I remember Chevelle from my years flying out to the US around the turn of the millennium. They were all over the local trendy rock radio station here in Phoenix and they sounded decent to me, a lot more alternative rock than nu metal, songs like Send the Pain Below and The Red the sort of song that was refreshing when it came on at the bowling alley in place of crappy pop music. However, they were still a little annoying, Pete Loeffler's voice overwrought to please the emo kids and veering into hardcore shouts for no good reason. I was in two minds about tackling a new Chevelle album in 2021.
However, I thoroughly enjoyed this. Sure, Loeffler still cries as much as sings for emotional effect, but otherwise this science fiction concept album is far more enjoyable than I expected it to be. I may have liked those old singles as background material in the car or wherever, but they were a little bland for me to seek out otherwise and this album is certainly not bland.
For a start, it's structured with imagination. It opens with an instrumental, Verruckt, to set the tone, and it's a decent one too. After a couple of vocal songs, the latter of which has a Tool vibe to it, albeit one softened to be safer and more commercial, there's an even more interesting instrumental, Sleep the Deep, that's clearly meant to be an interlude. It's kind of like a clockwork xylophone backed by a cinematic buzzing to get us thinking in visual terms, as if this album is the soundtrack to a fifty minute music video. There's nice play between speakers too. After another couple of songs, there's a briefer interlude and there's another one to come after another song, Peach becoming rather prominent for being surrounded by interludes.
While that Tool vibe waxes and wanes, it never really goes away. This is Chevelle's ninth studio album and I haven't heard anything from them since the second, which had all those radio friendly hits. Just reading through their Wikipedia page, I find that they've often been compared to Tool, with a caveat that Tool are wildly experimental and socially outspoken while Chevelle never venture far away from radio friendly. To my ears, while that holds true, this is at least one deliberate step away from safety and it's one that should be applauded.
While Mars Simula is a pretty safe Tool-esque song, that can't be said to the same degree for Pistol Star (Gravity Heals) or indeed Peach. The former is more intense, with a serious build that eventually reaches that shouty vocal for effect as it crests its crescendo. The latter has intensity too but also has a lot of dynamic play to make it more unusual and interesting. They may not be thirteen minute avant garde Tool epics but, if they ever got trendy radio play, they'd seem out of place. The same goes for Endlessly, which plays in more of a Cranberries style, merely translated into the alternative Chevelle style.
I was certainly interested enough in the music to lose track of the story behind the album. Niratias is an awkward acronym in the TANSTAAFL vein for "Nothing Is Real And This Is A Simulation". I should do a search for the lyrics and see how they build a story. For now, I'm enjoying this as music, enough to be very hopeful that the band take another few of those steps away from the mainstream, because they have the promise to become a really interesting band.
If it was the Boris Vallejo cover that convinced me to take a listen, I won't need that next time. I'll be in anyway, just to see if Chevelle have become willing to ditch their commercial viability and write and record something just for them. After this, I'd very much like to hear that.