Review Summary: Chevelle tweak their sound, and come up with their most engrossing album in years.
In an age over-burdened by data from a multitude of sources, it's quite an achievement when a band whips up even an ounce of excitement in the second decade of its existence. Chevelle are this very band as their new release debuted in the top 3 of Billboard charts, marking their highest grossing first week thus far. Along with Deftones, the Chicago outfit have always been ahead of the game when it comes to ambitious alternative metal with massive cross-over appeal. Their 2004 album This Type Of Thinking (Could Do Us In)
remains a staple release for the genre due to its superbly maneuvered juxtaposition of heaviness and melody. Even though La Gárgola
rarely reaches the dizzy heights of that album, it still ranks as one of the group's most commanding endeavors to date. What makes this statement rather surprising is that the record comes hot on the heels of the uncommonly tepid Hats Off to the Bull
that began the trio's cooperation with Joe Barresi. The new album is definitely a way more engrossing showcase of the outfit and the coveted producer's collective talents, paradoxically not catering to the mainstream tastes so much.
Deriving its title from a grotesquely carved figure, La Gárgola
is by far the trio's darkest release, and the darkness suits them. Chevelle set paranoia and unease surging, which swamps the music in a tense atmosphere similar to the output of their primary influence, Tool. The esoteric lyrics only enhance the ominous quality of the record, evoking plenty of creepy imagery and genuine unrest. The trio blend these qualities with sinewy guitar riffs and sturdy rhythms. The decision to tone down the melodies in favor of a heavier, more riff-driven approach may appear risky from a commercial standpoint, but it's also cleverly calculated to create a cohesive concept without having one song outperform the rest. The heavy rock tracks, which permeate through the record, are shrewdly composed and punchy enough to achieve a visceral impact on the listener.
Opener 'Ouija Board' resorts to frenetic, ultra-fast riffs to bracing effect, while 'An Island' grooves deeply with guitar work that's at once totally fuzzed-out and smooth. Meanwhile, 'Take Out the Gunman' houses tribal rhythms and psychedelic leads wondrously interspersed with a ferocious chorus. On the other hand, the massive stomp of 'Jawbreaker' sees the trio embracing industrial metal influences for the first time. 'Hunter Eats Hunter' is both hook-laden and complex, featuring This Type Of Thinking
-echoing chorus that fluidly coalesces into an elaborate bridge. When the trio strip their sound back to make the album more diverse, they are hardly as impressive. 'One Ocean' is a pretentious pro-environment anthem that fails to pick up despite a finely honed chorus, yet 'Twinge' is thankfully far more intriguing, utilizing ambient soundscapes to close the disc on a truly unsettling note.
It has always been clear that Chevelle is primarily Pete Loeffler's outfit, and expectedly his contribution to La Gárgola
's triumph is paramount as his voice range, lyrics and guitar tones continue to set the band apart from their peers. Pete's versatile vocals shine through the entire record, swiftly oscillating between serene crooning, soaring harmonies and feral screams. There's no shortage of unbridled aggression and anger here as the furious onslaught of 'Under The Knife' attests. But the allure of the seventh Chevelle album mainly lies in the trio's penchant for expanding their sonic palette through various tweaks to their established sound. Pete's ingenious guitar layering is clearly the key component that pushes the other two members to experiment with their instruments as well. To redefine their sound fully, though, Chevelle need to take a risk of incorporating more adventurous song structures into their music. For now, this is a step in the right direction.