2002 / Music

Review: Metal’s New School Experiences Growing Pains

Filter, Queens Of The Stone Age Try To Top Past Success

Read The Reviews: Queens of the Stone Age | Filter

Simply put, metal is bigger than ever right now.

Just when we all thought Korn and Limp Bizkit had brought an old-fashioned combination of heavy riffs and backstage excess as far as the mainstream would permit, here comes Ozzy Osbourne.

In addition to this, Nickleback frontman Chad Kroeger wrote and sang one of the summer’s biggest hits (and most unoriginal — Kroeger had better say thank you to Seal). Meanwhile, the politicially-minded System of a Down headlined this summer’s ever successful Ozzfest tour. Metal is back in the popular consciousness like it has never been before.

But are metal’s young turks — the genre’s hopes for the future — releasing music that rises to the occasion? Let’s just say there’s been some growing pains for some and there’s big problems for others. Read on.

Queens of the Stone Age “Songs For The Deaf”

Call it a case of opposites attracting. Who would have thought the cultivated British music press would fall in love with an America metal band, Queens of the Stone Age?

Photo: Interscope Records

Photo: Interscope Records

In British music magazine Mojo’s list of the top albums of 2000, tucked amid a gallery of reliable old favorites (Paul Simon, Steely Dan) and overlooked experimenters (Lambchop, Air), the Queens’ last record, “R,” sat in the No. 2 spot, right behind the always venerable Johnny Cash. Another Brit publication, NME, recently called the band “2002’s greatest living rock group,” which the Queens’ label, Interscope Records, has printed on a sticker and is slapping on every copy of the band’s new album, “Songs For The Deaf.”

And what sparked this adulation? What do they know? It probably has something to do with the fact that the Queens are America’s most unorthodox metal outfit. Their songs, written chiefly by guitarist Josh Homme and bassist Nick Oliveri, have been tagged as “stoner rock,” but uninitiated listeners should expect swift, meticulously arranged cuts rather than rambling jams. The music — which is reminiscent of early King Crimson — shows the influence of the Beach Boys’ vocal harmonies and Frank Zappa’s surrealistic lyrics as much as Black Sabbath’s guitar onslaught. It has a sophistication to it that sets the Queens apart from their fellow Ozzfest graduates.

But rather than their killer tunes, most of the ink the Queens have gotten in the United States has to do with who’s been handling the group’s drum kit of late: Foo Fighters frontman (and ex-Nirvana drummer) Dave Grohl. Taking a break from his own band, Grohl recorded the new album and toured with the Queens earlier this year and had been promoted to full membership before he returned to the Foo Fighters.

Although it’s tough to hail any of Grohl’s playing on the record as the return of alternative rock’s drum god (he seems to be concentrating on only supplying a steady beat), one of the few tracks where he makes his presence known is the opening track “You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar But I Feel Like A Millionaire.” His aggressive drumming explodes underneath Homme’s distorted, snake-like guitar runs. Taking the first turn at the microphone, Oliveri sings like he’s madly depraved and his wildcat vocals are reminiscent of ex-Faith No More singer Mike Patton.

Homme steps forward next for “No One Knows,” the record’s first single. While Oliveri is reserved for punkish shout-fests and Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan (who is a sometime member of the group and appeared brilliantly on “R”) croaks the record’s most Tom Waits-ian songs, Homme is the Queens’ crooner, his voice gentle and clear. His singing feeds off leaden riffs, but in “un-metal” fashion, he easily kicks into a falsetto.

In a move that suits the presence of three such distinct vocalists, the tracks on “Songs For The Deaf” are more clearly centered on the vocal melody and the chorus of each song than on any instruments. In the case of “Hangin’ Tree,” the song’s repeating guitar fragment is obscured by Lanegan’s indistinct grumbling. It’s a mystery what he’s singing about and it only clears a bit when he slips into the track’s well-formed chorus.

And although songs like “Gonna Leave You,” “First It Giveth” and “Another Love Song” can be both uptempo rockers and potential singles, there’s something ultimately missing in the tracks on “Songs For The Deaf” that makes it hard to imagine it’ll unseat “R” in my CD changer.

These tunes are certainly more cohesive and hummable, but they lack the frayed edges — the sense that you never knew where the song was going next — that inject “Auto Pilot” or “In The Fade” on “R” with such vitality and excitement. The songs on “Songs For The Deaf” sound more homogenous. This record is good, but not the madcap, hard rock revelation that its predecessor was.

And what do the British have to say? Q magazine gave the record a four-out-of-five-star rating and praised the record for mixing “melancholy and might to a rare degree.” Well, what do the British know?

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Filter “The Amalgamut”

Filter leader Richard Patrick is a man of two minds. On one side, he’s a songwriter/performer who uses his music as a catharsis — channeling his emotions into slabs of industrialized metal mayhem. On the other hand, he has an ear for what programmers want and can write ditties that win their favor.

Patrick, who started as Nine Inch Nails’ touring guitarist in the early ’90s before he struck out on his own, formed Filter in 1994. Whatever he picked up as a hired player paid off when he immediately piloted Filter into MTV heavy rotation with the hit, “Hey Man, Nice Shot.” The song, which some thought was a coded message to the recently deceased Kurt Cobain, was the perfect headbanging union of Patrick’s pained howling, grunge guitars and industrial music’s rhythms. Unlike his former benefactor Trent Reznor, Patrick’s songwriting instincts have consistently drawn him toward the conventional.

But it was still surprising to watch the extent that Patrick was willing to go to land Filter on the radio when he released the folk-rock of “Take A Picture” as a single from their second album, 1999’s “Title of Record.” The gamble paid off and the video was again snapped up by MTV and radio.

Although these two aspects of his creative mind have allowed him to maintain a somewhat gritty reputation within the mainstream while racking up large record sales, Filter’s first two albums were hopelessly mixed affairs as both sides strove for dominance. There were always a couple of singles marooned amid an ocean of sub-standard angst rock matched with ho-hum self-loathing lyrics.

Unfortunately, Filter’s new release, “The Amalgamut,” fares no better. In fact, it might be worse.

While crude, thrashing cuts like “You Walk Away,” “So I Quit” and “American Cliche” fulfill the quota of (albeit uninteresting and uninventive) heavy rock tracks, the candidates for airplay like “The Only Way (Is The Wrong Way),” “The Missing” and “Where Do We Go From Here” are sad, syrupy reproductions of “Take A Picture” and come across as bombastic as an ’80s power ballad.

A prediction: This album will tank, and deservedly so. On the upside, I heard that Limp Bizkit is looking for a guitar player/songwriter.

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Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.

©Copyright 2002 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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