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Friday, March 03, 2017

P.O.D. -- When Angels & Serpents Dance


Many P.O.D. fans rejoiced when the band made the December 30, 2006 announcement that original guitarist, Marcos Curiel, who had left between the band's Satellite (2001) and Payable on Death (2003), was returning. Nothing against Jason Truby, who acquitted himself admirably in that position, but it had become apparent that Curiel played the biggest part in P.O.D.'s sound in the past. His rejoining surely meant a return to those earlier sounds, except...
In the five years since P.O.D.'s mega-hit Satellite, Curiel had adjusted to playing without the three other members of P.O.D., and the other three members had adapted to playing with Truby. Not only that, but all four had grown in musicianship and influence in their own right. There was no picking up right where Satellite left off.
Thus, many fans were disappointed as soon as they heard the first single released from When Angels & Serpents Dance, P.O.D.'s first album with Curiel back behind the strings. That song, "Addicted" is mean, lean, and dark, with a video to match the mood. "Addicted," which also serves as WAASD's opening track, features a nasty distorted guitar line and aggressive vocals--fans were expecting that soaring Satellite uplift, and instead got this.

"Addicted" is followed by "Shine with Me," and "Condescending," more straight-forward rock songs, which would sound at home in the Truby-era if not for the amount of space they contain. However, the band put to bed any notion that they are going to go vanilla rock on this album with "It Can't Rain Everyday," which sees the glorious return of that latin-influenced soul Curiel brings to the band. After a guitar into which would make Carlos Santana proud, the group dive into a chilled out "only P.O.D. could write this song" rock ballad that also re-introduces the song-changing dynamics the band excel at when Curiel is a part of the writing process. While the song focuses on life's hard knocks, it features a killer, late-song post-chorus groove, featuring a certain beautiful feeling of yearning that again, only P.O.D. can invoke. Also, and I can't say this enough, P.O.D.'s rhythm section is a national treasure--there's a reason Wuv Bernardo and Traa Daniels have been on the cover of so many musician magazines.
Hardships and temptation rise as the major themes of this album. Vocalist, Sonny Sandoval, riding a huge Curiel riff, paints a picture of the streets of the band's home state, in the next track, "Kaliforn-Eye-A." This song segues excellently into "I'll Be Ready," a glorious, classic P.O.D. reggae jam featuring two of BOB MARLEY'S DAUGHTERS. The song is a trembling prayer against temptation, and the performances by the daughters of the greatest, most respected reggae artist of all time lends the band's work in that particular genre even more authenticity. Curiel's preferred guitar sound for WAASD also becomes apparent here: it's a distorted, yet clear latin rock tone that--and I know this is abstract, but I mean this in the best random sensory nostalgia possible--reminds me of an arcade. I really enjoy it.
This isn't a perfect album, though. "End of the World" and "This Ain't No Ordinary Love Song" ain't bad songs in the least, particularly the epic strings and Sonny screams at the end of the former, but the latter throws off the pace a little. I think the band put the song in that spot because they didn't want the vibe of the album as a whole to be too intense, yet while "This Ain't No Ordinary Love Song" isn't bright and sunny in the least, it slows things down. I'm not saying a fun track, like the earlier "Kaliforn-Eye-A" is needed here, either...I just think that the ramping intensity of the album's second half should have been allowed to flow freely.
The intensity certainly returns on the next song, "God Forbid," the heaviest track that P.O.D. have recorded. With a bludgeoning metal riff and menacing guest vocals from Helmet's Page Hamilton, it seems that Sandoval's sanity itself is on the line. This may seem histrionic, but to give some summer of 2008 context, the country was entering one of the biggest economic recessions in its history, was embroiled in two seemingly endless wars with no clear enemy, and P.O.D. themselves faced turmoil in their career and personal lives. Life seemed confusing and in some part, hopeless. I identified with the emotions of the album just fine. In fact, I think WAASD is the oft-misunderstood P.O.D.'s misunderstood, imperfect opus. It offers a disturbing alternative to the band's first two major label albums -- "you know what...I'm actually not sure everything will be okay."
"God Forbid" is followed by "Roman Empire," an instrumental that again, instead of soaring on celestial wings, conjures images of standing at a dusty crossroads, and hoping the devil doesn't show up. This leads into the title track, a slippery rock song which fully explores the album's themes-

Rhythmically moving
Emotions are rising
Quivering to music
Trembling bodies in song
Go unsteadily sliding
Devious gliding
So beautifully sailing and floating on

Life's real when angels and serpents dance

Twistedly slipping
Radiant soaring
Winding. maliciously creeping
Flowing Righteous, moral and just.
Deceitful. the creature is crawling
The guardian's flying. the dance is breathing
Who's leading?

Who's leading you?
Everything you say?
Everything that you do?
Believing what is true?
One must lead in the dance
Who's leading you?

The band then play a mournful acoustic track, "Tell Me Why," a surprising protest against war and man's darker natures (and just five years after the band's jingoistic "Freedom Fighters"). I think it becomes apparent by this track that WAASD is P.O.D.'s must musically diverse album.
I love that "Tell Me Why" ends with the line "How do we know?" This flows brilliantly into next song "Rise Against"'s opening line, "What's the point in knowing?" "Rise Against" is the album closer, a call to action that is certainly the darkest ending to a P.O.D. album to this point. It brings the lyrical and musical themes of WAASD to a close, Curiel's awesome guitar tone reaches its optimal effected conclusion, and then the band went on hiatus for four years.

2008 INO/Columbia
1. Addicted 3:32
2. Shine with Me 3:32
3. Condescending 4:02
4. It Can't Rain Everyday 4:42
5. Kaliforn-Eye-A (featuring Mike Muir of Suicidal Tendencies) 4:29
6. I'll Be Ready (featuring the Marley Sisters) 4:43
7. End of the World 4:34
8. This Ain't No Ordinary Love Song 3:43
9. God Forbid (featuring Page Hamilton of Helmet) 3:55
10. Roman Empire 2:42
11. When Angels & Serpents Dance 3:16
12. Tell Me Why 3:19
13. Rise Against 4:52

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