The supergroup known as Hellyeah gained most of its notice because it was Vinnie Paul Abbott’s triumphant return to the music world following the death of his brother, Dimebag Darrell, and the subsequent end of Pantera, Damageplan, and all other projects involving the two brothers. The group has found its niche in playing groove metal with a distinct Southern attitude and theme to it. However, the group’s critics view this as a betrayal of Pantera’s legacy, even though there are few core differences between the two groups. Bucking the critics and forging ahead with its ideals, Hellyeah gives a sincere effort on its sophomore album, Stampede, which succeeds in some areas, but has a few weaknesses as well.
Hellyeah is too talented of a band to deliver bad music, and Stampede proves that admirably. Vinnie Paul’s drumming is spot-on from start to finish, as can be expected from the veteran. Guitarists Greg Tribbett and Tom Maxwell deliver solid performances, showing their diverse range of skills outside of their regular bands Mudvayne and Nothingface, respectively. Their riffing on “Order the Sun” gives the track a perfect Pantera feeling. New bassist Bob Zilla, who used to play with Vinnie Paul in Damageplan, shines on Stampede, always making his presence felt, but never taking the spotlight, as bassists should. Singer Chad Gray spits and growls his lyrics with just as much vitriol and intensity as he did on the group’s self-titled debut, even managing to top his performances with Mudvayne at certain points. Gray also shows a surprising new affinity for clean singing, crooning soulfully on “Stand or Walk Away” about the pain of loss and failure in life. It’s a heartfelt song that ranks as one of the most memorable on the album.
However, Gray’s performance on two other soft tracks, “Hell of a Time” and “Better Man”, comes off as forced and clichéd as he lacks the sincerity in his voice to really sell the songs. The performance doesn’t fit and forces listeners to wonder why he didn’t put as much into those tracks as he did “Stand or Walk Away”, since he clearly has the ability. However, the bigger problem is one that pervades the entire album, and that is the lyrics. Hellyeah has taken the idea of “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” to the utmost extreme, filling the album with imagery about being drunk, getting high, and getting with beautiful women, 24/7. The chief culprit in this area is “Pole Rider”, a song that requires no explanation and carries the subtlety of a Playboy centerfold plastered on a highway billboard. The songs that don’t carry the aforementioned imagery are much stronger and more memorable, leading to speculation about why the band would write such forgettable lyrics when it can do better. The answer to this question is simple, though—for some listeners, the over-the-top lyrics are the biggest attraction Hellyeah can offer. And catering to fans is one thing that every rock group can admit to doing at least once.
Between these two weaknesses, it’s easy to see why critics give Hellyeah a hard time. However, it’s also easy to see why people buy the band’s records like crazy. Stampede‘s debut at #8 on the Billboard charts makes sense when one considers how many fans of commercial hard rock are looking for something with a bit more grit and heaviness. Hellyeah fits the bill perfectly for these people, and at the same time, reawakens the liveliness of ‘80s hair metal with more honest music. It may not be a perfect formula, but it’s sure to appeal to the crowd of non-elitist rock and metal fans, of which there are plenty.