Shinedown – Amaryllis (2012)

Posted: March 20, 2012 in Music

Modern American rock has always been a mixed bag with me. For as much as I hate Creed, I love Alter Bridge. I turn Nickelback off every time I hear them, yet reach for the volume knob furiously when I hear Foo Fighters. I’ve torn apart 3 Doors Down in reviews, yet called Hinder one of the next big things in music.

Let’s face it – each band either does something for you or doesn’t, and that seems to be the dilemma I have with this slice of the modern music pie. Musically, they all carry the same type of style and swagger (and often the same structure), so a lot of the judgement comes from other tangibles, such as personalities, lyrical content, and level of talent. Which brings us to Shinedown

Formed in Florida in 2002, Shinedown has had a more even-keeled rise to fame. Where Creed and others blasted out of a cannon to superstardom, Brent Smith and company have spent the last ten years slowly climbing the charts and filling the airwaves, building their fan base one listener at a time. Attention to detail in their songs and live performances (the band has seemingly been on tour constantly) has only added to their image of one of rock’s hardest working units, and the band proudly wears their “every-man’s-rock-band” patch on their sleeves.

I’ve always been a believer that effort begets success, and Shinedown is the perfect example. You don’t hear of any Kroeger-esque attitudes or Stapp-like meltdowns with this band, just decent music that fans seem to go crazy for. The fervor continues with the band’s latest release Amaryllis, scheduled for a March 27th release. For many, it’s a long-overdue dose of new music from the band – but for me, it’s something else. It’s a chance to supplant the heavyweights and grab the crown as rock’s biggest band. Those types of opportunities don’t come around very often, but in an age mired in watered down rock, now just might be the time to rise above it.

Amaryllis begins earnestly enough with “Adrenaline” – an almost grungy sounding rocker filled with grand guitars and Smith sounding better than ever. I guess you can call the band seasoned veterans after ten years, but it is obvious right off the bat that they sound more cohesive and focused as a unit than they have on previous releases. That “tightness” carries over into the next track, the pre-released single “Bully.” Again, the vocals are extremely well done, and the meat and potatoes structure easily carried the track to the top of the rock charts. Strong choruses and stronger guitars are the stuff hits are made of, and this is chock full of both.

The title track is a journey down the softer side of Shinedown, and despite the echoing guitar chords, it’s a ballad in every sense. Rock love songs are a dime a dozen these days, but this one stands a little stronger than most with a sound foundation of meaningful lyrics and a well-built fortress of sound. The stringed instrumentals add a nice touch to a beautiful song, and the perfectly placed solo gives it a little more bite than most.

“Unity” offers up more strength in arrangement, and the style reminded me a bit of Collective Soul in its flow and delicacy. Not quite a ballad and not quite a rocker, it’s the mid-tempo stuff made for radio play and for the stage. Smith even calls out for the listener to “put (their) hands in the air.” A bit cliché – sure – but it doesn’t distract too much from another decent, signature song.

The pace was bound to pick back up sooner or later, and pick up it does with “Enemies.” The track almost defies the rock genre, leaning a little towards nu-metal (a la Avenged Sevenfold) with it’s pounding drums and guitar licks, but Smith’s vocals keep it on course throughout. I’ve already mentioned how strong Brent sounds this time out, but it warrants noting again. Granted, it’s not Myles Kennedy level stuff, but it’s obvious he’s pouring his heart and soul into the delivery – and the album is that much better for it.

“I’m Not Alright” adds even more orchestral tones, but this time it’s mixed in louder and actually carries its own fresh instrumental part of a song that, frankly, probably needed it. Not that it’s a bad track, but without the strings would probably have been pretty generic – and this album has avoided that title so far.

Bound to be another crowd favorite, “Nowhere Kids” comes at you with Buckcherry’s posture and Seether’s accessibility. It’s one of the stronger cuts on the disc, as it back-and-forths itself from a sing-along anthem to a riotous fist-pounder. Again, the levels and mix is perfect, and I could easily see this being the next release to radio.

“Miracle” is another ballad-in-rocker’s-clothing, but pales a bit in comparison to “Amaryllis”. The spot was right on the album for another slowdown, but this one seemed a little too normal. Not much special here – and even Smith’s vocals seemed average, but fortunately not for long.

The soulful, bluesy “I’ll Follow You” is a return to form from the vocal/lyrical standpoint. Smith evokes a ton of emotion here, and the slower pace really helps him shine. A vocalist or two from the genre could learn a lesson here about how to do it right, as this song is as perfect as the rock ballad gets.

Orchestral parts can be used to lighten up a song, or they can be used to really add power to a track. Shinedown borrows a trick from Skillet and highlights “For My Sake” with aggressive strings. The balance works, and the energy just explodes throughout, and the end result is another solid, unforgettable track.

As the last of the true rockers on the disc, “My Name (Wearing Me Out)” blisters with enormous drums and has Smith so caught up in the moment that you actually get the rare “fuck” out of him lyrically. It’s darker and deeper than the rest of the tracks, and could have easily closed the album out with resonating force, but that’s not the path Shinedown chose to take this time around.

Instead, the album closes out with – that’s right – another ballad. I’m on the fence as to whether or not “Through The Ghost” was one ballad too many or not. Granted, it’s another keeper and done very well, but I’d rather an album finish with a roar instead of a whisper. But maybe the roars had their say. The sensibility behind the track, if anything, shows that the band is just as comfortable putting your head to sleep as it is shaking your ass – and can do both as well as anyone.

Is this the album I had hoped for? Absolutely. It’s the perfect balance of artistry, rock and roll and fan-pleasing melodies that modern rock so desperately needs. To hell with the sellouts, the obnoxious, and the highly over-rated – Shinedown has delivered one of the best, most sincere albums the genre has ever heard – and the bar has just been raised a couple of notches.

9/10

Tracklist:
01. Adrenaline
02. Bully
03. Amaryllis
04. Unity
05. Enemies
06. I’m Not Alright
07. Nowhere Kids
08. Miracle
09. I’ll Follow You
10. For My Sake
11. My Name (Wearing Me Out)
12. Through The Ghost

Buy at Amazon

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