Saturday, 27 May 2017

Album Review: SEETHER – Poison The Parish

seetherNot many bands from the era of nu-metal are what they once were. Oh sure, a few are still touring strong, but any new albums feel like filler, or worse, a contractual obligation to secure funding for a tour. A rare few rebrand themselves and try something different, often to the disappointment of their strongest fans. Fewer still are releasing high-quality, signature albums 15+ years into their career.

Then there’s Seether. While the quality of their last few releases hasn’t been quite as high as their early output, the South African trio fronted by gravel-voiced Shaun Morgan have never really released a bad album, or even a bland one, but the band refuses to rest on their laurels. Poison The Parish, their 7th full-length, is the heaviest record they’ve put out yet, thematically and even sometimes musically.

Stoke The Fire” certainly hits like a brick, with a single squealing guitar being overtaken by a pounding riff paired with a surly bass growl, and simple but primal drums from John Humphrey. It’s the angriest way they’ve opened an album since Disclaimer, and Shaun Morgan puts on a vocal clinic for how to still make post-grunge sound as heavy and hooky as ever, with a chorus that will catch the radio on fire if this is released as a single. Wait for the heaviest scream Morgan’s ever cut loose with, too. “Betray And Degrade” is playful but sinister, carried by Dale Stewart’s swaggering bassline. The vocal rhythm provides a counter that makes both stand out: if you get this song caught in your head, it may be the verses you remember and not the chorus. For added kicks, the bridge is more than a little reminiscent of Linkin Park classic “One Step Closer.” “Something Else” is softer, a mid-tempo number with a haunting guitar line and mournful vocals, but it doesn’t shy away from getting loud and distorted when it needs to, and once again, the chorus is gold. “I’ll Survive” opts for an acoustic intro, building to a monster of a chorus, one of the best of the band’s career. This could easily be their biggest hit in years.

First single “Let You Down” broods with an insistent, swaying chug that could almost be mistaken for Chevelle, although Morgan’s distinctive sing-speak rasp marks this song as wholly Seether. The chorus is actually a bit of a letdown itself. The hook is certainly there, but it’s the weakest song on the record (which is saying something, since it’s still better than the best tracks on most albums). “Against The Wall” is a bit of a risk, focusing on a bright, drifting guitar line, paired with a pained, yelping vocal to contrast and an overly earnest chorus. It’s still the softest song here (and the closest they’ve come to ripping off the Foo Fighters since “Rise Above This”), but the vocal hook and ethereal vocal harmonies are more than strong enough to overcome the cheese factor. “Let Me Heal” is slow and sorrowful (Shaun Morgan’s vocals here are the emotional core), but the song wouldn’t work without Humphrey’s steady, ruthless drumbeat. It’s a slow-burner, but it’s still got some bite. “Saviourssounds like a single, with a slithering verse riff and big angry guitars. It’s barbed lyrically as well, with a critical eye towards organized religion delivered in easy to repeat shout-along chorus.

The last few songs are where most albums seem to lose steam, so “Nothing Left” is perfectly placed. The verses are basic Seether, with an urgent but dialed-back riff designed to make the chorus sound bigger. It works. The swinging riff and harsh screams make this one of the heaviest choruses the band has ever created. Tucked near the end of the album, “Count Me Out” is actually the best song on the record. It’s grinding, relentless, and infectiously hooky, in the way all Seether‘s best tunes are. “I’ll Survive” could be their biggest hit in years, but if “Count Me Out” becomes a single, it will be for sure. Bonus points for ending it with some Deftones-inspired heaviness. “Emotionless” is another risk, with an acoustic riff that’s part old-western twang and part swamp drawl and Morgan’s vocals drenched in reverb before the chorus explodes into a sludgy dirge led by an unbelievably thick bass lead from Dale Stewart. Closing track “Sell My Soul” may polarize fans a little bit: this is a big, earnest ballad, but the chorus is deliberately dark in direct contrast to the otherwise “light” song, with subtle strings and vocal harmonies taken down a different path than the traditional chorus. It could be easily seen as a blatant attempt to recapture the feel of their megahit “Broken”, but to me it actually comes across more like a nod to one of Seether‘s biggest influences, Alice In Chains. Viewed by either nostalgic lens, it falls a little short, but taken on its own merits it’s actually a very good song. The deluxe version of the album includes three extra tracks: “Feels Like Dying”, “Misunderstood” and “Take A Minute”. The first two feel like B-sides from their last record, and aren’t bad, but aren’t great either. “Take A Minute”, though, is worth seeking out. It’s got a great swaying bassline and a giant sing-along chorus that may be generic, but is fun enough it doesn’t matter.

Veteran bands releasing their seventh album rarely have much of interest to say. The hooks may be the same, but the spark that once made them exciting tends to fade. That makes it all the more impressive that Poison The Parish doesn’t feel forced at all. In fact, this is the most self-assured Seether has sounded in a decade, and the album is the most cohesive in years as well. The songs here work perfectly as a unit, creating the rare collection of songs meant to be heard as an album, and the pervasive darkness is held in check only by the playful, arena-ready hooks provided by both the music and vocals. This is Seether doing what they do best: seething. Nostalgia proves too hard a hill to climb for Poison The Parish to top any of their first three records, but that in no way diminishes how excellent it is.

About Randy Shatkowski

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