For me, GODSMACK have always been a bunch whose feet have been planted in several worlds at once – hard rock and metal, most prominently, but also in the more pop-oriented ballad realms as their previous, magnificent 2018 album, “When Legends Rise,” aptly demonstrated. In fact, their 30-year career has been, from day one, a genuinely awesome multitasking effort in this respect. For a metal band, they have been flirting quite openly with hard rock and, for a hard-rock outfit, they’ve had a serious fetish for all things metal – and this magnetic pull between the two has indeed been an integral part of the appeal in their music. Last year, however, the band’s talismanic frontman, Sully Erna, announced that their forthcoming studio album would be their last – and it certainly seems to have charged the music with a peculiar aura, as the endeavor, entitled “Lighting Up the Sky,” finally saw the light of day on February 24th, 2023, via BMG.
As an attempt to orient themselves in relation to their nothing-short-of-glorious past and go out with a bang, I’m not really sure what to make of this new album. It sure has a good few bangers, paying decent homage to their own legacy, but it also has some cringe moments that have the potential to leave the listener at a loss for words, especially for some of those longtime fans outside of the United States. So, I feel tempted to say that, by way of bidding farewell, “When Legends Rise” would have made a bigger, more lasting impact, even though some online critics weren’t precisely infatuated by its softer and more experimental approach at the time of its release. Then again, GODSMACK only announced that they are going to quit putting out records every couple of years and will focus on playing live shows from now on. So, this swan song of an album is a somewhat half-assed farewell whichever way you wish to look at it. Considering the band’s brilliant track record, it’s kind of a bummer, really. Yeah, I get it that these guys are getting old, but still, this big farewell of theirs comes off a bit too much as an endeavor of the ”yeah, whatever” variety.
So, let’s get this off my chest right away then. The absolute cringiest moment on the album comes in the shape of the second track, “Red White & Blue,” which is some sort of patriot anthem for the hard-rock-minded US fans, or something. I guess the song is supposed to convey a feeling of speaking the blunt truth and praise the “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave” but, from a Scandinavian perspective, this sort of hillbilly anthem doesn’t really have much to offer in terms of music. Patriotism is, of course – to paraphrase the famous quote about an analogy between religion and male genitalia – something about which it is perfectly okay to feel proud, to a certain degree, but does not need to be pushed in other people’s faces. I, for one, would rather my favorite artists didn’t whip it out in public. I mean, if music is supposed to be this unbelievable vehicle for telling stories and evoking emotions, choosing to spew out cringe patriotism in the form of a 3-minute hard-rock song is a blatant abuse of that vehicle – and to think that GODSMACK of all bands would choose to take this type of an approach! This is an unbelievable boomer thing to do. Ted Nugent, I would have understood, but these guys?! Yeah, after the first spin, I really needed a moment alone to process this through. Damn, bro! What on earth were you thinking?! There is no polite way to formulate it – “Red White & Blue” is a genuine piece of unadulterated dogshit, I’m sorry.
That said, the leading single, “Surrender,” will soon make you forget about this unfortunate faux pas, with its punchy riffs and catchy melodies that resonate with the very same grandeur as the band’s old classics, back in the day. There’s something very 1990s about the song, something almost pop-punkish, reminiscent of those old-school classics by bands such as BAD RELIGION or the comeback efforts of DESCENDENTS. Next up, “What About Me” continues with this sort of vibe rather nicely too, albeit it does not stand out by virtue of punch and intensity quite as prominently as the leading single does.
“Truth” does the honors of being the piano ballad in this selection. Erna‘s voice is charged with enough gravitas to bring the song home nicely. It’s no “Under Your Scars,” though. Maybe it’s the lyrics, but the song does trigger strong flashbacks of “Still Loving You” by THE SCORPIONS and whether it’s a good thing or not depends entirely on my day’s general mood. Sometimes, songs like this go down like a glass of fine wine and sometimes, they most certainly don’t. Then again, I’m not exactly a fan of rock ballads. So, I guess the fact that this one doesn’t make me want to stab myself in the eyes with a plastic fork says something.
There are a couple of tracks on the album that I do not seem to get a hold of. “Hell’s Not Dead” is strongly reminiscent of METALLICA‘s dad-rock-phase albums from the 1990s – “Load” and ”Reload,” respectively. “Growing Old” is a downtempo rock hymnal about – you guessed it! – growing old. I hate to admit it but neither of these songs packs much punch, with the latter one making you feel, in a very tangible way, how you are getting old too, for the duration of the song. Quite frankly, neither of these tracks qualify as much else than album fodder – or, maybe, if there’s a home for the elderly rock fans, these are the kind of songs to air through the speaker system in order not to excite the patients too much.
Those two METALLICA efforts serve as pretty good reference points to this album as a whole; they had a few killer songs, such as “King Nothing” and “The Memory Remains,” yet they didn’t exactly go down in history as metal-music masterpieces. The same holds very much true for this GODSMACK endeavor. In addition to the brilliance of the leading single, “Soul On Fire” rolls out some punchy, class-A riffs and exquisite hard-rock vocals. Then, “Let’s Go” shows that even those mid-tempo songs can come off as though driven by some irresistible force – the guitar solo sounds especially lit in this one! So, there are some genuine gems on the album, but due to the presence of perhaps a few too many stagnant songs, not the mention that one particularly cringe hillbilly atrocity, the selection does not maybe do the best of justice to the band’s 30-year legacy, I’m afraid. I would suggest they think again about quitting albums, if only for that one genuinely haunting farewell album. This one just doesn’t cut it.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- You And I
- Red White & Blue
- What About Me
- Hell’s Not Dead
- Soul On Fire
- Let’s Go
- Best Of Times
- Growing Old
- Lighting Up the Sky
Sully Erna – vocals, guitars, co-producer
Shannon Larkin – drums
Tony Rambola – lead guitars
Robbie Merrill – bass