Review Summary: The rest of the house is assembled, only to be burned down in a blaze of glory...
After the first half of the House of Gold & Bones saga turned out to be a brilliant and twisted hard rock album, Stone Sour had fans salivating for the finale. Corey Taylor hinted that Part 2 would be "much darker", but who had any idea it would all end like this?
The opening track "Red City" picks up where "Last of the Real" left off, and the darker sound hits us immediately. The song is predominantly led by haunting piano and Corey Taylor's soothing vocals for the first verse, then drum taps and atmospheric guitar riffs lead us into the bass-driven second verse. The track features a brutal sludgy part in the middle, with some of Corey's most demonic vocals ever. A little lyrical nugget can be found at the beginning, "I know how my story ends." Is this the Human simply accepting his fate at the hand of his demons? Or is it the Human preparing to rewrite his fate?
"Black John" is a great hard rock song with an unusual disco rhythm that introduces us to the story's enemy, Black John. Lyrically, it makes no sense at first glance, with lines "The dead lake frost is in the green,You don't know what I mean" and "The conflagration isn't yours, Your bible is a war". However, the meaning upon closer examination seems to be the rantings of a lunatic, which might be the Human losing his mind over the burdens he is facing. "Sadist" is a lumbering track, with guitar shimmerings leading into a thrashy second half and evocative lyrics about being controlled by your demons. Once again, a hint it made to the finale, "a storm is coming."
"Peckinpah" is schizophrenic, going from psychedelic verses to a driving chorus as the Human finds himself in the House of Gold and Bones at last, and starts to question if this is the best place for him. "Stalemate" is a driving rocker that would've fit on Audio Secrecy. At this point, the Human is preparing to fight back against his problems, with the chorus "If I fail, if I fall...
If I can't be free, then I never was at all. The more I fight, I stay the same." "Gravesend" is dark and sludgy with beeping noises and claustrophobic riffs. Taylor unleashes some powerful roars in the pre-chorus. The song is creepy, as the lyrics carry an anti-religious tone to them, as if the Human is cursing his God for abandoning him.
"'82" is a poppy hard rocker with intensely personal lyrics which I will not get into (hint: read Corey Taylor's first book and think about his childhood). It is kind of genius to weave a personal burden into the story, and gives the Human some realism. "The Uncanny Valley" is grungy as hell, as the story of the Human heads for the climax. "Blue Smoke" is an atmospheric and industrial interlude that leads into "Do Me A Favor". "Blue Smoke" finds the Human preparing himself for the end, and "Do Me A Favor" serves as the last grasps of his alter-ego Allen. "Do Me A Favor" is a bluesy heavy rocker with a rumbling swing rhythm and a chorus that makes you want to jump repeatedly. Taylor's vocals shift like the personalities of the Human, from brutality to soaring. All this leads into "The Conflagration." The piano-led track prepares us for the brutal finale, the title track.
Before I analyze the finale to this story, I would like to mention a cool thing that Stone Sour does to link Part 1 to Part 2. Bits from songs on Part 1 are brought back in slightly different elements. "Do Me A Favor" borrows the intro from "Influence of a Drowsy God." "The Conflagration" borrows the piano part from "The Travelers Part 1" and borrows the familiar "I'm on my own" refrain from Part 1 & 2 of "The Travelers." "The House of Gold and Bones" borrows the gang chant from the chorus of "RU486", and borrows heavily from "Absolute Zero."
Now it is time to discuss the finale. "The House of Gold and Bones" track is brutal, and serves as the Human's eulogy. From the short story that comes with each CD, we know that Human blows up the House of Gold and Bones, but one question is left up for the listener to interpret: what exactly is the House of Gold and Bones? In my personal opinion, the House of Gold and Bones is a hallucination in the Human's ***ed-up mind, just like Allen and Black John. I believe that when the Human destroys the House of Gold and Bones, he is committing suicide, driven to madness by his mental illness. I think the entire House of Gold and Bones story is about a man suffering from mental illness, and his fight & ultimate failure to overcome it. That's one of the great things about the House of Gold and Bones story, it's left up to listener interpretation. From the arrogance found in "Gone Sovereign" & "Absolute Zero" to the doubt of "Red City" and the destruction of the title track, the lyrics tell an evocative story of a man slowly losing himself.
With the House of Gold and Bones saga, Stone Sour has created one of the great double albums in the recent memory of hard rock, and gave us a deep and meaningful concept to boot. The lyrics on both albums could be easily relatable to the listener depending on their interpretations of the story, and the music is the best Stone Sour has written. Whereas Part 1 is in-your-face from start to finish, Part 2 is darker, more haunting, and less accessible. The melodies are still there, but they're not straightforward. Corey Taylor puts on a vocal clinic on Parts 1 & 2, showing off his range. Josh Rand & Jim Root balance fist-pumping riffage with atmospheric textures, and the duo of Rachel Bolan Roy Mayorga drives the whole thing like a demented ring-leader on bass & drums respectively. The great thing about House of Gold and Bones Parts 1 & 2 is that each album could stand on their own as a single album, but in the end they are best enjoyed together. I highly recommend that listeners combine both albums into a single playlist, with Part 1 coming first in order to best enjoy the experience. Stone Sour has reached a creative high point with the House of Gold and Bones project, and it will be interesting to see where they go from here.