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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Chevelle -- Wonder What's Next


I was not into Chevelle's Tool-inspired debut.  "Mia" gained a lot of airtime on my local college station during my senior year of high school, and I enjoyed it to a degree, but that was about it.  In the fall of 2002, I went to the Cortana Wal-Mart for some long-forgotten reason.  In the checkout isle, I saw a new album by Chevelle.  I also saw a sticker on the album that said $5.99.  On to the conveyor belt it went.
While there is still a bit of Tool in singer, Pete Loeffler's vocals, the opening track "Family System," doesn't really sound like anyone else.  It sounds, if this makes any sense, like an ornate throw-down.  It has a Gothic vibe, like an old castle full of family portraits, but one weathering a hurricane in the dead of night.  In other words, "Family System" is a complete original.  Second track, "Comfortable Liar," is head-slamming good fun, but its brand of walking chug sounds a bit Deftones.  Then "Send the Pain Below" happens.
Send the Pain Below/Album Version by Chevelle on Grooveshark
Good grief it reminds me of a song from five years before.
Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away) by Deftones on Grooveshark
I'll give Chevelle the benefit of the doubt.  Instead of saying that they directly ripped off "Be Quiet and Drive," I will just assume that the infectious music of the Deftones entered deeply into and was emulated by their subconscious. Even the similarities of the bridge and the string scratching...
Anyway, moving on, "Closure" is more in the vein of "Family System," finding Chevelle carving out and discovering their own sound.  There is definitely a feeling throughout Wonder What's Next that the band has more freedom to do what they wanted than on their debut.  This explains the far heavier distortion and writing, and the extra intensity in the vocals. Chevelle are proving themselves here to be a hard rock band--not an alternative, college-radio band..."Alt-Metal" if the word "alternative" must be used--and even with the aforementioned Deftones aping, there is still enough originality for Chevelle to make a statement about their identity. They are capable of a sound that isn't "Tool" or "Deftones," but "Chevelle," and Wonder What's Next is where that sound is first discovered.
Lead single "The Red" may be the greatest statement of that new sound: the chunky, long rhythm of the riff, the plodding but steady drumming, the outbursts of aggression in the vocals.  The only problem is that the second half of the album follows too closely in the same vein.  None of these songs are bad, and all contain cool individual parts that stand out with frequent listens, but all carry that same feeling that Chevelle's appendages are covered in mud while they are playing their instruments.  In a way, this is the major problem with Wonder What's Next.  The band do find their sound, but it is still so new to them, they haven't yet discovered the intricacies and options found within.  They just pound out a mid-tempo slug fest for the final five songs, excluding the acoustic final track. That's a lot of muddy chugging.
While finding an identity is a tricky proposition, at least Chevelle find it.  Wonder What's Next is a terrific document of that discovery.  Even with the derivative nature of a few early tracks, and the repetitive nature of a few of the latter, Wonder What's Next still finds the time to be fairly riveting.  It has proven to be the bedrock for Chevelle's longevity.  It is  a second album, but a good place to start.

2002 Epic
1. Family System 4:17
2. Comfortable Liar 3:43
3. Send the Pain Below 4:13
4. Closure 4:12
5. The Red 3:58
6. Wonder What's Next 4:10
7. Don't Fake This 3:39
8. Forfeit 3:59
9. Grab Thy Hand 4:14
10. An Evening with El Diablo 5:58
11. One Lonely Visitor 4:08

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