Fortunately, the music that demands such hackneyed description is anything but. That is because this self-described "bunch of boys from Georgia" keeps it fresh with continuous infusion of inspiration from every corner of the music world. A metal band at heart, they can rock as hard as the next guy, but when Sevendust are done breaking strings and blowing amps for an evening, they like to chill things out on the tour bus with some Sarah McLachlan or Seal, or maybe a little Peter Gabriel.
The title track of Home, Sevendust's new release, opens largely as you'd expect it to: power chords pound out an urgent, telegraphic rhythm, and a discordant bent note wails repeatedly. It sounds like the inside of the Terminator factory. Nothing new yet.
What catches you by surprise are the vocal harmonies, set at bizarre intervals to achieve maximum eerieness. This is the effect Sevendust were after when they sought out Toby Wright to produce their sophomore effort the balance between raw power and melodic delicacy which Wright previously helped Alice in Chains to find.
They strike this balance perfectly in the bewitching counterpoint between singer Lajon Witherspoon and guest vocalist Skin (of Skunk Anansie) on "Licking Cream." The experimental nature of "Licking Cream" Sevendust's first attempt at recording with a guest artist is typical of Home. Unlike most bands, all five members of Sevendust are involved in every stage of songwriting, a practice evident from the salad bar of stylistic elements audible on this album R&B, industrial, electronica, even hip-hop. Especially prevalent are the psychedelic influences a lá Pink Floyd or Radiohead. "Insecure" and "Grasshopper" are trippy, ambient instrumentals, composed spontaneously, and the intro and outro to "Grasp" are pure, ethereal space-rock.
It seems that somewhere along the course of their 21-month touring odyssey, Sevendust evolved. Home is the sound of a mature group of artists, a group confident enough in their mastery of one genre to explore new areas without fear of having their credentials challenged, a group secure enough in their skills not to have to show them off with self-indulgent solos. Despite their new-artist status, these guys are all grown up three of the five of them are married with children and their sound reflects it. They've come to a realization so obvious, it's hard to believe how many metal bands miss it: that speed and heaviness are not ends in themselves but mere tools, which, used to the exclusion of other sonic approaches, soon become dull.
More embarrassing still is "I'll Be There." Having missed out on the lite-metal craze in the late '80s, they apparently felt the need to take a stab at the genre, borrowing not only the clichés, but also the title from Bon Jovi. What can you do with a track like "I'll Be There"? The singing is actually pretty good Mustaine took voice lessons before going into the studio and the musicianship is not bad either, but listening to Megadeth play soft rock is like seeing your mom naked: there's no joy in it. For "Crush 'Em," which is featured on the Universal Soldier: The Return soundtrack, the band made a video starring wrestler Goldberg and Jean Claude Van Damme. Mustaine intended "Crush 'Em" as a sports anthem, to serve as an alternative to the overplayed "Rock 'n' Roll Part II." Don't expect to be hearing it in stadiums anytime soon; Megadeth's offering falls far short of the original.
Though Ulrich's advice was no doubt well intended, Megadeth would have done better to stick to standard, hard-hitting speed metal. Unlike Metallica, or even Sevendust, they simply don't have the audacity or the wherewithal to pull off truly ambitious songwriting, nor do they have the integrity to incorporate diverse influences into a framework uniquely their own. Instead, they bastardize their sound, creating something that is not interesting enough to be art music, nor catchy enough to be pop, nor uncompromising enough to be metal.
When they started out, Megadeth had a healthy sense of humor about themselves, as evidenced by their album titles: Killing Is My Business... and Business Is Good, Peace Sells... But Whos Buying? and so on. 16 years later, they've mistaken their venerability for respectability, and they expect to be taken seriously. The trouble is they don't understand that their appeal is mainly of the Nightmare on Elm Street variety: the enjoyment is in knowing exactly what you're going to get, and then getting it. With Risk, Megadeth deprives their fans of that small pleasure.