Album Review: Chemicals by Smile Empty Soul

This is no "False Alarm". Smile Empty Soul are back with their 6th studio album, Chemicals, on October 1. This promises to be one of the most hotly anticipated albums of the fall.

I'm a Sirius radio subscriber, so I've been hearing the single "False Alarm" from Smile Empty Soul for a few weeks now. The song fits in perfectly with the other mix of "scary music" (my mother-in-law's term, not mine, by the way!) offered on the Octane channel. But something stands out: melody. One observation I've made over the course of the past few years while listening to rock music, is that many bands these days are afraid of melody. Yes, serious riffage and face-melting is still necessary, but think of some of the greatest rock'n'roll/metal songs of all time: they have a melody. Listening to Chemicals left me thinking that Smile Empty Soul has NOT forgotten that people like melody along with freight-train-coming-through-the-speakers guitar riffs.

"Black and Blue" leads off the record, and with it's complex time signature offers the listener a hooky chorus that stays with you long after your iPod has died. The band continues their haunting vocal melodies with "False Alarm", one of my personal favorites from the album. Holding a lighter up during "False Alarm" would just as well-suited to the mood as crowd surfing to it. This kind of melodic complexity is something that is prevalent throughout the album.

The title track, "Chemicals", has a mid-way breakdown that features the band's versatile vocals, and it shows off some of drummer Jake Kilmer's chops. "Balance" also shows off Sean Danielsen's ability to vocally lure you into his lair before he growls in your face with "I need you to balance". It's effective and it judging by the sound I heard, it was recorded in such a way that it makes the listener feel like Sean is singing into your ear. Ryan Martin holds down the fort on bass and does so with the subtlety that makes great bass players.

As a three-piece band, the challenge is often having enough going on in the studio that it keeps the songs sounding full, but not over-doing it so that when you perform live, you're left stripped down and sounding thin in front of a stadium full of people.  The tracks "Swim", "New Low", and "Landslide" do a great job of not over-doing and over-thinking this principal. This is a difficult sell in today's rock world. Many of the top-selling albums have more session musicians to thank in the liner notes than they do lyrics. Complex layers, multiple mixes, quadruple-layered vocals and ultra polished tracks - that's what is missing from Chemicals. And that, my dear rock fans, is a good thing.

A track like "Real" infuses just enough of a punk influence that one can imagine a band like Smile Empty Soul can take these songs and perform them live without having to worry about 35 stacks of rack-mounted guitar effects to get the job done. It's straight up rock and roll the way it's supposed to be: fun, loud, hard, and an attitude.

This album has a lot of haunting, slightly delayed guitar sounds that I love a lot. I love rock/metal songs that slowly hypnotize you before they end up throwing you to the ground with their heavy guitar sounds. Listening to a song like "Sitting Ducks" does just that, and because the album is filled of songs that do the same thing, I'm ruling this 6th effort by Smile Empty Soul a success.

"Though we may be sitting ducks, we've got all of our poisons in a row...." This record should be on your list of poisons for the fall. Chemicals is now available on iTunes and in CD format, and you can check out an interview with lead vocalist and guitarist Sean Danielsen right here on Playing With Chaos.