(TheMadIsraeli reviews the new album by Chimaira.)
This album was really difficult for me to accept.
Chimaira have had their hooks in me since The Impossibility of Reason, back when that stupid “New Wave of American Metal” label was popular (or as I like to call it, the term for all the genuinely good metalcore that was more metal than core), and have had a sound that to me has been unequaled, uncompromising, and never imitated accurately. Chimaira were a band with a mission, a real sense of what they wanted to do. When they released Resurrection (one of those all-time favorite albums of mine), in an odd move unlike other bands Chimaira didn’t claim they were pushing the envelope, going to the next level, or any of that typical PR bullshit. They openly stated Resurrection was their peak, and there was no use in trying to top it. They just wanted to have fun.
We got The Infection, a far cry away from their thrashier inclinations but an excellent album that saw them experimenting. However, when it came to The Age of Hell I think it was pretty obvious that the band as we’d known it were losing steam. Original bassist Jim Lamarca and keyboardist/backup vocalist Chris Spicuzza left before the album was released due to simply getting tired of doing the band thing in the digital age of music, and this seemed ultimately to be what led to the departure of most of the rest of the band’s members, sans vocalist Mark Hunter.
You’d have to have been into these guys from the beginning to understand that this was a band that had a definitive lineup, a cohesion and persona all their own. Dudes who’d played together since they were teenagers. For all intents and purposes, this seemed to be the end for Chimaira, period.
Mark Hunter wasn’t content to let the Chimaira name die though, and so in an extremely ballsy move he recruited a whole new line-up (some of it already in place briefly on Age of Hell) that contained some pretty high-profile talent, as well as some newcomers and underdogs — including the mighty Emil Werstler and Sean Z from Dååth (taking over guitar and sample/keyboard/backup vocal duties, respectively), drummer Austin D’amond from Bleed The Sky, and the relatively unknown Matt Szlachta, who did time in the band Dirge Within on guitar. Some fans obviously had hope for the new line-up — the talent in it was undeniable — but people such as myself saw this as a desperate attempt to hold on. Anyone who has ever followed Mark Hunter’s Facebook page at least knows he’s dealt with heavy criticism and has felt the need a time or two to comment on it.
I have to say, in a surprising turn of events, the dude proved me wrong. Crown of Phantoms is very legit indeed, and while it isn’t the Chimaira of old, it definitely signifies a new direction and a new era that encompasses a great deal of promise in the future, and bone-breaking brutality in the now.
It hit me from the beginning that the new Chimaira isn’t something to be fucked with. “The Machine” carries an early Fear Factory vibe with a fucking gnarly and mangled chunk of groove and twisted, bending leads and noise. It’s nasty and ferocious. It also immediately becomes apparently that D’amond is a titan of a drummer. Compared to Andols Herrick, D’amond’s style is busy, dynamic, and constantly fluctuating. Just in this song alone, you find moments in the beginning and in its chorus with an interesting accelerating double-bass run.
The lead work and solos have, predictably, taken quite a step up as well. Anyone who knows Dååth knows Werstler is a titan shredder and writes some of the most interesting solos out there (just reference the last Dååth record to know what I’m talking about), and here that doesn’t change. In the riffs and the solos, he does an amazingly astute job of making sure this doesn’t come off as Dååth fronted by Mark Hunter, but rather retains the core Chimaira sound while introducing his trademark elements into it on the guitar front.
This album is full of completely killer songs. Whether it be the lumbering stomp of “No Mercy”, the swagger and flow of “All That’s Left Is Blood”, the industrial precision of “Kings of the Shadow World”, or the thrashy flame-engulfed cascade of “Spineless”, it’s quite obvious that the Chimaira name still has life in it after all. Mark Hunter’s vocals are as feral as ever and he really seems to only sound better with age. It should also be noted that Sean Z and Hunter’s voices mesh superbly well. It’s amazing how absolutely fucking sinister they sound when in unison. Also, since this is a Chimaira record, the mix is predictably excellent.
This is a 2013 essential. The Chimaira brand, as it were, has won me over again, even when it shouldn’t have. Touché Mark Hunter, touché.