It’s very unlikely at this point that anyone doesn’t know Chevelle, the hard rock trio out of Chicago. For the last 14 years, they’ve been ubiquitous on rock radio, pumping out new hits like clockwork. For a band eight albums into their career (counting self-released 1999 album Point #1), Chevelle‘s sound has changed remarkably little. They have enough little signature touches – Pete Loeffler’s creaking pick drags and signature scream, the massive low-end punch from bassist Dean Bernardini, the inevitably bouncy-yet-heavy singalong choruses – that it’s easy to identify a Chevelle song even if you’re never heard it before. Over the past couple albums, that’s become a problem for Chevelle. Hats Off To The Bull spawned a couple massive radio hits, but it felt formulaic and a little bit forced, trying desperately to write hits. La Gargola was darker and denser, and featured a couple of the band’s best songs (“An Island” is easily as good as anything off Wonder What’s Next), but many songs still felt uninspired. So what approach would the band take for new album The North Corridor?
Opening “Door To Door Cannibals” answers that without hesitation. An almost industrial, machine-precise sludge riff (with one of those pick slides to start it up) roil under Pete’s signature yowls and Sam Loeffler’s pinpoint minimal beat. The chorus is surprisingly restrained, leaving space between the simple but rhythmic chugs. Nothing about this song is surprising, but it still gives off the impression that Chevelle are having fun in a way we haven’t heard in a while. “Enemies” is similar, mixed so thick it’s suffocating (even the vocals are given a dose of fuzz), and Pete’s lurching, choppy method of stressing unusual syllables keeps the listener on edge. Lead single “Joyride (Omen)” comes next, and slides in on a fuzzy but punchy bass lead before drifting into a dark, melodic pre-chorus and a bouncy, classic Chevelle chorus. Oddly enough, despite the impressive bass riff (which treads similar ground to Muse’s “Hysteria”) and a thundering drum pattern during the bridge, this is the weakest song on the album. In a way it feels like the Chevelle of the last couple albums, trying to write a song for the radio. It works, but it doesn’t feel as genuine.
“Rivers” is certainly genuine. Kicking off with a very Spanish arpeggio riff and martial drum roll, it quickly builds to a crushing chorus that demands moshing, with some of Pete’s best ever screams popping up frequently. They’re raw and ragged and a little imperfect, but that just makes the song sound all the more intense. This needs to be a single. “Last Days” is perhaps the least original song here, but what it lacks in creativity, it makes up for in sheer fun. This could easily have been a lost track from This Type Of Thinking or Vena Sera, with a simple, head-bobbing riff and big, shrieking chorus that consists mostly of Pete screaming “glad I caught that witch!”, but it doesn’t have to make sense when it’s this catchy. Speaking of catchy, “Young Wicked” is pummeling (there may not be any lightning-quick double kick, but Sam Loeffler’s steady, booming kick rhythm on the chorus sounds just as heavy), but also plays with an echoing children’s choir shouting along with the bridge and enough repetitions of Pete shrieking “Yes Sir!” to drill the hook into the listener’s head by halfway through the song. “Warhol’s Showbiz” is a nod to Sci-Fi Crimes fans, with a buzzing guitar drone used for atmosphere and the bass taking a subdued lead riff through the chorus, before bursting into a fist-pumping chorus and some fun guitar leads following each chorus.
“Punchline” is the biggest gamble, and it pays off. It’ll never be a single, but it does something different and nails it. A gentle bass riff is fuzzed up to the point it almost sounds like a synth, matched by a strong but minimal drum beat that’s so sharp on the cymbal strikes it sounds like a drum machine. Dual vocals from Pete and Sam slither up to a soft chorus where Pete’s guitar is finger-plucked in a way that sounds a little like a mandolin. The post-chorus drifts and creeps and is allowed time to expand, before cutting back to another verse and chorus. It doesn’t make sense to say a song is both soft and heavy, but “Punchline” is both. The echoing feedback fades into “Got Burned,” which features a Chevelle-style Texas blues riff, before the massive chorus comes in. Sam toys with a really strange drum beat, but combined with Pete screaming the first word of most lines, makes a bouncy, radio-friendly riff sound way heavier. This is another song that screams potential single, and I think it could be one of Chevelle‘s biggest hits yet. Closer “Shot From A Cannon” runs on the fuel of a grinding minimal bassline from Dean (the guitar even drops out entirely for the verses), and has an intentionally simple, understated chorus. This song is bare-bones, but it highlights Chevelle‘s strengths, and then for fun ends with nearly four minutes of layered feedback and noodling variations on the main riff. It’s the least-accessible thing Chevelle has ever written, and it’s a proud bookend to an album that is both a love letter to longtime fans and a selfish “we wrote this for ourselves” statement piece.
After a couple of albums that lacked staying power, most bands would try to reinvent their sound, and in a way Chevelle did, by going back to their roots. They promised The North Corridor would be heavy, and it is. In fact, song for song, it’s even heavier than Wonder What’s Next, both musically and vocally, with Pete screaming more often and more intensely than ever. It sounds exactly like a Chevelle record, but reinvigorated. Even though the style is rooted in what the band has always done, they still experiment and have fun with the songs in a way they’ve been lacking since Sci-Fi Crimes. This is as loud, mean, catchy, and vital as anything Chevelle has ever done, and while it’s too early to say whether these songs will hold up in time to the nostalgia of early Chevelle, my gut says they will, especially if “Got Burned,” “Rivers,” or “Young Wicked” are released as singles.