STONE SOUR has long outgrown the dismissive and overgeneralized tag “supergroup," stemming of course from its obvious associations and history with mainstream metal juggernaut SLIPKNOT. Like SLIPKNOT, STONE SOUR has cracked Billboard's charts too many times to count, yet its reached far beyond that band's demographic and deeper into the pockets of hard rock, radio rock and alternative fans with its inclination toward those styles as well as toward the histrionics of various eras of heavy metal.
With "Hydrograd", the group's sixth full-length album, and first since the departure of longtime member and SLIPKNOT mainstay Jim Root, the Des Moines, Iowa-based band has perhaps taken its most noticeable stylistic leap(s). This/these act(s) of discovery can be attributed in many ways to the contributions of Root's replacement, Christian Martucci, as well as those of similarly newish bassist Johny Chow.
The metallic hard rock band—rounded out by long-running, core members Corey Taylor, Josh Rand and Roy Mayorga—has unquestionably tightened its focal point upon all that is rock this go around and decidedly so. While the previous back-to-back "House of Gold & Bones" full-lengths in 2012 and 2013 were creatively rewarding for Taylor, they were significantly taxing and cumbersome for the iconic frontman to the point where he says the process robbed him of some of the pleasure involved in the creative process. With "Hydrograd", freedom from the constraints of elaborate, mapped out narratives allowed for unmistakably upbeat, highly charged anthemic rock songs like the adrenaline fueled "Fabuless" and the dramatic, riff-centric "Taipei Person / Allah Tea", the latter of which boasts an unforgettable chorus reminiscent of modern-day ANTHRAX.
The over-the-top garb worn by SLIPKNOT's members is obviously an element of showmanship, but considering the style of music, it conveys that the members are not just dark, they're of a baleful or malevolent ilk. Ironically enough, for all of SLIPKNOT's theatrics and brutish energy and Taylor's role with them, his zest for life betrays the dark image of who he is in that band with this STONE SOUR release. One concludes this by considering the positive disposition and tendencies during Taylor's many interviews, let alone the “half cup full" and hopeful vibe of many of his melodies throughout the years and especially, more than ever, on "Hydrograd". This is more evident on cuts like "Fabuless", and tracks like "The Witness Trees" and "Mercy", which certainly emanate a sense of struggle and hope, in terms of lyrics, vocals and overall musical energy.
"Hydrograd" isn't without blemishes, however. While the title track starts off strong enough, the chorus is nothing short of cringe-worthy. Elsewhere, formulaic radio rock infects "Song #3" from start to finish. Offsetting those shortcomings are tracks like the ALICE IN CHAINS-esque beautiful, melodious darkness of "Friday Knights", the barn burning rage of the metallic "Whiplash Pants", and the Southern-flavored stylings of "St. Marie"—a song replete with slide guitars. It's hard to believe that STONE SOUR first reared its ugly head 25 years ago. With the band's longevity in mind, STONE SOUR's ongoing musical curiosity is that much more impressive. "Hydrograd" isn't likely to be revered as a classic like "Appetite for Destruction", but that isn't to say that it isn't a solid metallic hard rock album worth revisiting.