Review Summary: The debut may have been all about Brent Smith, but Us and Them brings the rest of the band up a few notches.Leave A Whisper
was a promising debut for this young band from Jacksonville. Brent Smith’s powerful vocals and the success of 45
guaranteed that Shinedown had capabilities beyond your average hard rock band. Sure, it was often musically bare and occasionally suffered from a lack of variety, but the passion was undeniable, and it was a great debut despite its flaws.
Us and Them
is typically considered the weakest of the band’s albums, and it’s a shame because this album was an artistic success that fixed many of the problems of the debut. Although Smith doesn’t hit the highs he hit on Leave A Whisper
, it’s much more complete as an album, with the rest of the band taking several steps forward. The first word that comes to mind when most think of Shinedown probably isn’t “musicianship”, but this album demonstrates that Shinedown is more than capable of working as a band rather than a supporting cast for a gifted vocalist.
Jason Todd’s guitarwork is what shows the biggest improvement on Us and Them
. His playing certainly wasn’t poor on Leave a Whisper
, but he didn’t do much more than very basic down-tuned riffs and virtually no solos. Here he crafts much more memorable riffs and solos that act as a counterpart to Smith’s vocals. Heroes
kicks things off with a bang, with a fast-paced riff and Smith’s fiery vocals leading the way. It’s a fun hard rocker capped off with a strong guitar solo. The new direction from Shinedown is made clear, dropping all nu-metal elements from the debut and focusing on pure southern-influenced hard rock. This makes for plenty of enjoyable hard rock songs. Yer Majesty
, Trade Yourself In
are all driven by memorable hard rock riffs and guitar solos. The latter contains the strongest southern influence on the album, and it’s also one of the album’s biggest highlights, with Smith adding more of a bluesy tone to his vocals. Begin Again
is also note-worthy for being the heaviest song on the album, with edgier vocals, heavier riffs, and more unique drumming than usual.
The track where Shinedown really goes out of the box is Lady So Divine
. This is a 7-minute long progressive rock-style epic, and it’s the surprise highlight of the album. This song demonstrates a high level of skill from every member, with highly technical drum fills and creative guitarwork. The song’s extended instrumental section is very impressive, with the strongest guitar solos on the album. Even radio-rock skeptics ought to check this song out.
All this isn’t to say that the band had ditched all emotion on this record, because Smith still displays plenty of power and emotion in his voice, it’s just more restrained. Once again, the ballads are what give him the most room to display his voice. The dramatic Beyond the Sun
and closer Some Day
are excellent, but Shed Some Light
is where Smith really gets to shine; the song’s final chorus section contains the most powerful vocals on the album. It’s also greatly benefited by the violin, which avoids being cliché and contributes well to the mood of the song.
Flaws are hard to come by, and while Us and Them
might not always hit the individual highs of Leave A Whisper
, it’s much stronger as a whole. Sure, Save Me
and I Dare You
are radio-friendly singles, but they’re far from weak, and the latter is surprisingly hard-hitting for a radio single. The only filler to be found is the poem that opens the album, but in this age of MP3’s one can easily discard that and begin the album more fittingly with Heroes
It’s not surprising that fans gained from the band’s debut would be a little disappointed that Brent Smith’s voice doesn’t reach the Chris Cornell-esque highs on Us and Them
. But what the album might lack in raw power is made up for by great musicianship and strong songwriting, and it’s an excellent listen from start to finish. A truly underrated effort from Shinedown, Us and Them
should not be forgotten.
Top Tracks: Atmosphere, Lady So Divine, Heroes, Shed Some Light, Begin Again