Review Summary: Ladies and gents, the world’s first 5th album "sophomore slump".
Well, I’ll admit it – I didn’t see this coming. Miracle singer replacement AJ Cavalier decided enough is enough and quit after the painfully bland Picture Perfect. Whatever remnants of the original SOiL line-up were stuck with some nameless stand-ins stuffing up the cracks on tour. I was pretty sure that at that point the band’s days were numbered. However, instead of biting the dust, they reunited with the original frontman to tour in support of their major label debut’s 10th anniversary. Not only that, the guys decided they get along now and plans for a new record were made. Who’d have thought?
If you were to unconditionally believe the interviews Ryan McCombs passionately delivered prior to this disc’s release, you’d be jumping for joy. The creative core of SOiL is intact, and the album sounds like something that could have come directly after Scars! If that’s not great news, what is? Problems begin when you realize that the “creative core” was also supposedly intact on the previous record, and that a forced return to roots usually does more harm than good. Then you check out the single, “Shine On”…
Don’t worry, “Shine On” is easily the worst song on the album. That doesn’t mean the rest of Whole is brilliant, though – the thing sounds like they’re smashing their heads against a brick wall, trying to force themselves into a way of writing that would produce a heir to Scars. They fail magnificently, with the only aspect of Scars faithfully reproduced being its unevenness. Whilst viewing the album through “this must sound like Scars II” glasses is an irrational stance to take, the confused and forced writing (which doesn’t even produce anything borderline Scars-sounding) really starts to get in the way.
As such, the album’s at its finest when it lets go of the forced approach and just does its own thing. “Loaded Gun” sports a slightly tribal sounding pre-chorus leading into a vintage and distinctly un-SOiL’esque 2003 radio hook. Congratulations, you managed to nail the year of delivery for the record you’re trying to make, and do something slightly unexpected in the process. “Ugly” features viciously unorthodox progressions throughout, and when it gets down to business after a menacingly empty bass interlude it’s easily the heaviest thing in the band’s back catalogue. “One Love” is something that Picture Perfect wishes it had – a truly smashing ballad, with a pulverizing bridge section to boot. Mind you, none of these scale any tremendous heights, but they’re fun tracks and good additions to the SOiL back catalogue.
It should come as no surprise to the listener that the album sounds the worst when the constricted writing forces itself to attempt to relive glories of old. This is indeed the case – “The Hate Song” is a gigantic display of failed aping, inanely mimicking the shifted rhythms of yore and trying to slap in a Halo-style chorus to boot. “Psychopath” makes no secret of wanting to be the next “One”, but it goes va banque on the rowdiness, completely losing the subtle charm of the inspiration source. “Amalgation” is a curious mess, wherein McCombs goes all self-retrospective over a track that sounds like a bad True Self B-side. And, of course, “Shine On” is so confused and useless that I’m still wondering how it even made it to the final cut, let alone why it’s the lead single.
It’s easy to see that the “creative core” is nowhere near intact, as the highs don’t really take off, the lows are rather cringe-inducing and everything else is downright pedestrian. The role of departed guitar man Shaun Glass became apparent when the band followed up its best record with its worst, and the writing doesn’t quite regain its footing here as well. The curious new problem is the drumming. I don’t usually pay attention to this aspect of music, so if it’s catching my attention something must be seriously flawed. The new dude seems to miss the intentions of the other guys, preferring to stay in stable rhythmic territories instead of trying for some intricate interplay. The worst offender – “Way Gone”. Who the hell thought it was a good idea to have the guy play beats straight out of Baby’s First Drum Book on that tune?
So, is Whole SOiL’s lost follow-up to Scars? Not really, and the attempts to make it sound like one did more harm than good. There’s nothing on here that could pass as material from McCombs’s first tenure with the band, and the record only manages to sound comfortable when it’s aware of that and lets the songs breathe a bit. Unfortunately, this is not the case most of the time, and the bizarre, constrained writing not only fails to achieve what it set out to do, but also brings down the bulk of the ironically titled record with it. Hey, at least it’s better than Picture Perfect.