It’s not often that a side project from an acclaimed band can stand on par with said original group. After all, a lot of sidebands become the vacation parent to fans; as a stop-gap measure for artists to toss eager followers a bone in between releases. However, that is not true of Stone Sour, launched in the shadows of Slipknot, and for over fifteen years has slowly ascended to the hard rock pantheon on their own merits. In fact, on their new album Hydrograd (Roadrunner), the band has put out an album that actually surpasses a few Slipknot releases outright.
From the jump, this was going to be a release that tried to direct resonated with old-school fans, following the sprawling House Of Gold And Bones 1 & 2 (both Roadrunner) albums. Heady concept albums in the bag, the band certainly didn’t forget how to rock or rage in the meantime; only wanting to express other sides to their personality. Overall those albums are also very, very good in spots, but Hydrograd was going to go back to the grain of what made them a band in the first place. Rock. Plus with the departure of longtime riff leader Jim Root, following bassist Shawn Economaki a few years prior, a sonic shift was due again.
Right out of the blocks with the intro track ‘YSIF’ which has the feel of a WWE promo track, there was no intention of easing into things. Aside from the clever title, ‘Taipei Person/Allah Tea’ is a fantastic opening cut, one of 2017’s best so far. Like a hybrid mix of Foo Fighters melodies and Slayer riffage, it is a total banger. Great verses followed by a chorus to end all choruses. When Taylor extols “I’m running out of road but I’m still doing 75”, you can envision any fan at any age feeling this. It has everything you want in a track for a fan of rock or metal. Thrash and rock riffs, beatdown mosh parts, shredding solos, sick drum parts, all capped off by Taylor’s epic words and howls. On top of that it is a song made for crowd participatory shenanigans at concerts.
The play on words brigade in the song titles continues with ‘Knievel Has Landed’. Another rock jam with some soulful vocals, and some deft bass lines by Economaki’s replacement Johny Chow (Cavalera Conspiracy, Fireball Ministry, Monstro, My Ruin). More classic Corey rage in the bridge is followed by another huge stunner of a chorus. Few modern lead singers actually know how to properly double track their vocals, but Taylor does it all over this album. You will sing the “whoa oh oh ohhs” from this one for days after you hear this. From the opening riff, the title track totally faked me out and I expected another metall-ish tune, but it winds up being a big anthem, befitting of this album. One of the best features of the band is their layers of cool guitar army stuff, which didn’t leave with Jim. Credit to Josh Rand and new lead guitarist Christian Martucci (Dee Dee Ramone) for this. The other single ‘Song #3’, is more of the standard rocking fare the band does well with. It’s a good song with hummable melody, and not even close to the best here despite the hype.
Where things get really interesting is with ‘Fabuless’. Not only is the song a shit-kicker propelled by Roy Mayorga’s beats, it has one of Taylor’s best lyrical/vocal refrains. Anyone else that quotes two of the greatest rock songs ever, and then in the next breathe just smashes trendy as shit pop bands would come off corny, but not Taylor. Coming out of his mouth, it’s realer than real. ‘The Witness Trees’ follows suit with a more mid-tempo jam. No less heavy, but definitely moody and I the alt-rock house. ‘Rose Red, Violent Blue’ goes through a lot of key changes and style turns but doesn’t lose the script at all. These are two of the more adventurous tracks and show the growth from the last two or three full-lengths.
‘Thank God It’s Over’ just jams, man. A no holds bar radio rocker with driving riff, this is another great song. ‘St. Marie’ winds up being a straight up curve-ball of the entire affair. A pop country ballad, complete with a nod to Glenn Frey and The Eagles and all of 70s country rock. Lap-steel guitar solos and female backup singers included, it sure surprised me. A lovely, well-executed tune, but ultimately not for me after all the badassery present.
Thankfully the band returns to rocktown with ‘Mercy’, the oddly named ‘Whiplash Pants’, and ‘Friday Knights’. These are four on the floor crushers, but not without moments of light and shade. Then there is ‘Somebody Stole My Eyes’. Written with pure thrash abandon, it kind of makes me think of the time when Corey almost landed the job as the singer of Anthrax. Also, this track, like the rest of this collection has some of Taylor’s more powerful lyrics ever, song after song. Verbose, but not wasteful, he comes off alternately as raw, sincere, political, lonely, angry, tender, and manic depending on what the song asks of him. Brilliant. Closing track ‘When The Fever Broke’ is a bit of a folksy track with terrific sadness and neat textural guitar parts.
Stone Sour has found a way to harness the power and youthful rage of their first two albums, yet filter them through many years of writing experience to make a complete and emotionally honest document of the best band in rock music today. This will be a signpost of an album for this band in 2017, and future years to come.