Review Summary: What a shame, should have been called Diamond Eyes.
The process of expanding one's sound often leaves some nasty by-products and side-effects: Inconsistency, incoherence, and schizophrenic tracks. Amaryllis
. the fourth studio album from mainstream darlings Shinedown suffers from all three of these symptoms and taken as a whole is a decidedly significant step back from The Sound of Madness
. Despite this, some of the bands best work can be cherry-picked from within the eleven tracks.
"Adrenaline" is a suitably intense and hard opener. It shows the band in full swing, Brent Smith's smooth power metal howl and near-falsetto range is still intact. "Bully", as you've probably heard by now, aims for the cheap seats and shows Shinedown in full pander mode, making an anthem for the High School geeks and freaks that they're pretty sure comprise their listener base; This is pure pit, horned hands, and sing-a-long fuel here for the self-disenfranchised. A few different words here or there could have put the song on the level of metaphor, maybe even ambiguous, and even made it a bit less lunkheaded.
Here is where I make sense of the summary: The title track "Amaryllis" is shlocky, sugary garbage. Even in the context of the bands affinity for the ballad, this track stands tall as a saccharine, cavity inducing mess. Although almost two years old at the time of this release, "Diamond Eyes" from the Expendables
soundtrack should have taken this songs place. Not only would it have kept pace on the album going into "Unity", but it's just a better track (Naming issues with the Deftones be damned!). Speaking of "Unity"...
... it's a lowest-common-denominator kind of power ballad, and within those parameters Shinedown knock this one out of the park. I would deride them for the cheesy use of "Put your hands in the air" as a lyric, but for some reason this thing just works. The layered guitar work and modern Country lovesong sensibilities that squish all over this track seem to project a sense of inherent honesty that makes it difficult to bash, especially considering "Amaryllis" comes directly before it.
"Enemies", the titular bookend to Us and Them
's "Heroes", is where the action is at. Fresh on the heels of "Diamond Eyes". this is a gritty buzzsaw of modern rock showcasing the aggressive side of the band that should have been utilized more on the disc. The staccato riffwork and driving riffs complete with the full-on angst of a seriously pissed off vocal line make it a standout track on the album. It's composition, much like one of the other better tracks "My Name (Wearing Me Out)", is just begging for an added capsaicin punch of double-bass kick drums. It's a shame that they aren't there, but that's what steering wheels are for.
The best track here, "For My Sake", slides neatly in Shinedowns power ballad portfolio... only this time there seems to be some real meat on these melodic bones. The strongest vocal performance I've heard from Brent Smith on any of Shinedowns albums (And by more than a hair) comes complete with octaved-out serpentine guitar work and a powerful, energetic chorus that contains the kind of phrasing that will get your brain to repeat it over and over, whether you like it or not. It falls neatly between ".45" and "What a Shame", and contains all of the emotional impact you could want.
The rest of the album ranges from good ("Miracle", "I'm not Alright", "Through the Ghost") to middling ("I'll Follow You", "Nowhere Kids"). It's not their best CD, but present here are two of their best tracks ("Enemies" and "For My Sake). One can only hope they can take inspiration from those two, but with the effort put behind making the worst song on the album it's title track... perhaps this could be the beginning of the end for one of the best mainstream rock acts.