The Rickety Old Shack

Coal Chamber — Rivals

Coal Chamber - Rivals, cover

Back in 2003, when Coal Chamber broke up, I honestly thought it would be the last I heard of them. While band break-ups tend to be as permanent as a pro fighter's retirement — which is to say, lasting on average 6-18 months — this one seemed to be legitimate. Dez Farfara went on to front Devildriver, releasing a half-dozen studio albums, while the remaining members pursued their own business ventures. Eight years pass, a reunion occurs in 2013; suddenly it's 2015 and Coal Chamber has a new full-length album out. Damn, where did the time go?

While nu metal may have fallen by the wayside by the middle of the new millennium, it did have a profound impact on me as young music fan. Going back to the summer of 1997, I'd only recently ventured outside of the alternative rock genre; hearing Coal Chamber's "Loco" for the first time was a formative experience. For all the vitriol spewed at the genre, nu metal — specifically bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit and Coal Chamber — helped me ease into heavier music, abrasive vocal styles, and ultimately lead me to appreciate all genres. Suffice it to say, Coal Chamber may have surprised me with their reunion and the release of Rivals, but my interest was piqued when I got the news.

A lot has happened since I bought my copy of Dark Days in 2002... When Coal Chamber broke up, I was 20 years old and just starting college, now I'm 32 and I graduated a decade ago. Although I was curious to see what Rivals had to offer, I was also somewhat apprehensive considering the passage of time. I don't listen to nu metal much these days, outside of the odd (usually alcohol-fuelled) nostalgia bender — the thrill of which wears off rather quickly. Throwbacks don't hold a lot of sway with me, so my expectation of Rivals was that it would be more than a bunch of older musicians getting together for some perfunctory exercises in noise-making.

Thankfully, I can say that Rivals is more than just a case of going through the motions. The time apart does seem to have rejuvenated the chemistry between band members, with Coal Chamber sounding like a matured version of their old form. The calling cards of the group's sound are all present: Dez Farfara's thunderous growls and shouts, the rhythm-heavy sound with a thick-low end. The song writing is noticeably more intricate than the band's past albums, with more pronounced leads and substantive riffing. Improved chops aside, this album still sounds very much like vintage Coal Chamber, largely due to Dez's commanding vocal presence on any track he's featured on.

In some ways, this is a problem actually. In the 8 years Coal Chamber was inactive, Dez went on to release 6 albums with his new band Devildriver. I didn't keep up with every release from the group, but The Fury Of Our Maker's Hand was an impressive record and outclassed anything from his prior outfit. The strength of the two initial DevilDriver albums was such that they supplanted most thoughts of Coal Chamber altogether. A big reason for this is due to how integral Dez's vocals are to the formula of both bands. Essentially, Devildriver are everything I liked about Coal Chamber — the downtuned guitars, groove-heavy riffs and savage vocals — but with what I consider better material. As such, while listening to Rivals it was difficult to not make a lot of direct comparisons between both bands. "Bad Blood Between Us," the album's second track, has more than a few moments where I feel like I'd fail a blindfold test as to which group produced it.

Rivals opens aggressively, with "I.O.U. Nothing" and the tenor of the album doesn't vary much; each track is heavy, fast and loud, with not a single clean vocal to be heard. Lyrically, the material is a little weak; Dez has always crutched on clichés and well-worn phrases — a quick glance at the track list will confirm this. The delivery mostly makes up for this critique, as the vocals are as ferocious as ever; the lyrics may seem a little uninspired, but they are delivered with furious enthusiasm nonetheless. Musically, this feels like Coal Chamber's strongest work to date, though Rivals is only their fourth full-length record. Where their self-titled debut was a good effort, albeit a primitive nu metal album, the follow-ups, Chamber Music and Dark Days respectively, were both uneven in their song quality. Rivals still feels a touch too long, as some tracks — such as the title effort, "Rivals" — somewhat overstay their welcome.

Overall, I have relatively few criticisms of Rivals; this album is better than I expected. However, what I learned is that my expectations also weren't very high; nu metal is a dead genre, and marks a period well in my past as a music listener. Still, Coal Chamber put together a very competent, fun collection of tracks on Rivals. I enjoyed listening to this album several times, and if I ever do get an itch to listen to Coal Chamber, this is the album I'll be looking to. I don't know how often that will be, though; in many respects, I feel like this is a somewhat less aggressive Devildriver record. Rivals is worth a look if you're in my age bracket and didn't despise nu metal since day one, or if you're into heavier music but not a big proponent of the more extreme genres like black and death metal.

Summary

Rated solely as a reunion album, Rivals gets top marks, especially since it actually features all original members. The world is host to countless albums that were churned out by disinterested, cash-starved nostalgia acts — this isn't one of them. This record didn't so much take me back to my teenage years as remind me of everything that has transpired between then and now. Likewise, Rivals features a band that has expanded their horizons while still remaining true to the fundamentals of their sound and niche. Coal Chamber may not be your favourite band — they weren't mine in their heyday — but they did put out some fun, aggressive music that I enjoyed. Rivals provides more of that same experience, with enough modern polish and refinement to be their best work yet. If you hated them back in the day, you likely won't change your mind now, otherwise this record is worth giving a chance.

Album Information

Release date: May 19th, 2015
Record label: Napalm Records

Dez Farfara — vocals
Miguel Rascón — guitar
Nadja Puelen — bass
Mike Cox — drums

Track Listing

  1. I.O.U. Nothing
  2. Bad Blood Between Us
  3. Light In The Shadows
  4. Suffer In Silence
  5. The Bridges You Burn
  6. Orion
  7. Another Nail In The Coffin
  8. Rivals
  9. Wait
  10. Dumpster Dive
  11. Over My Head
  12. Fade Away (Karma Never Forgets)
  13. Empty Handed
  14. Worst Enemy

—by Derek

Published: November 12, 2015