P.O.D.: When Angels & Serpents Dance

Chris Catania
Photo: Chapman Baehler

Meet the new P.O.D. same as the old P.O.D. (minus the hip-hop, that is.) Marcos is back! Cue the power ballads and let the dance begin, again.


When Angels & Serpents Dance

Label: Columbia
US Release Date: 2008-04-08
UK Release Date: Available as import

With When Angels & Serpents Dance a new P.O.D. has emerged. A new version that will be a subdued 180 for die-hard fans expecting the usual track-to-track unleashing hybrid of rock, reggae and hip-hop. Those expecting to hear the P.O.D. who stormed onto the rap-rock scene in 1999 with Fundamental Elements of Southtown will be thoroughly disappointed. But fans that couldn’t get enough of soaring power rock ballads like “Satellite” and “Alive” will find more than a few, albeit mellower, nuggets to savor.

Acknowledging the impending backlash and “gone soft” response from die-hard fans -- a.k.a. the Warriors -- the San Diego quartet addresses the sonic pink elephant via the accompanying album press release, “... we decided to explore new territory because, we all have families and we’re not 18 and punk rocking in garages anymore.”

Yes, much has changed for P.O.D. since the days of garage jamming in 1992. In the wake "Satellite’s" multi-platinum success, circa 2002, lead guitarist Marcos Curiel abruptly exited to pursue a side project. P.O.D. questioned the future, but ultimately filled the massive gap with Christian-metal band Living Sacrifice's guitarist John Truby to record its next two albums. What followed was a slow decent into a world of less than platinum and barely gold album sales, a self-imposed departure from original label home Atlantic Records. At the end of 2006, before the recording of Angels began, P.O.D. reunited with Curiel. Rumors about the reason why the guitarist left cited “spiritual indifferences” between Curiel and the other members, but whatever the reason, the band clearly missed his superb guitar work, and welcomed him back, returning to him the reigns of a band he co-founded.

Over 13 tracks, a post-rap-rock P.O.D. has disappeared; what emerges is a laid back, more expansive and ballad-loving quartet, one that is nothing like the major label debut band heard on Elements and the multi-platinum Satellite. But as the last track “Rise Against” dissolves, a disappointing carbon copy of what we’ve already heard before lingers on the brain. There’s reggae, punk rock and heavy metal riffs -- Curiel’s masterful interpretations of his influences (Slayer, Santana, and Metallica) -- crawling over every track. But the biggest change is the absence of a the rap-rock fusion, sampling or scratching that made previous tracks “Rock the Party (off The Hook)” and “Southtown” MTV’s TRL and radio hits.

P.O.D. summons Helmet’s Paige Hamilton to help deliver the thrash metal and scowling vocals, alongside front man Sonny Sandoval on “God Forbid". The raucous punk and rhythms of home-state anthem “Kaliforn-Eye-A”, featuring Suicidal Tendencies’s Mike Muir, rock hard and good, but in the company of other more mature tracks and ballads, the lyrical home-turf chest thumping is rote. And we already know how much P.O.D. likes the Golden State.

The genuineness and passion of Sandoval is undeniable, but lyrical limitations have been apparent over the last two albums. He’s always relied on screaming or rapping, showing a gift for mixing poetic imagery, story telling and heart-on-your-sleeve lyrics to connect with fans on a personal level. At times, Sandoval moves up a notch lyrically, but as with previous P.O.D. songs, I had a strong feeling that he was holding back for fear of offending his fans, a mostly Christian audience who fully embraced P.O.D. even before the band cracked the mainstream in 1999. To understand why P.O.D. makes the records they do is to understand how they found an audience; they successfully created a niche by lyrically mixing elements of the Christian faith with the Rastafarian beliefs and Bob Marley “One Love” vibe, then melded them into a workable template of rap-rock-reggae that was deemed acceptable and grew in popularity in the Christian subculture. I wouldn’t call the band sell-outs to their own fans, but it’s understandable that an act like P.O.D. would be afraid of alienating their fanbase, and ultimate suppliers of their income. Rock and roll history has had its share of artists risking loss of fans in search of artistic growth, but P.O.D's situation is certainly unique, as it's a constant struggle between appeasing fans and letting the band grow, which makes Angels even more of a critical album.

So immediately Sandoval rips open his heart with the raw lead track "Addicted", a grinding and shifting blend of rock and punk that painfully describes the physical and psychological struggles of addiction. Sandoval, with the Warriors in mind, has always been cautious of what he expresses in song, and "Addicted" is one of his most challenging compositions. It's also a surprise to hear him (actually) sing and attack a topic like war so openly and vividly on “Tell Me Why”. Minus the opaqueness -- he doesn’t specifically mention Iraq -- it’s a bold move forward in the context of his previous songs about controversial topics.

P.O.D. takes other risks with soaring ballads, allowing Sandoval to explore his signing/crooning abilities on “End of the World”, “This Is No Ordinary Love Song” and several others. But, again, it’s much of the same heard on previous albums when the band needed a rest between explosions of rock, metal and punk.

Sandoval taps his talent for empathizing with his fellow man on “It Can’t Rain Everyday”, following the same song structure he used to tell the poignant contemporary gem “Youth of the Nation”. In response to various school shootings, he told a chilling multi-part story as seen through the eyes of desperate high school student. The band’s love for reggae returns with a Marley sisters chorus during “I’ll Be Ready”, as Sandoval chants down the Babylon’s temporal temptations he finds as he strolls along Hollywood Boulevard, fighting to keep his eyes to Zion. A spooky whisper of “emperio romano” floats underneath a stream of multi-tracked Curiel-led Spanish and electric guitars. All are solid songs filled with emotive power, but they fall short of delivering anything P.O.D. hasn’t done before in some way or another.

P.O.D.’s past success lies in Curiel’s versatile pallet, which can slip in and out of rock, reggae and metal at any moment, and aside from Sandoval’s few lyrical peaks, it’s the return of the surreal guitar work that keeps Angels from being a total waste of time.





Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.


Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.


That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.


Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.


Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.


Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.


'Thor: Ragnarok' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.


Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.


Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings Team for Wonderfully Sparse "Where Or When" (premiere)

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings' "Where Or When" is a wonderfully understated performance that walks the line between pop and jazz.


Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.