[2 March 2006]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
We all know the larger record companies can be rather shallow at times, but every once in a while, a major label pulls off a stunt so calculated, so obviously evil, that you can’t help but sit back, smile incredulously, and say, “Bravo.” Last fall, Atlanta nu-metalers Sevendust released their fifth studio album, their first for Universal offshoot Winedark, after nearly a decade with TVT Records. While Next was an uninspired collection of redundant, boring tuned-down riffs and few of the compelling melodies that set the band apart from the rest of the nu-metal horde in the late ‘90s, TVT had their own wheels in motion, and in a move considered malicious by supporters of the band, and which in all likelihood is, the spurned label released the hastily-assembled, comically titled Best Of (Chapter One) two months later. As a result, over the Christmas holidays, Best Of dominated the New Release shelves of the big record stores, while Next was put back among the rest of the back catalogue titles. In attempting to disrupt Sevendust’s sales momentum by re-releasing a bunch of old Sevendust recordings, TVT showed everyone that it’s never a good idea to piss off a big record label.
Once you get past the compelling story behind this compilation, however, what you’re left with is actually a decent, albeit slipshod career overview of the hard-working band. When that churning, midtempo, angry-sounding form of metal otherwise known as nu was in its nascent stages in the mid-‘90s, most bands followed the examples set by the likes of Sepultura, Korn, Fear Factory, and Pantera, but Sevendust’s ace in the hole turned out to be singer Lajon Witherspoon, whose impeccable blend of aggressive barks and strong, R & B inspired melodic choruses was a refreshing departure from the norm. It was a good combination, perfect for the time period, as the band’s low-end chords appealed to the metal kids, while Witherspoon’s vocal versatility gave the quintet broad mainstream appeal, which was reflected in their chart success, as every album after their 1997 debut has managed to crack the top 20 in the United States.
The 12 album tracks on Best Of are almost evenly split between the first four Sevendust albums. The three cuts from their eponymous debut while a touch on the pedestrian side, production wise, show how savvy the band was at providing something that listeners were hungry for. The electronic-accented social critique “Black”, the Pantera-like rallying cry “Bitch”, and the seething mosh-anthem “Too Close to Hate”, while sounding rather dated nearly 10 years later, all execute the formula of that particular time period perfectly. 1999’s Home remains Sevendust’s finest moment, as they didn’t so much as evolve as improve the sound of their debut on every level, with crisp, punchy production, better singing, better musicianship, and stronger songwriting. “Denial” is the perfect example of what the band had originally set out to do, the soaring vocals underscored by some vicious guitar work. “Waffle” brilliantly (not to mention blatantly) uses Fear Factory-style chords and synths as a backdrop to Witherspoon’s dominating performance, while “Assdrop” (one of the most perfect nu-metal titles ever) is a good example of the band’s more visceral side. Both 2001’s Animosity and 2003’s Seasons continued to recycle the band’s signature sound with middling success, but songs like the acoustic-driven “Angel’s Son”, the chugging “Praise”, and the ferocious “Enemy” showed that despite the band’s increasingly repetitive music, Witherspoon’s prowess often made up for his bandmates’ lack of polish.
The bonus tracks, tacked on to the end of the CD in an attempt to rope in those who already own the albums likely will not attract many of them, save for the completists. The two Seasons-era b-sides, “Coward” and “Rain”, are too bland compared to the previous dozen songs, the cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” is only mildly intriguing, and the flaccid 1997 cover of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” is abysmal, the worst cover of an Alice Cooper song this writer has ever heard. The inclusion of a few selections from 2004’s live album Southside Double-Wide, would have worked better on this collection.
As each year goes by, the more pointless nu-metal becomes, and while Sevendust were one of the best young bands around back when that musical style sounded fresh, try as they might, they probably will never match those salad days of the late ‘90s again. The metal world continues to push forward, and those old unwavering nu bands continue to grow smaller in the rear view mirror, but this collection serves as a reminder that for a few fleeting minutes, Sevendust brought genuine emotion to a sound that was based solely around blind rage. It’s only a shame this CD was released for cynical reasons by their former label, rather than out of genuine love of the music.