Chevelle: Vena Sera

[17 May 2007]

By Andrew Blackie

What do you do when you run out of new material to record and the fine print on the contract with your record company has you due for a fresh album? Well, in the case of Illinois alt-metal band Chevelle, you dig up some unused demos from the vault, put them up to your big-budget production, and present them as your fourth studio album under a funky-sounding Latin name.

The cover art of Vena Sera (translated as, uh, in the vein), depicting an endless spiral, might be a fair appropriation, in fact, as the album’s contents sound like one big gurgle. A record that leans religiously on guitars, catchy, radio-ready riffs seep through in jittery sweeping surges; the vast, echoing production lifts them all from their aggressive function and makes them unfurl awkwardly outwards in motions that should be particularly unflattering when the band play it live. Sparing moments of synthesizer, contributed by an uncredited ‘session member’, would take the band’s sound in a new direction if it wasn’t used as a surplus effect -– sneaking mechanically beneath “Humanoid” or as a warp solo in “Paint the Seconds”. And of course, frontman Pete Loeffler spews forth cryptic Bush/anti-war lamentations per usual a la Tool. “You’re the perfect person”, he sneers at one point, “Let’s all live your imaginary life”.

That generalization might actually be a little cruel. Loeffler truly sounds like he’s making an honest-to-goodness attempt to come into his own as a vocalist on Vena Sera, but it’s just not enough. It’s hard to let his nasal, soaring emotion win you over to their cause when the majority of Vena Sera is comprised of safe, MOR alt-rock. The songs are so ‘blah’ that distinguishing one from another becomes a task of immense difficulty, and the tempos are set to a perpetual midtempo chuff that keeps everything running ad nauseam. Bogging down their choruses with vocal aches has always been Chevelle’s problem, but there’s nothing with the bite of “The Clincher” from their previous album. You’d swear all of the energy in it was pumped into it by an outside source.

“Antisaint” is quite a dissonant, looming opener, but soon numbers like “Saferwaters” kick in, barely registering thanks to their bland and unmemorable composition –- riff by way of chords, a quiet verse, ascending to a mini-anthem. Loeffler drawls his climactic harmonies as though they’re a revelation, spooky synth effects fluttering just beyond its center of gravity. First single “Well Enough Alone” can be tossed off in much the same breath; after its crunching mad start it falls into tense, predictable power chords. “The Fad” is blasé nu-metal, and “Saturdays”, as the last track, still leaves absolutely nothing to remember itself by after the CD has finished. 

There are but two incidents during 45 minutes of faceless hard rocking that I can see myself coming back to, and strangely enough they’re at opposite ends of the spectrum. “Straightjacket Fashion” features the frontman’s singing at its very best, and a hook dispelled with a bitter offhandedness, “You’re overrated anyhow”, which the track’s ever-driving drumbeat works wonders for. The other standout, “Paint the Seconds”, has the daring to differentiate itself from the rest via a technical intro strummed on a steel-string acoustic guitar.

But the rest of Vena Sera is rote, with nothing surprising about it. Everything is right where it belongs to suck up the maximum amount of radio success; furthermore, the intricate production can’t conceal that the album is just a bunch of leftovers. Pete Loeffler is really to be commended on his efforts, stamping his withering psyche and lyrical skill on rewrite after rewrite of old tunes… but with everything else so one-dimensional and sluggish, you have to ask yourself: why should we care what he’s blabbing about? Having begun their career as one of mainstream rock’s brightest hopes and innovators, on Vena Sera Chevelle fall in with the rest of the crowd. While their last album was, assumedly sarcastically, called This Type of Thinking (Could Do Us In), the only kind of thinking they’re doing in 2007 is financial.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/chevelle-vena-sera/