Album Review: Godsmack - "The Oracle"

On their previous best day, Godsmack's best efforts sounded akin to James Hetfield singing for Alice in Chains. With the dawning of "The Oracle," we may have a new best day to talk about.

That's not to say that the overall affect of Godsmack has changed. Far from it. Rather, Godsmack is benefiting from a trend of redux-ing that has been Hollywood's bane, but metal's benefit. Like so many other bands that have returned to their musical home base, Godsmack took the cue from their brethren and retreated to something less commercial and less produced. Don't get me wrong, this album will be played to death on mainstream alternative/metal radio, but it wasn't expressly *designed* for that purpose.

There has been a lot of publicity surrounding Godsmack's purported group writing on this album. Turns out, this claim was not just a stunt. The end result of the four group members having an equal share in the album writing and all other influences minimized is an album that sounds much more genuine. Rather than writing for an endorsement deal or a producer or some other faceless (pardon the pun,) shill, Godsmack seems to be writing songs for themselves.

The worst sin on "The Oracle" is one that is all too frequent in commercial metal. The band consciously slows down their choruses, in an effort to create a more dramatic, manageable hook. Godsmack in particular has been addicted to this trend for a tough time, and it's a hard drug to break. The end result is that some of the album's more powerful songs veer off the rails between the verses. As an example, "Good Day to Die" starts with an opening ripped from the pages of the Iron Maiden album "Powerslave," and then transitions into a jackhammer guitar riff, before careening headlong in to a downshifted, momentum altering chorus.

If the listener ventures into "The Oracle" looking for innovation, you will be sorrowfully disappointed. The album is a return to form for a band that tends to stumble when they experiment. By that logic, the prodigal band returning home isn't going to offer anything new. There is no piece of music that is wildly out of step with the preponderance of the album, and nothing complicated either. "The Oracle" is all verse-chorus-verse-solo stuff.

The producer of "The Oracle" was bright enough to not try and change the homegrown sound that the band offered him. Instead, he simply put a shine on what was already there.

There are a handful of really bright moments on the listener, and they predominantly come as homages, intentional or otherwise, to the style of other bands. "Love Hate Sex Pain" contains both a dramatic Cantrell-style chorus and a straightforward but playful Hammett-esque guitar line. "Forever Shamed" is roughly in the same mold, though the guitar plays more of a haunting, lilted lead. "Devil's Swing" is exactly the type of song that I grudgingly am a sucker for; a party rock rollicking beat backed with some bravado and a harmonica part. The downside to that song is that is does sound a little like something out of the anime "Outlaw Star." If you can tolerate that, you'll dig it.

The title track is likely the album's masterpiece, though it will never see the light of radio day. Expressed as a series of musical themes without lyrics, the execution is sharp and on-point. Each part, while not complex, makes sense in its space, and the layering of sound is, if not revolutionary, easy to find infectious. Rather than verses, the song uses vague interview soundbites that are open to interpretation by the listener. The finished product is tight but imaginative, and serves as a quality bookend on a mostly positive album.

Speaking only for myself, I have never been much of a Godsmack fan, and their tendency to draw out their choruses still occasionally infuriates me. That said, I like this album a lot more than I thought I would. "The Oracle" is leagues better than "Faceless," and a pretty fair jump ahead of the balance of their catalogue. If you're a Godsmack fan, prepare to almost go back in time with this album. If you're not, and the only Godsmack album you even began to respect was the first one, give this a spin. You might be, if not impressed, pleasantly surprised.

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