Remember the last time metal and hard rock held a significant stake in popular music interest and appeal, reader? It was actually a very musically diverse period. Bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit and Disturbed were showing the world that metal and rap could occupy the same sonic palette in a band’s repertoire while bands like Alice In Chains, Godsmack, and Staind were welding alt-rock and hard rock together. Ozzy Osbourne was pulling it all together on a single summer handbill AS WELL AS proving that old dogs like him could still keep up at Ozzfest. It was a great, creatively fertile time – a time which needed to happen so that bands like Emperors and Elephants would have a period to revive for a whole new, young audience who were in diapers the last time rock decided to start playing rough.
Simply said, what Emperors and Elephants are doing is absolutely a revival, which means that every sound on Devil in the Lake has been done before – but the band puts a post-modern spin on it and adds some new young excitement to it and makes it their own. That excitement and infectious energy is catching.
Listeners will feel the chug of the low end that powers “Bring It Down” deep in their guts when it hits them, without a doubt. Randy Cooper’s thick rhythm figure and Jeph Stiph’s heroic leads instantly ignite fires here while bassist Ron Stoppable and drummer Jason Meudt throw out a punchy low end like heavyweight champs. That mix in and of itself is enough to get fists pumping in the air involuntarily, but the real X factor is single Jesse Andrews – a singer with an unbelievably flexible voice, and the ability to sound like half of the hard rock singers who went platinum in the Nineties. Here, the timbres that became celebrated signatures for singers like Chris Cornell, Jesse James Dupree, Aaron Lewis, Dave Mustaine and Travis Meeks all converge in Andrews’ performance. It’s pretty incredible how easily Andrews is able to swing from crooning lines about being trapped in a lion’s den to nearly screeching the words “Bring it down” in the same breath, but he does it without even breaking a sweat.
That introduction truly does prove to only be the tip of the iceberg on Devil in the Lake, as the playing and vocal performance only get more aggressive and the style of it grows more refined from there. As soon as “Who You Are” breaks in, for example, jaws will wag as Emperors and Elephants manage to balance a great shred guitar rhythm under Andrews’ teetering-on-the-brink vocal before totally flipping the script, lightening up and going all Days Of The New and melodic for the song’s chorus before chucking the whole thing AGAIN and adopting a sound closer to Aaron Lewis jamming with Black Label Society on “Your Will.” The effect if mind-boggling; some listeners won’t be able to keep up with the kind of sonic/stylistic shifting which happens in the early play of Devil in the Lake and will give up in frustration, but the band rewards those who tread deeper into the album’s running time by throwing out a lighthearted mock-metallic cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” getting emotionally erratic and grind-y on “Ghost in the Mirror” and then walking into “piano bar” territory for a ballad called “You And I,” which answers Aaron Lewis’ overwrought “Outside” in order to prove that the band can be sensitive, when it wants to. That is really where the album starts coming up short; while some of the comparisons to Staind which could be made in other moments in this run-time don’t really do anything to drag Devil in the Lake‘s momentum down. However, ending the album’s regular run with “You And I” was a poor choice because the song just sinks under its own emotional weight – and then the remix of “Man Of God” which ACTUALLY closes the album is just disposable.
While, yes, it doesn’t end gracefully, Devil in the Lake shouldn’t be dismissed for the missteps made toward its close. True, the album isn’t perfect, but the early playing does show some promise; there is some fine hard rock on Devil in the Lake. All Emperors and Elephants have to do now is get to the woodshed and refine their craft so that, on their next album, they’re ONLY showing that power.
Emperors and Elephants – Devil in the Lake – “Locust” – [mp3]
(Devil in the Lake is out now. Buy it here on Amazon.)