Review Summary: Little-known fact: this is actually Chevelle's first concept album, revolving around the theme of "my brother's a massive bitch!"
Chevelle's classification as a 'mainstream rock' band has always struck me as somewhat bizzare. Ever since they blipped on our radars with The Red
way back in 2002, they've ceaselessly been compared with lesser peers such as Breaking Benjamin and Three Days Grace, and have consistently outshined them, with their cryptic lyrics, relative technicality and innovative brand of rock; qualities that could hardly be classified as 'mainstream' in today's music scene.
Nevertheless, their music hasn't been completely without fault; major label debut "Wonder What's Next" fell to its painfully overpolished production and overbearing simplicity, while follow-up "This Type of Thinking", while trying to infuse more of a metal edge to their brand of rock, wore itself thin by its end with its lack of refreshing variety, despite its improved technicality; and by that point, it seemed that the previously infallible formula of Chevelle-rock was beginning to get a little stale. And thus, fate posed the question to Chevelle, then struggling with brotherly turmoil and declining sales; could they ape their proven-successful formula for all it was worth, or try something new?
Come 2007, and we sure found out, with the release of "Vena Sera". On paper, this album doesn't seem all that much different from their previous albums; it still relies on catchy hard rock with a generous dollop of metal influence, with Pete Loeffler's unique breathless voice at the forefront of it all. However, there's just something different about this album that makes it seem so much more refreshing; every song on this album feels like a breath of fresh air, something new. That's when you realise that Chevelle has broadened their visions; they've tried out more upbeat, optimistic
-sounding tunes on this album. On previous albums, pretty much every
song was carried with a dark, brooding riff, with the exceedingly rare exception (Send the Pain Below
). The lack of variation in atmosphere got stale rather soon, especially on "This Type of Thinking". This time, however, they're not shy around major keys and tuning their songs into a more vitalizing stance, as is evident on standouts like Saferwaters
, where a shimmering, elegant guitar progression carries the song, and lead single Well Enough Alone
, as seen by the simplistic, yet pretty riffs of the verses. Even the heavier songs, which are led by meatier riffs, manage to exude that heavy tone without having to rely on a moody, brooding tone to carry it off (Straight Jacket Fashion
, Midnight to Midnight
Another essential area in which Chevelle have improved by leaps and bounds is that of experimentation. Again, they're not afraid to shake their sound up, playing around with vocal and guitar effects to provide an added edge to their music. Songs like the bullheaded opener Antisaint
which would otherwise sound rather one-dimensional have been spiced up with flanged guitar and a talkbox-aided vocal delivery from Pete Loeffler. This added dimension also provides for some of the best songs on the album, such as the fuzzy-effects showcase The Fad
, the downright weird Midnight to Midnight
and the slowly brewing, intense guitar of closer Saturdays
. It's not just in terms of effects, however, as Chevelle has attempted, and succeeded in, combining diverse instruments together where they would not normally make sense, and making great tracks out of it. The best example of this would be I Get It
, where fast-paced acoustic guitar (something of a rarity in today's world where acoustic guitars are only used for ballads) is joined with a groovy bass to lead up to an explosive chorus. Perhaps the greatest musical change they've made of all, however, would be that they've introduced guitar tracking on this album; with only one guitarist, Chevelle was on other albums restricted to what that one guitarist alone could do, somewhat restricting the extent to which their sound could bloom. On this album, however, they've allowed themselves to record multiple guitar tracks on songs, thus providing this album with its greatest boon of all; with this added instrumentation, Chevelle's artistic horizons have been widened to huge degrees, and their songs sound much more refreshed with the addition of multiple guitar tracks.
Nevertheless, what would all these thematic changes and experimentation be without decent instrumentation to back it all up? Thankfully though, Chevelle manage to surpass themselves in this area too. While Pete's guitar remains of decent standards, the rhythm section has made admirable leaps and bounds in terms of instrumentation. Chevelle gained a new bassist, Dean Bernardini, for this album, and while he lacks the presence and thick tone of his predecessor Joe Loeffler, he makes up for it with massively improved bass lines in terms of technicality. Unlike previous albums where the bass generally hugged the guitar lines, in this album, the bass is left free to roam, resulting in excellent, independent, groovy bass lines that complement the guitar perfectly while managing to stay distinct, allowing Chevelle to add another dimension to their musical horizons. Likewise, drummer Sam Loeffler has made huge improvements, creating excellent fills and innovative drum patterns that carry the songs along, and even steps up to play double bass pedal on several of their songs (Saferwaters
And in conclusion, Chevelle's successful attempt at trying something new has undoubtedly paid off, with Chevelle's standard catchy hard-rock formula gaining a new invigorated lease of life. Such tremendous improvements have undoubtedly paid off in creating some of their best songs to date on both the heavy and soft sides of the musical spectrum. Without a doubt, such broadened creativity from Chevelle has bestowed upon this album the title of one of the best mainstream rock albums this decade, and is without a doubt Chevelle's best yet.