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+ {Another Animal} + {Sully Erna}

Post-millennium/post-grunge/alt-metal outfit, as close to ALICE IN CHAINS, METALLICA, TOOL and a plethora of similar acts still flying the “heavy rock” flag, GODSMACK were without doubt one of America’s top bands. Without a proper signature tune or a major hit single, the quartet from the Boston area chalked up several Top 10 entries, including a trine of chart-topping full sets: “Faceless”, “IV” and “The Oracle” – no other modern-day metal act had achieved that feat.
Formed in 1995, Lawrence, Massachusetts (and apparently grasping their nom de plume from an ALICE IN CHAINS track), the Layne Staley-inspired frontman Salvatore “Sully” Erna (ex-Strip Mind) and his musical buddies: lead guitarist Lee Richards, bassist Robbie Merrill and sticksman Tommy Stewart, set about securing local gigs; a year on, Tony Rombola superseded Lee. In 1997, a demo was cut for around $2,000; note that during these embryonic salad days, touring drummers Tommy – and his brief replacement Joe D’Arco – played their part in the band’s initial recordings; dextrous Sully performed on additional drums and guitar.
This dour 4-piece got their break from none other than Paul Geary (former sticksman with EXTREME), who helped sort out a contract with Universal/Republic Records on the strength of that same demo CD. By late 1998, the Sully-produced GODSMACK (1998) {*6} album – in all intents and purposes the aforementioned “All Wound Up” demo (plus!) – climbed sloth-like into the Top 30; an invite to Woodstock Two and Ozzfest marked their cards for the year ahead. Heralded by trendy youth of the day looking for the “next big thing” in nu-metal, the quartet divided a slew of critics who found the likes of `Moon Baby’, `Whatever’, `Keep Away’ and closing piece, `Voodoo’, rather brittle, derivative and old-hat.
Anticipation was rife by the time of GODSMACK’s sophomore set, AWAKE {*6}. Dispatched into the Top 5 in November 2000, their metal was full-bodied and brutal (a tad industrial in fact), but it lacked a classic song, over and above some run-of-the-mill riffs. One supposes the test came, not from home soil acolytes who could shake their heads at the drop of a hat, but in Old Blighty Britain, where they unceremoniously failed to impress. That said there was obvious merit in these bold beginnings: `Sick Of Life’, the title track and `Greed’, plus some death-defying ungodly lyrics from the Sully man went down a storm.
2003’s double-platinum-selling FACELESS {*6} – featuring fresh drummer Shannon Larkin (ex-UGLY KID JOE, ex-SOULS AT ZERO, ex-AMEN) – was a title much more appropriate, given their utterly derivative take on what heavy rock music had descended into over the last five years or so. That GODSMACK continued to make not the slightest impression on the world outside of North America was less surprising than ever. Produced this time around by David Bottrill, opening salvo/minor hit `Straight Out Of Line’, `I Stand Alone’ and Sully’s misanthropic `I F****** Hate You’, somehow managed to cast a spell on the metal fraternity.
The band’s sound was just as listless unplugged; as Top 5 mini-set THE OTHER SIDE (2004) {*5} was testament. Consisting of seven songs of an ALICE IN CHAINS-meets-ALLMAN BROTHERS nature, it introduced Dropbox duo John Kosco and the aforesaid Lee Richards by way of track 3, `Touche’.
The unimaginatively-titled IV (2006) {*6}, was another for the already affiliated; an album never straying too far from their tried-and-tested clichéd formula; suggesting that grunge just wasn’t supposed to die a natural death. Reinstated at the mixing desk alongside veteran Andy Johns, Erna’s brooding “bleed-for-me” bruisers (inclusive of a handful of group compositions), heaped dollops of paranoid and guilt on the masses by way of `No Rest For The Wicked’, `Speak’, `The Enemy’, `Temptation’ and grinding anchor piece, `One Rainy Day’.
As Sully tried desperately to rid himself of the dreaded writer’s block, a supergroup of sorts released their eponymous ANOTHER ANIMAL {*6} record, in autumn 2007. Collating Rombola, Merrill, Larkin, and Larkin’s former UGLY KID JOE frontman Whitfield Crane; not forgetting ex-GODSMACK rhythm guitarist Lee Richards (lead vocals on `The Beast Within’, `Black Coffee Blues’ and exclusive iTunes track `Save Me’), the side-project sounded past its sell-by-date; pick of the bunch: `Broken Again’, `Fade Away’ and a minute-long “Jessica”-like `Interlude’.
It was clear something or other was on Sully’s mind. Maybe it was the pressurized perils of competing as a semi-pro poker player, or maybe it was writing his memoirs, The Paths We Choose; published in 2007. In the event, a solo set had to be put on the backburner while the rest of a restless GODSMACK were keen to get back into first gear.
Produced this time around by Dave Fortman, there was a sense that the post-grunge quartet were keen to revert to type for fifth album, THE ORACLE (2010) {*6}, guaranteeing them equal-part critical lambast or total-recall fan adoration. GODSMACK cared less for this backlash; there was no use `Cryin’ Like A B**ch’, as the opening salvo suggested; incidentally, Sully’s song was allegedly aimed at MOTLEY CRUE’s bassist Nikki Sixx in the aftermath of a controversial Crue Fest 2 tour of 2009, in which the pair clashed. Bad blood aside, the 4-piece group channelled all their visceral and angst into the nihilistic grinds of `War And Peace’, `Love-Hate-Sex-Pain’, `Forever Shamed’ and `Shadow Of A Soul’.
SULLY ERNA, meanwhile, was finally underway as a moonlighting solo artist via AVALON (2010) {*6}. As far removed as a ROXY MUSIC album as one could possibly imagine, the multi-instrumentalist singer lowered the tone, metallically speaking, on swooning semi-acoustic cuts such as `Sinner’s Prayer’, the opening title track and the epic `7 Years’. A Top 30 album, the record was enhanced by the presence of guest vocalist Lisa Guyer, DEAD CAN DANCE percussionist/drummer Niall Gregory, Bulgarian cellist Irina Chirkova, bassist Chris Lester, guitarist Tim Theriault and keyboardist Chris Decato.
2012’s LIVE & INSPIRED {*6} was a double-disc of an in-concert document from the Fox Theatre, Detroit, together with an interesting bonus covers EP that comprised JOE WALSH’s `Rocky Mountain Way’, The BEATLES’ `Come Together’, PINK FLOYD’s `Time’ and METALLICA’s `Nothing Else Matters’. Although the record just breached the Top 20, it was essentially a stop-gap “best of” curiosity in order to appease their patient fanbase.
That long 4-year wait was possibly the rationalism behind sixth set, 1000hp (2014) {*6}, not scaling the charts. Then again, there was nothing neither new nor inventive in the grunge-full and intense angst that imploded within the opening title track, Locked & Loaded’ and `Turning To Stone GODSMACK had still not conquered Europe in their stoic resolve to wave the skull-and-crossbones pirate flag of grunge-like alt-metal.
It was indeed time for a change, and maybe with a new contract on BMG Records there was something innovative and original they could come up with. In the meantime, a solo SULLY ERNA offered up his second album, HOMETOWN LIFE (2016) {*6}. Sadly for the acoustic-addled “Faceless” scribe, the record just failed to breach the Top 100. Maybe his many fans were less than enamored by his AOR/country/blues approach (well everyone was doing it: from Aaron Lewis and David Vincent to STEVEN TYLER and Danny Worsnip), so why not tattooed hard-rock nut Salvatore? He’d kept faith with most of his 2010 backing band, but this time around there was room for seasoned co-songwriter Zac Malloy (on `Different Kind Of Tears’ and `Your Own Drum’) and sticksman David Stefanelli on best bits, `Turn It Up!’ and `Father Of Time’.
Back from the dead with a bang not a whimper, the gritty GODSMACK let loose their seventh set, WHEN LEGENDS RISE (2018) {*6}. Despite some polish from producer Erik Ron, the album only reached Top 10 proportions. The problem was clear; 50-something Sully still sounded too close to James Hetfield or Layne Staley for comfort. Maybe metallers could hear some intricate details that differentiated their man Erna from the constant pigeon-holing. However, in the call-to-arms of `Bulletproof’ and the anthemic `Unforgettable’; plus `Eye Of The Storm’, there was not one iota of progress in the two decades since their eponymous debut.
© MC Strong/MCS 2000-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Nov2018

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