Whatever else you can say about CHIMAIRA, you can't accuse them of taking the easy way out. After the success of their big-label debut, "The Impossibility of Reason", it would have been unsurprising — indeed, almost expected — for their next record to be a bit more accessible, edging closer to radio-friendly turf, with a few carefully-planted "hit singles" to send the band scampering after the other metalcore mavens cracking the Billboard charts.
But with a defiant middle finger raised to convention, this Cleveland sextet has instead turned in a long, cranky, angry, feral insomniac of an album, a metallic horsepill that'll be anathema to mainstream sensibilities, but will stand as a tribute to the band's artistic integrity. Making records this dense and riff-choked hasn't been in vogue since DARK ANGEL counted 'em off and tallied them when advertising "Time Does Not Heal" back in 1989 (I think there were 246). The party line here, according to the band bio and uttered by frontman Mark Hunter to anyone who'll listen, is that "Chimaira", the album, is gonna require a few listens for the depth and breadth of the record as a whole to sink in. And for once, the party line is right.
What comes out on those multiple listens are the subtle touches that keep this album from being simply an hourlong exercise in scowling bludgeon. Much-maligned keyboardist/programmer Chris Spicuzza (whose live job once seemed limited to triggering an 808 kick drum sample every time there was a breakdown) adds the slightest layers of electronic ear candy to add strangeness and atmosphere. The guitar solos are epic, and the riffs are Bay Area thrash all grown up, familiar enough for modern metallists to latch onto, but informed by a knowledge of EXODUS and TESTAMENT before them (seriously, this record is a rhythm guitar fan's wet dream).
CHIMAIRA are unafraid to let their chops show, or let their songs stretch out to the six- and seven-minute mark, confident enough to allow just enough self-indulgence without losing the listener. Hunter for his part bellows like a hoarse madman on the ledge of a skyscraper, ditching the clean vocals almost entirely (the two or three places they pop up become almost startling for their scarcity). From the full-throttle anger of "Comatose" to the sprawling, disquieting anthem "Lazarus"", there are many peak moments on "Chimaira". What it lacks in immediate hooks, it doubly delivers in moments of air-guitar-worthy riffing, chord changes that hit you right in the gut, and an inexorable, furious energy.
To be fair, some of the songs kinda go nowhere (see "Bloodlust") — but with a project this expansive, it's a little easier to forgive areas of faceless riffing (we gave METALLICA a pass for a lot of that on "…And Justice For All", especially on side two, because the whole album was such a marvel). The energy on bruising faster numbers like "Save Ourselves", and the sheer quality of the riffs on "Salvation" (one of those places where the rare clean vocal works like a charm) more than make up for a couple spots that sag.
If it seems like I'm using a lot of throwback references here, it's because again, CHIMAIRA is going against the grain of what popular bands are "supposed" to do in this musical climate. This is particularly terrible album to download snippets from, or give the ol' "quick listen as you rip off the next three big records from Soulseek". It demands attention, rewards persistence, and works best as one big unit, and it doesn't cough up a lot of instant gratification.
It'll be interesting to see what the label does with the lead balloon CHIMAIRA just dropped in their lap, and more importantly, what the band's fanbase does with it. Here's hoping there's room out there for this sort of brick to the back of the skull in the current scene, because it's good to see a band playing the music they want to, commerciality be damned. "Chimaira" is a weighty metal feast, almost too much, but it'll stick to your ribs long after a lot of this latter-day metalcore froth has dispensed with its sugar fix and withered away.