40 Below Summer were always a little different from the rest of the nu metal pack. The band created a unique, occasionally downright ferocious riffing style complemented by an inimitable vocal delivery. Had they gotten larger, maybe nowadays they’d be acknowledged as the godfathers of the breakdown. Nevertheless, mainstream metal had since managed to independently develop some of the traits exhibited by this particular nu metal collective a decade previously. The vocalist and rhythm guitarist were content with shedding their nu metal roots and embracing the novel direction with a number of other projects, most likely finding the new style surprisingly familiar in places, but eventually rekindled their original band for more than a one-off show.
I am happy to report that Fire at Zero Gravity is actually pretty solid, as the guys experiment with what they’ve learned in Black Market Hero and With Daggers Drawn, giving the 40 Below Summer style a facelift without abandoning the old trademarks. You’ll have no trouble telling this record apart from Heart of the Universe, but it’s considerably enriched in tremolo and double bass moments compared to their prior back catalogue. Add some song-writing maturity whilst keeping the melodic undertones in place and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a convincing evolution of the band’s sound.
The guys waste no time in getting down to business and trying the combination in practice. “Bottom Feeder” is the band’s most accomplished track from an objective standpoint. The vintage foundation of vicious/melodic duality is augmented with intricate chord shapes (the chorus alone is worth it), intelligent arrangements and just the right amount of conventional metal influence to produce a seamlessly flowing beast of a track. It’s 40 Below Summer’s mission statement for Fire at Zero Gravity, redefining their approach and blazing the trail for the rest of the album to follow with style.
And follow with style, it does. “Eternal” and “My Name Is Vengeance” make for a sturdy back-to-back pair of tracks, with the former toning down the heaviness to deliver a ballad showcasing some unexpected progressions and revealing guitarist Jordan Plingos’s technical prowess. In turn, the latter delivers an intriguing display of the original 40 Below Summer riffing style mingling with the newfound influences, resulting in the most aggressive and venomous song on the record. The bookend riffs of “Total Harmonic Destruction” give “My Name Is Vengeance” a run for its money, but the core of the track is surprisingly bleak and depressing, letting the dynamic shifts define the darkest track of the record.
Unfortunately, at times the album gets a little too comfortable and buffers itself with filler, resulting in over an hour’s worth of run time. The easiest possible fix would be to cut all the tracks from “Predator” to “Our Own December”. The only one of the lot offering something unique at the scope of the album is “Little Miss Happiness”, but the punk-infused tune feels uneasy and incomplete. Everything else is done better elsewhere on the record, with “Predator”, the worst track of the lot, feeling like 6 minutes of dead time. Other tracks could use a bit of touching up as well – “Painting the White House Black” should have a chorus that doesn’t squander all the built-up tension, “Human Gamma Bomb” is very close to burning through its fuse but doesn’t quite get there, whilst “God Complex” drags considerably before the brilliant outro guitar interplay takes over the limelight.
In the end, Fire at Zero Gravity is an enjoyable listen as the positives outweigh the negatives. Instead of hopping to a current fad or blindly holding onto their initial style, the band evolves by honing their song-writing ability and taking some cues from what happened in the metal world while they weren’t around. There are some unnecessary tracks, but they can be easily culled from the playlist, leaving behind a more focused collection of songs with a respectable run time. 40 Below Summer have shown that it’s possible to create a sturdy record that isn’t a rehash of the glory days, years after the glory days have passed. Some of their peers should take note.