REVIEW: Godsmack


Musically, the 1990s is seen as the decade of Grunge, of the alternative. Suits and ties, along with big hair and gloss were set aside to make way for flannel shirts and unpolished raw attitude.

That said, let’s take a trip back to 1998 where, if I were to ask you “Hey, do you listen to Godsmack?” Your response would be “What’s a Godsmack?” As opposed to:

“Oh, yes. Godsmack — the successful Massachusetts based band with several albums, consisting of Sully Erna (Vocals/Rhythm Guitar), Tony Rombola (Lead Guitar), Robbie Merrill (Bass Guitar) and Shannon Larkin (Drums).”

Although Tommy Stewart plays the drums on this album. They didn’t hire Shannon until 2002, I believe.

Well, that was my clever intro, so… let’s just get right into it.

Godsmack, the self-titled debut album from Massachusetts rockers, was released in 1998 and has a pretty interesting backstory in that this technically isn’t Godsmack’s first album.

One year prior, in 1997, they released a demo album titled All Wound Up, which spawned some of their most popular singles, such as “Whatever, and “Keep Away.”

As expected, those singles received radio play and helped promote the band, but demand for All Wound Up increased and that’s when Godsmack signed to a record label.

After their signing, they went back into the studio and remixed, remastered and repackaged All Wound Up under the new title of Godsmack, and the rest is history.

Now, I won’t say that Gawedsmack makes the best music evah, but I will say they go wicked hahd, especially on this album.

Okay, I promise I won’t type anything else in a New England accent.

The cover of the album depicts a woman (later revealed to be Toni Tiller) with short orange hair and a few lip piercings against a backdrop of black and orange stripes.

While the photo in question wasn’t snapped specifically for the album, it still works thematically.

In a way, Tiller is a physical embodiment of the edgy, alternative sound that pervades this album, and I’m not kidding, these songs just feel dirty and grungy, but in a good way.

I have to give credit to the producer, because you could pick any song from this album and it will sound exactly how you would expect a late 90s song to sound from an angry up-and-comer band… rough.

And I don’t mean rough as in “it sounds scratchy or hard to listen to,” but the album as a whole just has this vibe about it… I really can’t describe it.

Regardless, the sound is cohesive and it works.

Onto the album itself, one thing that has always been a staple of Godsmack’s music is the seemingly bottomless well of Erna’s rage towards others, and while he’s calmed down in more recent years, this album sees him at his angriest, singing often in a gruff, guttural manner.

Which is good, ‘cause when you’re singing about telling people to get off your case, you want to sound like you mean it.

Though, interestingly enough, Erna doesn’t find himself having to scream or make his vocals too rough, he’s quite capable of expressing himself with his steady, almost-commanding tone.

The instruments also do very well to back up that angst, being as aggressive and riffy as they are. And Godsmack knows how to use the bass too, as it’s as noticeable in the mix as the guitars.

So thumbs up.

The first three songs on the album, “Moon Baby,” Whatever” and “Keep Away” are peak Godsmack, I’ll say.

By that, I mean that those songs are really emblematic of the essence of Godsmack — they’re rough, they show attitude and somewhat original lyricism, and not to mention that they’re catchy as all get-out.

From there, however, the album becomes a bit of a slog with a few interesting bits here and there, particularly “Immune” and “Stress.”

While most of the songs are aggressive and in-your-face, something that sets Godsmack apart from their contemporaries is their “tribal” (for lack of a better word) flair.

At the time of recording, Erna was a practicing Wiccan, and that influence weaves itself through some of the music, but that influence is more front and center in “Voodoo,” in which the band forgoes much of the riffage for a more trancelike and soft composition.

Erna’s vocals change too, sounding less biting and more as if he were performing a chant of sorts.

It’s interesting for sure, but it shows a willingness to change things up and take a risk, something that’s always appreciated.

And that willingness is displayed in other ways too, for example, the song structures deviate a little from the norm every now and then, and the songs can be rather long, with quite a few clocking in at over four minutes.

The songs flow together rather well too, even if the middle of the album is a little lacking. It’s not bad, per se, but I can’t remember the middle portion nearly as well as the beginning.

For what little criticisms I have, my main one is the order of the tracks. In my opinion, they made the mistake of putting the best songs right at the beginning instead of sprinkled throughout. That’s bad because they overshadow the other songs and don’t really give them a chance to shine on their own, you know?

Now, of course you could just listen to the songs individually, but if you’re like me then you like to listen to whole albums from start to finish, so when the best songs are right at the beginning… it’s a little annoying.

Final Rating: B

Compared to where they are now, Godsmack really does seem to have some humble beginnings and they have certainly come a long way in their musical journey.

Now, this arguably isn’t Godsmack’s most accessible album, but it is definitely their rawest, and if semi-polished late 90s rock is your thing, then I’d go for it. Despite my minor criticisms, I really did enjoy my time with it.