Review Summary: Riff power and brainpower
1997 was a strong year to be in a nu metal band. Korn and P.O.D. may given the genre its first full-fledged entries, but 1997 was when bands like Coal Chamber, Papa Roach, and Limp Bizkit busted the scene wide open. And I imagine this was a breath of fresh air back then, when grunge was replaced by a steady stream of boring (and sometimes decent) post-grunge acts; this stuff was heavier and usually had more distortion and anger to come with it. Now, we often tend to consider nu metal one of the genres and trends that people wish had been discarded and forgotten; either way, despite the sea of mediocre bands such as Papa Roach or Alien Ant Farm, there were a few good eggs during the genre's "golden age." Among these was a band who weren't afraid to get more diverse and cerebral with their sound... and their name is Incubus.
Keep in mind that Incubus were pretty much considered a Red Hot Chili Peppers clone prior to 1997, mainly because their debut Fungus Amongus
adopted a funk metal style that aped a lot of the Peppers' traits. Even then, the technical skills were there; even if the songwriting wasn't quite up to par at that point, there was certainly a lot of potential to stand out from the alternative metal sounds of the day. Nu metal was never quite bashed with the most musical proficiency or complexity, so a band like Incubus could certainly shake things up... and they did just that. What was better than being a funk metal band? Being a funk, hip hop, trip hop, jazz fusion, nu metal, and alternative rock band all at the same time! Judging by the results of S.C.I.E.N.C.E
, I'd say things worked out well for the band.
Diversity and consistency are in a near-perfect balance on S.C.I.E.N.C.E.
, mainly because most songs just stick to one or two styles throughout their run times. Want to hear funk metal? Listen to the intense opener "Redefine." How about some trip hop to ease up on the distortion? Well, "Magic Medicine" has that covered. Well, how about going in the completely different direction of smooth jazz? "Summer Romance" is the answer. And the best thing is that the entire experience flows so beautifully; the distorted and calm portions are perfectly balanced, and the band members know right when to deliver some variety to the listener. A lot of that comes from Brandon Boyd, who sings every track with so much gusto and investment that it's hard not to get invested in return. "Deep Inside" is probably the best example, with Boyd switching from subtle soft rock passages to harshly screamed metal sections with absolutely no warning; it's refreshing and highly exciting the first time you listen to it.
Of course, the other musicians are no slouches in the slightest. Guitarist Mike Einziger and bassist Dirk Lance are truly the stars of the show here along with Boyd, providing wonderful chemistry with each number; this is especially reflected in the softer tunes. "Deep Inside" and "Summer Romance" both feature some incredibly jazzy soloing and chord progressions from Einziger, which are always complimented by some serene rolling bass lines on the low end for a sublime experience. The technicality itself certainly can't be ignored either, especially the funk slaps from Dirk Lance and the intense drum work of Jose Pasillas. I'd probably argue that DJ Lyfe is the weakest member of this album's lineup, but that's mainly because I always considered the DJ'ing in Incubus to excel in bringing atmosphere to the music, and it seems as though later albums pulled this off more fluidly and more often. Regardless, Lyfe's best instrumental contributions would be "Magic Medicine" and the heavier tracks like "New Skin" and the fantastic closer "Calgone."
But in the end, how does this all come together? Well, I can safely say that S.C.I.E.N.C.E.
is one of the most technical nu metal albums this side of Mudvayne's L.D. 50
, but what it does to trump that record is to add a bit more variety and humanity to the music. The lyrics of this album are truly some of the most compelling I've seen and heard in 90s alternative metal; rather than focusing on just angst like a lot of the other nu metal acts of the time, these words are much more thought-provoking. Topics such as procrastination, laziness, innovation, irony, and the human mind are all addressed here, and while "My Favorite Things" might be a bit blander and more generic lyrically than the rest of the songs, the other tunes mostly hit bulls-eyes. If there's a problem with S.C.I.E.N.C.E.
, I'd say it's that the tracks do tend to blend together stylistically from time to time. I know I mentioned how well the album flows, but there are a few exceptions here and there; for instance, I was never a big fan of how "Idiot Box" slightly killed the momentum created by the first three bangers. Well, it's just a minor nitpick.
If you could only own one nu metal album (or only wanted
to own one), this should be the one. Incubus are already a great band overall, but it's pretty funny that one of their greatest achievements in the ears of the fans and critics is their only nu metal record. However, it goes to show that even a much-maligned genre of music can still be expanded upon and given new life by an unlikely source. Kudos to you, Incubus! Now, if only we can get something a bit better than If Not Now, When?
for the next full-length release...