For many hard rock and metal bands, balancing heavy riffs with melodic sensibilities is tough balancing act. Make everything too complicated and you risk having an audience that’s narrow. Too melodic and you might get accused of being a sellout.
Fortunately, Chevelle have never had to deal with that problem. One of the new millennium’s biggest hard rock bands, they’ve managed to produce high quality albums deep into their career, walking the fine line between two worlds. Their later material hasn’t lost any of its riff power either – but neither has the veteran band descended into parody.
The band’s sophomore album, Wonder What’s Next was an improvement on their Point #1 debut in almost every conceivable fashion. Interestingly, the band’s Christian music ties (they were signed to Squint Entertainment, a Christian label helmed by Steve Taylor that also launched the careers of Sixpence None The Richer) helped the band gain an early audience in both Christian and secular circles (the band toured early on with Sevendust, Filter, and many more). Chevelle’s cryptic lyrics and alt-metal dynamics also played a key role, with comparisons to Tool and Helmet abounding.
However, said comparisons have plenty of room to diverge from the beaten path. The first half of Wonder What’s Next is absolutely filled with BANGERS. Any of these songs could have been singles, and it’s the one-two punch of “Family System” and “Comfortable Liar” that provide an unsettling backdrop to kick off the proceedings. The former is a track about dysfunctional families – certainly a relatable topic for many.
The title track has a tremendous hallmark of Chevelle that they’d develop more effectively later on – namely the band’s ability to create songs with buildup and explosive endings. Considering how in the two decades since this album dropped, much has been revealed about record labels often being predatorial, the song’s subject matter is all too close to home for many musicians.
There’s also the matter of the three singles spawned from the record. All are notable and among the most popular Chevelle songs to date, but there’s also the matter of their commercial performance, too – balancing melodic accessibility and intelligent songwriting. “Send The Pain Below” is intriguing because its sparse lyrics give way to a chorus from Pete Loeffler that would have been the envy of pretty much all of their musical peers. This and “The Red” were certainly catalysts in reigning in a great 4 minute song, but the soaring chorus of “Closure” are neat as well.
The second half of the record is interesting, and mainly very good as well. The 6+ minute “An Evening With Diablo” has one of the most iconic basslines in hard rock, and is one of the closest times Chevelle veers into Tool territory. Amazingly, they’re pretty good at that, and it’s all done as a three piece. There’s also “Forfeit”, a super basic song that establishes the Chevelle motif of repeating a lyric or phrase.
2002 was filled with interesting rock and metal albums. It was a year where nu-metal’s commercial popularity was starting to flag a bit and metalcore was entering the picture. While sometimes classified as nu-metal, Chevelle are much closer to alt-metal than anything else. By creating an album with no real filler and being consistent in what they do, the band set themselves up for huge success down the road, too.