest material recorded by the quartet to date. Not since the early days of Dysfunction
, with its furious tracks like ”Spleen” and “Raw” have Staind been so eager to thrash and scream with little to no regard for chart-topping success. Middle–aged listeners who grew enamored with radio mainstays “It’s Been Awhile”, “So Far Away” and “Right Here” are guaranteed to feel alienated once Staind assaults their ears, as the sonic decay growing within the band was a subtle one. With releases Break the Cycle
, 14 Shades of Grey
, Chapter V
and The Illusion of Progress
, each album hinted at the heaviness of yesteryear, yet maintained a polished, airwaves-healthy shine. The conception of Staind
, however, was almost unbearable, as levels of aggravation and hostility within each member became overwhelming. Simply put, the cavity was detected and the outburst of anguish had begun while the recording devices rolled.
A mere moment into “Eyes Wide Open” it is apparent that this record is a different monster altogether. Frontman Aaron Lewis unleashes a series of lyrics that catches him pressing, not only straining to address an unspoken recipient, but screaming outright. Lewis clearly comes across as incensed and paired with the downtuned riffing of Mike Mushok and Johnny April, this primal scream therapy is ultimately believable. “Not Again” follows a similar formula, giving ample time for Lewis to both croon and cry with fury, this time featuring a catchy chorus that might allow such a pained piece to infiltrate radio stations. Further within this dreary record are a couple other considerably merciless mashers. “The Bottom”, previewed earlier this year on the Transformers: Dark of the Moon soundtrack, opens with arguably the heaviest riff Mushok has transcribed to date. While the majority of the piece trudges along, Mushok’s playing emphasizes the chronic despair that this album highlight shares. Last, “Paper Wings” is about as chaotic as Staind has ever dared to be. Lewis’ vocal performance during the verses is suffocating; sure to leave listeners fixated on every last word he screams and moans. Once again, the emotions here crawl to the forefront and unlike most outfits, the throat-shredding here sounds authentic – the inspiration exists – and this is anything but a gimmick.
While Lewis and company’s songwriting has taken a turn towards the tortured, not everything here is blistering metal. Select pieces here feature that trademark ache of Staind’s quieter material. “When I’m Gone” serves as an epitaph of sorts, with a subdued backdrop of guitar and Lewis’ confessions that makes the song all the more effective, especially when compared to the blasting fare the majority of the record features. “Failing” could be the track that tugs on the heartstrings the most. Here, Staind sound eerily similar to Alice In Chains and with the depressing mood Staind
carries, makes such parallels to the troubled Seattle-based group additionally uncomfortable. Yet, this is what Staind
does – explore the uglier spectrum of human emotion with both a wounded scream and a hushed croon. Sunshine and rainbows are replaced with torrential downpours and saturated clouds.
As fascinating as this self-titled effort is based solely on Staind’s reemerged aggression, there are a couple blemishes that prevent such an album to reach elite levels of critical acclaim. First, “Wannabe”, while an undoubtedly entertaining rocker that assaults faceless critics and keyboard warriors, features a tragic rapping section complete with tongue-in-cheek lyrics that hit a little too close to the group’s nu-metal roots. On an album that is committed to being serious and scathing, the lighthearted “Wannabe”’s inclusion is a bit of a head scratcher and decreases the record’s heavyhearted aura. Last, “Take a Breath” is rather unmemorable. For most of Staind
, the term ‘all killer, no filler’ applies, but “Take a Breath” comes across as a lesser version of tracks that appear earlier within the album.
Staind’s self-titled effort should be considered a success, there is little question. Like a cavity slowly sinking into the recesses of a tooth, Staind had been inadvertently compiling every day frustrations and a deep-seeded desire to toss the acoustic guitar aside and explode. While these ten tracks are not perfect, they represent another incarnation of the band – one willing to revisit the anguish and despair that allowed many to relate with them over the seventeen years their music has sounded. With Staind
, Lewis is just as haunted as ever, but this time the pain feels real.