Chimaira – The Age Of Hell (2011)

Posted: August 14, 2011 in Music

Sometimes as a reviewer, you feel like you are on an island. Your thoughts and feelings differ so greatly from the metal community that you feel like burying your head in the sand or befriending a volleyball.

Such is the case with the new release from Cleveland, Ohio’s Chimaira. Early poll results have been favorable throughout the industry, but I’m here to tell you – my faithful readers – that something is amiss in the Forest City.

The band is set to release their highly-publicized sixth studio album, The Age Of Hell, on E1 records (home of KRS-ONE and Thomas the Tank Engine) August 16th. After a couple of less than successful efforts in 2007’s Resurrection and 2009’s The Infection, Chimaira looks to rebound and get back in the limelight of heavy/hardcore/groove metal amidst a flurry of lineup changes, attitudes, and changing sounds in the scene.

Led by founding member and vocalist Mark Hunter, the band has embarked on a new album that embraces a lyrical content of hard times and near breakup. It all sounds very personal…

“In terms of the lyrics, I think the stuff I wrote this time out has been the most personal and honest set of songs I’ve ever done,” Hunter said. “I’ve never been this open on a record before. The frustration that I went through in the past year spills out on these songs. But I felt the urge to our audiences this time. I wanted them to share in the pain and use words that struck a nerve with them. I wanted them to relate to the emotion of the situation even though they didn’t really know all of the details of what went down in the band. I think our fans will feel the realness of it all. As a matter of fact, I know they will.”

Sounds fair enough. Hunter thinks the fans are going to “feel it.” The problem is, most of Chimaira’s fanbase jumped ship after the release of Resurrection, and some were long gone even before that. The band had two absolute gems in 2003’s The Impossibility of Reason and 2005’s self-titled effort, but it had become apparent after Reason’s release that the band was a ticking time-bomb. The band was never really able to match the intensity of their first two releases, and I blame it on chemistry.

The leading forces behing Chimaira have always been Hunter and lead guitarist Rob Arnold, but the rest of band has come and gone in a drum and bass game of musical chairs. Longtime member Chris Spicuzza (keyboards) left the band recently citing a “negative environment,” and drummer Andols Herrick announced in April that he too would be leaving the band due to differences.

With all the changes with labels and personel, it is excusable that the band might not be firing on all cylinders with The Age Of Hell, and honestly, they’re not.

The album opens with the title track, which throws a stiff elbow into your ribs right off the bat. It’s powerful and raucous, and has the intensity behind it that made Chimaira stand out from the crowd many years ago.

“Clockwork” continued the aggression, but mixed in a unwelcome nu-metal chorus and keyboard interlude that destroyed the momentum the first six minutes of the album had built. A saxophone? Really? When the track wanted to be brutal, it succeeded, but there was too much other stuff happening here that sounded out of place.

A marching tempo greets the listener on “Losing My Mind,” which I thought was going to build into something brutal, but instead took the mid-tempo route throughout. There wasn’t anything complex here – and while simplicity sometimes adds to a track, it just made this one feel relatively uninspired.

“Time Is Running Out” had a much improved structure, but was heavy on the clean backing vocals, almost to the point where Hunter’s vicious growls were drowned out at times. The riffing was simple – save a decent breakdown midway – and seemed bottled-up. I imagine this song will get a much better treatment when performed live, but fell a little flat for me on disc.

Mildly unimpressed so far, and if not for the mixing of Zeuss making the first four tracks sound as polished as possible, I just might have turned the album off, but knowing Chimaira, I figured it was going to get better at some point.

Better slithered out of the nest with “Year of the Snake.” Whatever poison was infecting the first third of the album was spit out with a passion during this song. Hunter sounds pissed as hell here, and the drumming from producer Ben Schigel (who handled the drum tracking after Herrick’s departure) is forceful and precise. A monstrous breakdown changes things up at the 2:15 mark and adds just the right amount of brutality. It was sincere and dark, and got the album back on track.

Instead of carrying the progress forward, the train slows down again for “Beyond The Grave.” The groove is decent, and the mood sets itself for something epic, but the structure fails in originality. I couldn’t help but feel like I’ve heard this song before. Lamb of God? In Flames? Someone.

Phil Bozeman from Whitechapel (who seems to be making the guest appearance circuit of late) is featured on “Born in Blood,” which again captures the essence of Chimaira at their finest. Heavy guitars, ridiculous drum patterns, and demonic growls that make the hair on the back of your neck stand at attention. Between this track and “Snake…”, you have two serious fucking examples of how good this band can truly be.

Unfortunately, the train derails. If you like artsy, self-appreciating noise, you’ll swallow “Stoma” whole. An instrumental piece of of garbage that is as anti-Chimaira as it gets. Filler? Yes. Meaningful? Fuck no. If Chimaira was Nine Inch Nails, which they aren’t, it would still be inexcusable.

“Powerless” borrows a riff or two from some better bands, and showed some promise early to rip your face off, but got caught up in being another boring, meaningless track that sells itself as something far more important than it really is. And Mark Morton would appreciate his riffs back when you’re done using them…

Released all over YouTube (…) months ago was “Trigger Finger,” which finds the band again, borrowing/stealing a style that was never their own, and trying to take claim to a sound that they obviously aren’t made for. The mighty Zeuss mixed this perfectly, and I enjoyed listening to his skills yet again, but when the mix grabs your attention, the band basically failed. Zeuss could remix my bowel movements into a top 40 single, so…

“Scapegoat” opened with a promising drum/guitar combo that made me think the third decent track was on its way. Unfortunately, the three chord guitar and paint-by-numbers drum structure led to another mediocre track. Again, there are other bands doing this a FUCK of a lot better, and I just can’t fanboy myself into believing this is something worth listening to more than once. But thanks for the flamenco guitars…

The album closer “Samsera,” at nearly six minutes long was bound to be epic, right? Anyone?… Bueller?…

Honestly, it rips about as strong as anything else on the album, as an instrumental – and that’s probably a good thing. We don’t have to deal with the pulsing forehead vein and displaced bull piercing of Hunter trying to explain why he can’t keep a fucking band together anymore, and why it’s not his fault. Instead, we get the treat of all the new Chimaira members showcasing their skills (an obvious audition for future gigs) and it’s a great display of the talent that was intentionally downplayed throughout this release.

As stated before, this album has the right connections, and the right people talking about it, but for us at The Nutwork – it was three good tracks and nine full of an overbearing amount of shit. If you need the glorifying review to get your dick hard about this release, use Google. There are plenty of reviews gushing over this – but as far as I’m concerned, I urge my readers to pass on it. Come Labor Day, so will have everyone else.

Time to go talk to my volleyball….


As an added note of giveaway awfulness, this album is free with the purchase of August’s Metal Hammer (UK) magazine.

01 – The Age Of Hell
02 – Clockwork
03 – Losing My Mind
04 – Time Is Running Out
05 – Year of the Snake
06 – Beyond The Grave
07 – Born in Blood
08 – Stoma
09 – Powerless
10 – Trigger Finger
11 – Scapegoat
12 – Samsara

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