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Chimaira's 2011 effort entitled The Age Of Hell, a sign of the times for the band, was an album that had many fans waiting a bit eagerly as well as nervously before it dropped. The main reason for this was that only 50% of Chimaira was left. Actually, only 33% of what used to be the classic Chimaira is playing on this album, but don't let that get your hopes down. This album is full of surprises!
First off, the guys we have left in the band are original members Mark Hunter (vocals) and Rob Arnold (lead guitar), both of whom always were Chimaira's main-writers. This is also evident as the album really does sound like a new Chimaira album, although in a different way. Of course, the other four members (including Matt DeVries, who still was in the band but didn't play on this album for some reason) had their personal touches to the music, which now are obviously missing. Instead the band let some friends play on the album, most notably their long-time producer Ben Schigel who plays the drums on this album. They also had several people come in and do the mandatory keyboards and electronics needed for Chimaira's music, while Rob Arnold also recorded bass guitar.
Now some people I imagine were/are unsure about if this album really is sounding like Chimaira. It does indeed, but I would say that they've expanded their sound towards a more "traditional" thrash/groove sound, really sounding (even) less metalcore or hardcore than on earlier releases. This is evident in tracks like "Born In Blood", which really has a Slayer-esque riff a'la Seasons In The Abyss-era going on. Many other songs clearly, once again, sound very influened by Alice in Chains, especially in the vocal department. Songs like "Clockwork" and "Beyond The Grave" are really rocking that Alice-vibe while also sounding quite experimental. This really adds a lot to the album's overall flow and feel, as it feels fresh and interesting. The whole track-list is just a variety of treaties in the Halloween basket.
The production apartment is another pleasant thing about this album. It's sounds very clean and organic. Not really dynamic in range, but it's not clipping and it just has a nice clean sound. It's like they managed to meld together all the pieces and instruments perfectly with each other, and the electronic extendments give the songs a lot of atmoshpere and depth.
All in all this is a very good effort from Chimaira, although I leave it up for debate between fans to discuss whether it really should be considered a Chimaira album or not. With only two band members playing and contributing to this album, I can understand if some people don't think it qualifies, but on the other hand, this album sounds a lot more like the real Chimaira to me than their next effort, Crown Of Phantoms. It's a little bit different compared to their other works, but it's a good difference. After all, the band's core members are left, and for this album that was enough.
Check-outs: Clockwork, Born In Blood, Year Of The Snake, Powerless, Beyond The Grave.
Chimaira are one of those bands that were mostly dismissed or derided while they existed, yet now they have broken up leave a much larger hole than anticipated. Since 2003's 'The Impossibility of Reason', the band delivered few surprises, sticking to a perfect two year timetable of album releases, all of which served up meat and potato platters of quick, chuggy metalcore and post-thrash intensity with a few touches of melody and classic metal chops. 'The Age of Hell' is an interesting album because it represents the most modern sound that Chimaira would ever achieve (with bass-drops, a neo-extreme guitar production, and plenty of electronic trickery that sounds nothing like their earlier material with Chris Spicuzza) and also the most diverse set of influences that the band put together. For example, 'Losing My Mind' has a straightforward metalcore chassis (As I Lay Dying with a touch of Gojira thrown in) slowed down to a creeping pace, plus slightly distorted deathcore vocals (not as brutal as Bring Me the Horizon or Job For a Cowboy, but more sinister), a keyboard part that comes from electronic music and reminds me a little of Rammstein, a melodeath solo that takes a couple of licks right out of In Flames's book, plus a weird mechanical shifting of gears that is smooth and disturbing - this reminds me of Fear Factory or Meshuggah, yet it really doesn't sound like them at all.
The whole album plays like that: it all sounds identifiably like Chimaira, though there are surprises on every song that make these guys sound anything but the generic musicians they sometimes seemed. Let's take it step by step: 'Year of the Snake' begins with a hideously sludgy tone that comes straight from the underground juxtaposed against super-modern processed guitars complete with bass-drops; 'Clockwork' is all churning, non-catchy riffing and Strapping Young Lad flying chorus until it goes ambient with saxophone shading (?!) for about a minute; 'Beyond the Grave' opens with a riff that to my mind is desert rock in the vein of Colour Haze (go find 'Periscope' and thank me later), which is joined by another ominously chugging riff and eerily light melodic guitars, later augmented by solos in the style of In Flames and a 70s hard rock band like Free. And, believe it or not, these are some of the highlights. There are a few more straight-ahead Chimaira songs, like 'Born in Blood' and 'Powerless', but with this kind of invention on display, they don't interest me quite as much, not to say they are poor.
The other odd thing about this album is that it was recorded as a three piece, without a drummer, without a bassist, and without their keyboardist/electronics guy. Arguably, the main songwriters were still in place, since Rob Arnold tended to write most of the music and Mark Hunter all of the lyrics, so the characteristic traits are unchanged. What has changed is clearly the experimentation and assimilation of outside influences, as well as a slightly more cohesive nature to the whole album, which works for two reasons - the pacing and the atmosphere. On the previous album 'The Infection', the band had tried out some slower tempos, which are picked up again here. The only songs that approach a quick pace are 'Born in Blood' and 'Trigger Finger' and these two both sound most conventionally like Chimaira of all the songs on the album. The generally slow pace lets the band fill in a lot of details instead of pursuing more chuggy riffs, which are often not very inventive anyway. The addition of a lot of lead guitar (this time, Rob Arnold gets a solo on almost every song, sometimes more than one) gives character, particularly since the leads are not homogeneous, and the mood of some of the introductions and riffs are quite varied, ranging from intense riffing on 'Trigger Finger' to catchy, bouncy momentum on 'Time Is Running Out' to the calm/rhythmically challenged mood of the closing instrumental 'Samsara'.
The entirety of 'The Age of Hell' also sounds like a single, claustrophobic unit with Mark Hunter shut in the middle of it all. The electronics and keyboards are quite prominent, but instead of using them to augment the riffs or just add noise like previously, they fill up the spaces behind the slower riffs and create a creeping miasmic atmosphere of paranoia, isolation, and menace. This suits the lyrics and vocals much better than on the faster, more straightforward songs, since it gives the dark intentions a setting and seriousness that finally makes sense. As such, this actually plays almost like a solo album, with a single personality emanating different aspects of its degradation from one distinct location, a little like Trent Reznor achieved on the better Nine Inch Nails albums. However, the band don't quite make this effect last throughout the album and the first half ends up much stronger than the second, because there is a relapse into the band's more familiar style.
I can't help thinking that 'The Age of Hell' very nearly became an excellent album, but Chimaira just ran out of creativity partway through the writing process, resulting in a very good album that includes a couple of take-it-or-leave-it songs. The performances are all good, the atmosphere is easily the best the band ever produced, and all of the changes are positive, some of them genius. This is a fine legacy for a fondly remembered band.
Despite my love for it, 2009’s ‘The Infection’ didn’t go so well over many fans. With slowness, monotonous chug riffs and a lack of variety unusual for the band, I guess it just wasn’t what people look for in a Chimaira album, no matter how much songwriting growth I may personally have found in it. So, for this follow-up what we get is essentially a revert back to the style of the better received ‘Resurrection’; riffier, faster and to a larger extent a melting pot of genres (the thrash is back, for one) like this band is widely known for. It’s a more “fun” and less suffocatingly oppressing affair, to be sure, and feels more traditionally NWOAHM. In response, one might expect me to write something angry about pussying out, letting fans dictate art and being in it for the paychecks. At a cursory glance, the album certainly raises suspicion of that being the case.
However, as it turns out, maybe the narrowing down of styles that marked ‘The Infection’ (something I emphasized a great deal in my review for it) wasn’t what this band was missing all along. More likely, it simply took Chimaira five albums to truly become world class songwriters, regardless of what sound they chose, and I'm relieved to report that this is carried on with ‘The Age of Hell’. Whatever knee jerk reaction of letdown I might have had over the band’s choice of direction took not long to subside once I sunk my teeth into the songs themselves. The craftmanship here I cannot praise enough, as from writing to production everything appears fine tuned to the last detail for maximum impact and evocativeness. I'm not just talking super clean and perfectly played like any major metal label production – I mean there's a genuine grasp of dynamics shown and actual thought put to the sound and delivery of things. Witness how “Trigger Finger” just hits as the verse riff kicks in and the way it grooves and flows throughout. Or, of course, the bass drop breakdown insanity of “Year of the Snake”, to date the best Chimaira song ever. Now, some may uphold the merits of a more organic, live production and letting the songwriting speak for itself. That philosophy is indeed legit and has its place sometimes, but here, I cannot possibly complain considering the band's incredible knack for squeezing every last drop of oomph out of the songs with the tools they possess outside of writing and instrumental prowess.
Having given it some thought lately, I've concluded that my preference for more recent Chimaira has a lot to do with tone. Older material, although at times very strong, too often conveyed an air of surly teenagers hating everything and everyone (still bugs me that the crappy “Pure Hatred” is considered their signature song), and expressing that in a way that didn't really speak to me as a twenty-something year old. [Back in my own teenage years, it didn't do it for me either because all of their albums were complete nu-core dreck to my ears then.] The 2009 and forward stuff strikes me as way more ballsy and convincing, some of which can be attributed to Mark Hunter's vocals improving in a similar way. For what it's worth, it's arguably more metal too, although ironically this album features possibly the largest amount of soft, clean sung choruses since the debut, along with the odd tinge of nu-metal(!) recalling that album too, especially on “Clockwork” (actually one of the album's best songs, its title possibly alluding to the band's impressively consistent release schedule of one new full-length every two years since 2001, still in effect as of 2013). Groove, thrash, hardcore and deathcore (well, one breakdown) all make their appearances too, but above all else, the sound is 100% certifiably Chimaira, as has always been true about this band. To play music this diverse and hard to categorize and still have one unified, easy to identify sound I find commendable.
On the more concrete side of things, the improvements made to songwriting flow and focus that I felt 'The Infection' brought are retained here (yes, all the while juggling a greater variety of styles than on that album), which is the other major edge it has over older works by the group. In closing, 'The Age of Hell' is not the regression it may seem like at first, instead serving to further cement my Chimaira fandom. Any new release of theirs has my attention these days, wherever they may take their sound. Over the past few years this band has evolved and matured in truly the best possible way. Anyone with even a passing interest in distinctly American sounding -core flavored metal really should try it out.
Chimaira's "The Age of Hell" is a return to form. Not saying the breakdown-heavy "The Infection" was bad, but it just didn't sound like a Chimaira record. It was pretty heavy and Mark Hunter and friends tried something new, but it just didn't work. The Age of Hell combines all things Chimaira, from the newly added breakdowns of "The Infection" to the nu-metal aspects of "Pass Out of Existence". It's truly a fantastic record and would rank this up there with the best 2011 NWOAHM albums.
The first song on the album sounds straight out of "The Impossibility of Reason"-era of Chimaira where they really found their sound. "The Age of Hell" track is very fast, almost thrash-like, and is an excellent choice for the title/intro track. It really shows what to expect on the album. From there, the album goes into the almost nu-metal "Clockwork" tune that is somewhat forgettable. This is probably one of the only forgettable songs (next to "Beyond the Grave") on the disc.
Then comes the change up of "Losing My Mind" and "Time is Running Out". These two tunes are pretty slow, but enjoyable. If one wanted to hear something more brutal, then they would skip to track 5 which is the more popular song on the album, "Year of the Snake". It is a very catchy song with a sick breakdown at 2:10 that makes this song one of the heaviest on the album. "Beyond the Grave" is the slowest song on the album. With that being said, it doesn't make it a bad tune, just not very "Chimaira".
The rest of the songs on this album brings out the brutality of Chimaira. "Born in Blood", "Trigger Finger", and "Scapegoat" are insanely catchy and heavy and make this a true NWOAHM album. The only thing that is puzzling is the song "Stoma". It sounds like it should be the intro track and throws off the balance of the record. It flows into "Powerless" pretty well, but "Born in Blood" is before that, which is easily the heaviest song on the album. It doesn't make sense to take the heaviest song on the album, go into a one-minute instrumental track, then go into the also slow "Powerless" to then go right back into "Trigger Finger". The album ends with the traditional end instrumental track of "Samsara". "Samsara" is like the past instrumental songs on previous records and shows all the talent of the other members of the band. This is something that also doesn't really click because usually all the solos come out during the last song. "The Infection" was the same way with the mind-blowing "The Heart Of It All". "Samsara" is only 6 minutes long this time instead of the occasional 10+ minutes of past instrumental tunes. This talent should have been displayed on the whole album, not just the very last song.
As stated about the epicness of the solos on "Samsara", it just doesn't make sense to only include them on that song. Other songs had very minuscule guitar parts that really made an impact on the song. For this album, Emil Werstler did the solo for Samsara and as this review is being written, he has become permanent in Chimaira, but hopefully for the next album they use his talent more often. The only member you truly hear on this album is Matt DeVries' rhythm guitar. As for Rob Arnold, it's almost nonexistent.
This album is fantastic for only being made by a few people and a couple guest musicians with Mark Hunter being the only constant member of this band. As stated previously, this album is up there as one of the best NWOAHM records. It has everything you want in a Chimaira record. Everything from their first album to "The Infection" plays out on this disc and for that I think it is very unique. Chimaira doesn't stick to one sound and I praise them for that. You get a little bit of everything on "The Age of Hell". Definitely pick it up.
Best songs on "The Age of Hell": "The Age of Hell", "Year of the Snake", "Scapegoat", "Trigger Finger", and "Born in Blood".