Review Summary: Lacks originality in some areas, but overall gets the job done better than most.
The Lawrence Massachusetts-based Godsmack is an entity that doesn't lend much for listeners to complain about or praise. Even though they quickly constricted mainstream nu-metal in the late 90's with the hit singles that accompanied this recording, their arsenal of heavy-hitting rock is built mostly on countless rearrangements of the same chords and progressions; a method that can grow stale fast depending on what the listener is looking for. Ultimately, some metal-heads are always down to headbang, and some are searching for a little more exploration.
Godsmack does a few things as right as rain on their debut. There's rarely an awkward moment, their performance is superb, and there are a handful of standout moments that showcase truly original songwriting. They specialize in straying from anything a fan of the genre would feel the need to bicker about by sticking to mid and fast-paced rhythms, lyrics with closely-related themes, and a lot of cycling through the same notes and sequences.
While they manage to satisfy the need for decent tough-guy nu-metal, they prove to be one of the less adventuresome rock outfits on a major label. They manage to perform on a solid professional level, but there is little present to diagnose this group with a signature style. They can jam better than most on good old-fashioned heavy tunes, but most often with melodies that sound reminiscent of musicians' past.
Godsmack does have a set of highlights, that put them above the average. Sully Erna, for example, has one of the most naturally metal-oriented singing voices imaginable. He lacks the need to scream or shriek in order to establish his compatibility with the genre. His vocals are crisp yet raspy, a combination thought impossible, and it works so well. In addition, Guitarist Tony Rombola can do just about anything the majority of his competition can. He grinds on exceptional riffs with precision and can play many a seductive solo. Drumming contributions from Tommy Stewart and Joe D'arco are thundering and meaty, providing an epic backdrop to the band's force; and bassist Robbie Merrill gets overshadowed by Rombola's shredding, but his talents are revealed on songs like, "Voodoo."
This is all great news to fresh speculators of Godsmack, but there is utter truth in that this debut release is mostly compiled of familiar territory. The opening trio of tremendous tracks ("Moon Baby," "Whatever," "Keep Away") all present Godsmack as completely original and in possession of an untouched flare that distinguishes them. But right afterward is the trip from "Time Bomb" to "Situation," which is majorly C+ grade material. There is a considerable amount of recycled rhythms and patterns that not only can get annoyingly repetitive, but stay within plain-jane time signatures that refuse to tread outside of the box into something unique.
The detracting factors don't stop there unfortunately. Erna's vocals remain stable for the length of the album, but his lyrics only flow smoothly during the beginning. As the tracks roll, the words become overly personal and tend to sound immature. The choruses become less and less sing-a-long friendly and grow tiresome. As brute and bulldozing as their music is, the majority of the lyrics give the record a shallow-depth, since the music doesn't get backed by the meaning as well as it could.
"Voodoo" the finale` is a solid close, and is exemplary of the prestigious quality evident on "Godsmack's" opening three tracks. Exotic, daring, and experimental, the song features low middle-easternesque bass riffs, thick use of bongos, and a complete redemption in Erna's lyricism. It's arguably the most everlasting track on the record.
Tragically, "Voodoo," "Whatever," Keep Away," and "Moon Baby," are the most memorable songs, and three of them are singles. The question is, if they can generate stunning singles such as these, why can't they take the time to craft all of their cuts in this same fashion? Then there's the thought most major-label acts keep in mind on a daily basis; "We could try new things, but how will they be received?" It's a risky gamble, and deciding on whether or not to play it, is dependent on the band's strong suits.
Godsmack's strong suit is clearly cranking out reliably heavy music that has the sour attitude of hatred and angst found in at least 70% of their opponents. It's a bummer that they aren't as creative as some of their competing acts, but they provide hints throughout the album that indicate they are at least capable of glorified song-crafting. This record may not be able to fulfill your desire for something as complex as "Tool" or as mystifying as "Deftones," but if any of these experimental types ever attempt something that doesn't work, Godsmack can be depended on to brew up rough and tough mainstream nu-metal.