Since the dawn of man, humans have tried to prove or disprove the existence of a higher power. Believers have cited the beauty of nature and the intricacy of the human body as evidence, while the skeptics can point to tragedies like cancer-stricken children and the Holocaust to make their case. My personal moment of truth hits a little closer to home: Coal Chamber have reunited, and I am reviewing their new album Rivals. There is definitely no god.
Since their arrival in the late ’90s, Coal Chamber has fused lowest-common-denominator Ozzfest-core to the worst of goth fashion. After somehow releasing 3 albums on Roadrunner, the band dissolved in the early 00’s amidst drug use and inter-band strife. Frontman Dez Fafara then started the more metal-leaning DevilDriver, a band that was hardly groundbreaking but allowed him to reinvent his image somewhat. I’m not sure why Fafara would willingly re-enter the nü-metal arena after publicly avoiding it for the past decade, but here we are.
Longtime Coal Chamber fans (a.k.a. “dudes with ankle monitors”) will be pleased to learn that most of the band’s sound remains intact. Guitarist Meegs Rascon remains dependably below-average, still blissfully unaware that the guitar has five other strings. Drummer Mike Cox holds down the all-important groove in a professional yet unobtrusive manner, assisted by bassist/token female Nadja Peulen. Fafara wisely tones down the rap/scat elements from the early albums, although the “whisper the same thing a bunch of times and then yell it” approach still features prominently. Oddly, his vocal technique, which improved somewhat during the DevilDriver era, has regressed almost completely.
Opener “I.O.U. Nothing” is exactly what you’d expect: A song based upon a one-note riff and the repetition of the song’s title, catchy while it’s playing but possessing no real replay value. “Bad Blood Between Us” begins with what may or may not be guitar tapping, a surprising display of virtuosity from Rascon. For what it’s worth, Fafara certainly sounds pissed off, and the album and song titles suggest a bitterness towards a specific person. I sincerely hope he’s trying to reignite the Coal Chamber/Sevendust feud, for old times’ sake.
Occasionally, the band does stumble onto a catchy hook or an interesting piece of music. I can admit that “Bad Blood Between Us” has a strong groove, and the title track is a culmination of all the things Coal Chamber does well. But as the album drags on, it’s clear that these small victories are a product of luck, not skill. Also, Ministry‘s Al Jourgensen guests on the track “Suffer In Silence,” proving absolutely nothing except that Al Jourgensen needs money. Other than the spoken-word piece “Orion” and pointless instrumental “Dumpster Dive,” most of the songs here are painfully similar to each other. In fact, other than a slightly beefier production, Rivals could easily pass for any of the other three Coal Chamber albums.
So there you have it. New Coal Chamber record sounds pretty much like Coal Chamber. As always, the band lacks the lyrical gravitas of Korn, the party vibe of bands like Limp Bizkit, and any songwriting instincts whatsoever. It is the very embodiment of “nü-metal” as a pejorative term. Children of the 1990s, mark my words — now that you’re in your 30’s and have disposable income, miserable shit like Rivals will continue to be hurled at you. Prepare for a (Hed) P.E. gig on a cruise ship, or perhaps a Tupac-style hologram of Wayne Static. You have been warned.