Album Review – Godsmack / When Legends Rise (2018)

A rollercoaster of good and bad moments in the band’s first effort away from more traditional Heavy Metal into a softer and exaggeratedly radio-friendly Hard Rock sound.

Almost four years after the release of the incendiary 1000hp, American Alternative Rock/Metal icons Godsmack are back in action with When Legends Rise, the seventh studio album in their solid career, and their first effort away from more traditional Heavy Metal into a softer and exaggeratedly radio-friendly Hard Rock sound. And when I say “exaggeratedly radio-friendly” I’m not exaggerating (not sure if I’m allowed to use that word and its variations so many times in just a couple of lines), because not only When Legends Rise doesn’t bring the same horsepower, rage and heaviness of 1000hp, but it sounds and feels way too mellow and generic compared to everything they’ve already released since their inception.

As early as 2015, frontman and guitarist Sully Erna spoke of his will to create a new sound for Godsmack in their next album, later describing the album in 2017 as a “reinvention” for the band, as a “new chapter” juxtaposed against older albums, of which he described as “vintage classic Godsmack”. Let’s say he succeeded and failed miserably at the same time, because it doesn’t matter if you’re a longtime fan of the band or if you’ve never heard of them before, as soon as you finish listening to the 11 tracks in When Legends Rise you won’t be able to tell if it was a good or bad experience so many highs and lows the entire album has. As a matter of fact, I guess if you follow Godsmack from the very beginning, the lowest moments of the album will make you feel extremely disappointed with this “new direction” chosen by Sully and his henchmen.

The tribal-like beats by Shannon Larkin kick off the best and most metal song of the entire album, the title-track When Legends Rise, which despite not being a masterpiece, it’s indeed a catchy and entertaining song led by the unique vocals by Sully, sounding as radio-friendly as the band wants but still bringing some of their old school aggressiveness. Then we have Bulletproof (if you’re a regular radio listener you might have heard it a billion times already), which is not that bad but with potential to be a lot better (and by that I mean heavier), with bassist Robbie Merrill doing a very good job in keeping the atmosphere dense and rumbling; followed by Unforgettable, probably the cheesiest song ever written by Godsmack, sounding way too happy for my taste and with the support choir by The Gilbert H. Hood and West Running Brook Choir being plain boring. Well, as I’ve mentioned a thousand times in this webzine, I hate generic choirs.

Every Part of Me presents hints of the sounding from their early days, especially through the melodious guitar lines by Tony Rombola, resulting in a very decent song that reminds us all of the potential Godsmack is throwing away by trying to sound more mainstream than they should, while Take It to the Edge sounds quite similar to its predecessor, but with heavier and more piercing guitar and bass lines. Furthermore, it’s good to hear Sully screaming and sounding a little angrier, and albeit this is not their classic Alternative Metal it can be considered something like a well-crafted version of modern-day Hard Rock. After that interesting sequence of heavy tunes the band offers us the ballad Under Your Scars, and although I’ve complained about almost every song so far I must admit this is indeed a good one, mainly due to the beautiful job done by guest violinist Zvezdelina Haltakova and guest cellist Irina Chirkova. And in Someday, after a not-so-exciting start the music evolves to a harder but still generic sonority that goes on for too long, ruining what could have been a good Hard Rock song. In addition, a weak song such as this would have benefited a lot from a guitar solo, something the whole album lacks by the way, and something that really started to bother me after a few listens.

And the “genericism” found in When Legends Rise goes on in Just One Time, even with Robbie and Shannon bringing some decent groove to the music, saving it from being a total failure. Then we have the excellent Say My Name, proving that when Sully and his crew speed up their pace and deliver stronger, more austere lyrics, they sound a billion times better. Hence, together with the opening track, this is by far one of the best songs of the album, presenting flammable Rock N’ Roll guitar riffs and rhythmic beats, which unfortunately cannot be said about Let It Out, another so-so creation alternating between heavier moments and very bland passages. It might once again sound good on the radio for the average listener, but definitely not for Rock N’ Roll fans, with the biggest issue for me being that the sound of both guitars is really low, or even worse, almost nonexistent. Furthermore, what’s also very irritating in the entire album is that there are moments like the closing song Eye of the Storm where a very promising start morphs into tasteless rock music; however, the more aggressive pieces of the song save it from total damnation, not to mention that we finally have a guitar solo added to it.

In the end, after When Legends Rise (available for a full listen on Spotify), we have to agree with this article from the online publication The Top Tens listing Godsmack as one of the top 10 bands that aren’t metal according to Encyclopaedia Metallum, together with names such as Avenged Sevelfold, Disturbed, Korn and Rage Against The Machine, but at least those bands still deliver a significant amount of rage and rebelliousness through their music, as opposed to what Godsmack (unfortunately) did in their new album. And if that toned-down version of Hard Rock is the direction Sully Erna really wants to take from now on with his band to reach a “broader audience”, well, good luck with that. I’ll personally stick to their more vibrant material from Godsmack, Awake and 1000hp.

Best moments of the album: When Legends Rise, Take It to the Edge and Say My Name.

Worst moments of the album: Bulletproof, Unforgettable, Someday and Let It Out.

Released in 2018 Universal Music

Track listing
1. When Legends Rise 2:52
2. Bulletproof 2:57
3. Unforgettable 3:28
4. Every Part of Me 3:20
5. Take It to the Edge 3:15
6. Under Your Scars 3:51
7. Someday 4:44
8. Just One Time 3:09
9. Say My Name 3:38
10. Let It Out 3:41
11. Eye of the Storm 3:21

Band members
Sully Erna – vocals, guitar
Tony Rombola – lead guitar
Robbie Merrill – bass
Shannon Larkin – drums

Guest musicians
Zvezdelina Haltakova – violin on “Under Your Scars”
Irina Chirkova – cello on “Under Your Scars”
The Gilbert H. Hood and West Running Brook Choir – additional vocals on “Unforgettable”

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