After Pink Floyd's The Wall and The Who's Tommy, it seemed concept-albums, in successive years, receded into the apocalyptic imagery of Heavy Metal, and further still, into the nether regions of Indie Rock. Is it not then a little refreshing that the concept-album is making a great return in the world of contemporary music? It certainly recalls something antique—something big and Wagnerian.
Whether or not it is good for music, it is certainly good for Stone Sour. After a gem like Audio Secrecy, one could see the temptation a band like this would have to ‘outdo’ themselves. They haven’t ‘outdone’ themselves with the two House of Gold and Bones releases. What they’ve done, rather, is step completely to the side.
It seems to me that most of our knowledge about the nature of this concept album has to do with interviews surrounding its release. The basic story has been explained by singer and lyricist, Corey Taylor, as being about a young man at the crossroads of his life with science fiction and fantasy elements and villains thrown into the mix. The more specific details seem completely absent from the songs and, for the most part, from the album art.
This doesn’t matter so much. As long as we know there is some kind of story going on underneath the surface, it merely acts to enrich the already evident tonal synchronicity. Already a stylistically eclectic band, the set of characters that Taylor plays with in these songs give them a chance to jazz around with drastically different genres and vocal styles (Taylor) within a short timeframe while not compromising the one-sit-through listening experience.
On a first listen, it is hard to tell if a song is about to bring us to a reminiscence of Alice In Chains (‘Absolute Zero’) or something closer to Slayer (‘RU486’). Of course, they’ve always been capable of this. One recalls their 90s-Pop-sounding hit ‘Through Glass’ off of Come Whatever May or the noisy misanthropic indictment ‘Get Inside’ off their self-titled record. In this respect, Stone Sour is much closer to the multifaceted spirit of Faith No More than they are their own contemporaries who often couple Pantera-isms with Killswitch Engaged-style choruses.
It is refreshing that after the highly melodic, well-defined style of Audio Secrecy that Stone Sour would then explore every avenue in the whole catalogue of their sound with some kind of continued narrative. One senses that Mr. Taylor has always had narrative chops and the concept-album is a good format to free him from some of the narrow (if well-executed and written) aspects of his already protagonist-vs-antagonist-style of lyrics. In other words, this format allows him to say other things. He doesn’t always need to be the good guy. Different villains come into the story to give him a chance to play Devil’s Advocate around a theme that has largely to do with integrity and autonomy.
The appearance of a villain named Allen—whom we first learn about explicitly in ‘My name is Allen’—can be identified throughout the album by a series of similar riffs and effects, sometimes slightly altered to match the mood of changing narrative circumstances. One can trust that The Human (the name of the protagonist) is speaking again when Taylor sings with earnestness and the vocabulary of some desired liberation or self-actuality. Slightly different styles for different characters, seems to be the approach.
This is all, aside from the inevitable reason, similar to another band who have made an entire career out of concept albums: Coheed and Cambria (whom Corey Taylor has granted high praise). Though Stone Sour is more Metal-oriented, though Taylor’s vocal heritage is different from Claudio Sanchez and his incredibly high register, there is a similarity between the two bands in this Stone Sour release concerning the level of energy, even in some of the fantastical subject-matter. It would be hard to say if Stone Sour took any inspiration from them directly but it wouldn’t be surprising, nor would it be upsetting, but rather, a cross-genre encouragement.
It’s hard to say exactly, outside of financial reasons, why the wholly finished album was split into two separate releases, which is rarely the fault of the musician these days. However, when I listened to the final product, both albums together, it did feel like a bit much. Perhaps that six month or so intermission helped freshen the full experience. It seems that the second part is meant to be listened to as a sequel rather than a second half one must paste directly onto the other.
Nevertheless, whether the album be cut in two, cut in thirds, slapped back together in one package with a dash of lost songs and B-sides, the House of Gold and Bones effort is one that prompts me to say that Stone Sour’s best years seem to be ahead of them, but for a very coveted reason—So far, the pattern has been that their albums are getting more interesting with each release.
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