Review Summary: A pleasant surprise
For someone who claims to be reborn, there's an overwhelming feeling of resignation in Brian "Head" Welch's first solo outing, "Save Me From Myself". For anyone who doesn't feel like going into depth, it'd be best described as the depressing, haunting, hollow feel of Brand New's "The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me" crossed with the hopeless yet heavy sound of Korn's earlier work. Or a more structured, melodic ikd-sj, on the off chance anyone reading this is familiar with them. This album is dark, dismal, and full of dropped tuned power chords throughout. No surprises there. What is surprising is the use of synth and Brian's vocals to try and create an atmospheric, haunting feel to the album. Even more surprising is that it works. Really, really well.
Comparisons to Welch's work with Korn are inevitable, so let's get them out of the way early. Allow me to get abstract and pretentious here with a bad metaphor: Korn's music is the guy in the padded cell who screams out, cries and is a high suicide risk, who'll go to his therapy sessions and talk to the psychiatrist because deep down he wants to be better, he wants to be ok and for everything to work out. Head's music is the guy who sits quietly in the corner of his padded cell, insisting the light be permanently off. He's talkative enough, even charming, but you can tell from the cold, dead look in his eyes he'll attack anyone dumb enough to remove the straight jacket, because under the soft words there's only anger and bitterness. Korn's music felt like the ravings of a person wanting to be saved, whereas the person representing Head's music has been saved, but this enlightenment has made him more bitter than ever. This album exudes depression, rather than raw angst, and sounds all the better for it.
At the forefront of this album's sound are Welch's vocals, which are a pleasant surprise to say the least. Welch frequently uses hushed, almost whispered vocals in the softer sections of songs, reminiscent of TRUSTcompany, but without sounding high and whiny. When he utilises this technique, the vocals fade into the music beautifully, especially the synth, to create a haunting, despair drenched sound. At the other end of the spectrum are the gruff, almost growling vocals that appear when the musical focus is shifted more towards the heavy rythm guitar, and are often used on the choruses. There's also more than a hint of Jonathon Davis's vocal techniques littered throughout the album, which are a nice nod to Welch's past work, but these aren't used frequently enough to make it feel like an imitation.
Instrumentally, the focus is on synth and lead guitar licks. The two blend so seemlessly it's hard to tell when you're hearing one or the other. It's this combination of echo/delay infused lead lines and the vocals that really make this album, as the two often intertwine in softer moments, but also compliment each other well in heavier sections. Rythm guitar is standard nu-metal fare, and this is where you'll find the most influence of Welch's previous work. It's almost entirely power chords, with the odd chugging rythm. Very Korn. That's not to say this brings the album's quality down much though, as the distorted, heavy riffs give the music a sense of aggression that would otherwise be lost in the wall of synth and layered vocals, and are almost headbang-able at times. Bass is above average here. You'll hear the odd riff or fill that catches the ear, often in the quieter sections of the album, but it largely follows the rythm guitar. As for drums, it's Josh Freese. There's not much else to say really, his drumming is as good as ever, plenty of interesting patterns and fills all throughout the record.
The tracks themselves are overall consistant and enjoyable, but it has to be said, the first three tracks are probably the weakest on the album. Although they all contain the blend of synth, vocals and distorted guitar that make this album enjoyable, but are much more bland than the rest of the album. "L.O.V.E." has a beautiful, soft pre-chorus, and some nice synth, but is fairly generic otherwise. Lead single "Flush" is easily one of the least enjoyable on the album, with a quiet verse, yelling in the pre-chorus, and a loud, nu-metal chorus. Although better than most nu-metal tracks, you've heard this before. "Loyalty" has an interesting sound bite at the start, and it's hard to tell whether it's a recording of a child crying, synth, a wah/whammy guitar lick, or a combination of these three. Mildly disturbing, it also crops up later in the song, but is the only really notable part.
"Re-Bel" is where the album starts to get interesting, with less straightforward heaviness and more experimental songwriting. A children's choir sings about being abused by their parents, and gives way to a heavy guitar riff with Welch telling the children to "rebel". "My step-dad he hates me so, he hits me all the time, but when we're around people he acts like things are fine" - cliche maybe, but haunting coming from a children's choir, and stunningly contrasted by the heavier sections of the song. "Home" has an unusual chorus that bears vague resemblence to Lacuna Coil's "Stars", and is catchy to boot. The ending has Welch quietly pleading "come home pease" as the song fades out, and is surprisingly emotional. Elsewhere, "Die Religion Die" starts out with a very Korn-esque intro, with the chorus being Welch shouting the title. In the outro, Welch sings the title softly, leading into a layered, almost church-sounding rendition, before the songs shifts into screaming again, with a dissonant riff blaring in the background. "Adonai" is an album highlight, with a superbly catchy chorus, and a driving, almost energetic feel throughout. "Money" is quite similar to "Adonai", with another great chorus. The 9 minute album closer "Washed By Blood" is a stunning piece of writing, with sections that remind vaguely of 30 Seconds To Mars's "Capricorn", with powerful layered vocals, but without white jumpsuits and terrible haircuts. If you've enjoyed the album up to this point you probably won't even notice how long the song is.
Cons then. Most notably, the monotonous rythm guitar that never really does anything noticable. Monotony is a criticism that could be levelled at the whole album, as although the material is emotional, soft, aggressive and sometimes epic, it's all pretty similar. Few if any tracks really differentiate themselves from the others, so it's hard to reccomend specific tracks. The first three songs, again, are pretty dull affairs. Although enaging on first listen, when compared to the rest of the album they're definitly less interesting. The overpowering feeling of depression and resignation may be a bit much for some, similar again to "The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me", as the album's mood rarely changes. The lyrics range from mildly interesting to absolutely laughable. Welch is obviously trying to communicate some deep, personal messages, as well as offer some social commentary, but is so heavy handed and obvious with it, you'll find yourself cringing every now and then. On the plus side, the christian message isn't overpowering or irritating, and you'll only notice it occasionally.
Korn lost me years ago. Hell, they never really had me, I always preferred more guitar driven music to Korn's drop A power chords. Going into this then, I wasn't expecting much at all. "Later era Korn coupled with christian messages", I thought. On paper, this album sounded like an immediate failure. You may have noticed I've used the word "surprise" several times throughout this review, but that's because that's really what this album is. The synth/lead guitar meshes beautifully with the softer vocals, and transitions fantastically into the heavier rythm and drum led sections with more aggressive vocals. At over an hour, the album largely manages to stay interesting throughout. Is this a masterpiece" No, not at all, it's not varied, original or engaing enough to warrant that title. It is, however, a well arranged, highly enjoyable piece of atmospheric music that's perfect for listening to quietly while you're lying in the dark wondering where you went wrong. Go into this album expecting nothing, and you'll probably come out surprised like I did. With any luck, the eventual follow up will build on this, and will be something truly special.