Review Summary: It's in the BACK of the mind
It's strange how Chevelle's greatest strength, their unfaltering consistency across a 15 year career, slowly started to morph into their greatest weakness towards the latter part of that time span. The trio from Chicago seemed perpetually unwilling to expand their sound or push any sort of sonic boundaries, an issue that was compoundingly frustrating due to the fact that the band always seemed capable of so much more. They've always surged with a transfixing sort of energy and swagger, exuding a darker, alternative metal edge that allowed them to stand out from their peers on mainstream rock radio. In the early stages of their career, fans and critics could safely hypothesize that the band would eventually become capable of harnessing those promising qualities and utilizing them to craft a career-defining sort of masterpiece, but such an album never quite seemed to materialize. The half-baked descriptions pinning the band as "Tool-lite" just seemd to pile up uselessly while the group treaded water with album after album that never seemed to even reach beyond their comfort zone. It was all solid, riff-driven hard rock packaged with epic, melodic voals and a radio ready sheen. Of course every album was of proficient quality, but it was almost annoying how the band never aspired to do anything more, and with 2010's "Hats off to the Bull", their schtick started to feel stale even without a substantial drop in quality.
2014's "La Gargola", thankfully, finds Chevelle taking the most evolutionary step of their career. Whether or not they were cognizantly responding to the growing espousal of complaints in the vein of my own is beside the point- "La Gargola" hits like a blast of fresh air, never overstaying its welcome with surprising twists and turns around every corner. One could assume that it was a change in songwriting focus that provided some of the renewed creativity. No longer plodding in the realm of vague political statements that peppered "Hats Off to the Bull" has paid off in spades, as songs about "gargoyles killing Pete while he's taking out the trash" and "the band killing zombies while on tour" pulsate with a sense of freshness and freedom that feels like the band throwing cares to the wind and just making good music on their own terms. Production tricks have rendered the heavy tracks on the album louder and more ferocious than previous outings, the guitars stealing the focal point for a large portion of the album. This works- while Pete's vocals may be pushed back a bit further than radio audiences may be accustomed to, the music breathes more comfortably because of it. Opening one-two punch "Ouija Board" and "An Island" smash through at a breakneck pace with unrelenting riffs and a great deal of noise, while "Jawbreaker" boasts a surprisingly danceable groove. "The Damned" holds up the second half with a morbid, obscure sounding riff, and the "it's in the BACK of the mind" section of "Under The Knife" provides a late album highlight. Besides these heavier tracks (and between them in transitions), we see an ethereal side to the band that previously laid dormant. "One Ocean" and "Twinge" effectively supplant the tired acoustic tracks found on most Chevelle albums with deep basslines, an overwhelming sense of ambiance, and strong melodies which all come together to form a concoction that barely even sounds like Chevelle. At it's best moments, the album sounds like Chevelle at the top of their game, and as a package it forms the most cohesive and daring release of the bands career. It's not quite a career defining masterpiece, but as of now, it is their best album, and most importantly, it has made Chevelle interesting again.