Godsmack might be the most successful rock band you’ve never really heard of, but that’s about to change with the release of their new Universal Republic Records album, Godsmack IV, their fourth proper studio release.
Founded in February ’95, when lead vocalist Sully Erna decided to step out from behind the drum kit to front the band with bassist Robbie Merrill, guitarist Tony Rombola and drummer Tommy Stewart (drummer Shannon Larkin joined in June 2002, replacing Tommy Stewart). These Boston-based rockers have had each of their three albums sell well over platinum. With the first, (a re-master of the indie record they made for $2,600.00) 1998’s self-titled Godsmack has sold 3.5 million to date, 2000’s Awake has sold 2.5 million and their last proper studio effort, 2003’s Faceless, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard album chart with over 270,000 records in it’s first week is now at 1.5 million and counting. Godsmack has more top ten Active Rock singles than ANY other group in the history of BDS & R&R. They have charted an amazing total of 13 hits with five #1’s including “Speak,” their current hit from Godsmack IV and “Awake,” “Straight Out of Line” as well as the twice-Grammy-nominated “I Stand Alone” (from the Scorpion King soundtrack), which was also the most played Active Rock song in 2002. Awake’s “Vampires” earned Godsmack their fourth Grammy nomination for “Best Rock Instrumental Performance” in 2002.
That’s a lot to live up to, but Erna and Godsmack are up to the task with Godsmack IV, where they take their place in the pantheon with a group effort that finds all four members contributing to what amounts to a giant catharsis for Sully and the band.
“This is the first time I’ve been totally honest, speaking the truth about real situations,” he says. “In the past I was always pointing a finger, whether at myself or someone else, but I’ve come clean with myself and the people I can now love and care about. This record is about the light at the end of the tunnel, coming out of that funk, recognizing the dark parts of our lives, but committing to finding a way out of them.”
The epic first single, “Speak,” and songs like “Living in Sin,” “The Enemy,” “Shine Down” and “One Rainy Day” are about that spiritual journey Sully and Godsmack take us on. With legendary engineer Andy Johns, who worked on such Led Zeppelin classics as “Stairway to Heaven” and “When the Levee Breaks,” as well as albums by the Rolling Stones and Van Halen, Godsmack steps up in class, from the metal ghetto to full-fledged classic blues-rockers.
Recorded at Spiral Recording Studio in Los Angeles, Godsmack had the luxury, for the first time, of writing and recording Godsmack IV without being on the road or having to rush to meet a deadline. They wrote 35 tracks, recorded 17, and picked the best of them to go on the disc.
“There were a lot of things that happened on this record that were different than the way we worked in the past,” explains Sully. “And one of those was me letting go of the steering wheel a bit, allowing the band control over the writing and me stepping away to an outside point of view and coming up with lyrics for what I viewed as another group entirely.”
In fact, Rombola wrote the music for “Speak.” Tony recalls, “While on tour with Metallica, Robbie, Shannon and I were jamming in the dressing room. Sully popped his head in the room cause he really liked the riff we were playin’ and he pretty much wrote the melody and finished the song right then and there.” “The chorus opened up in a way that I would never have thought to write,” says Sully.
The lyrical themes, about speaking the truth and coming clean, are echoed in “Living in Sin,” a song that inspired Sully to reveal to his girlfriend his infidelities, a theme he also explores in “The Enemy.” “I was blocked for months,” he says. “Writing that song opened up the floodgates and made me realize what this record was about.”
A song like “Hollow,” with its acoustic guitars, mandolin, strings and cello, could have come off Led Zeppelin IV as easily as Godsmack IV and expertly demonstrates the band’s new direction.
“It’s simple, with feeling and emotion,” says Sully. “It’s the piece that was necessary to make the record feel whole, to give it both sides of the Godsmack ying and yang.” “Shine Down” was another example of the band wrenching light from dark. “That one’s not just a song of hope, but of realistic expectations,” explains Sully. “It’s about being human and having problems. About not being able to lift your head off the pillow, but knowing there’s somebody out there that watches over us and a universe that protects us. I knew this new year would be rocking for us. It’s not religious, but spiritual.”
Unusual sentiments for a professed Wiccan like Erna, who insists he’s someone who likes to look into all different types of belief systems. “It’s about the power of the universe. It has nothing to do with heaven and hell. It’s more about a presence or energy.” The band’s name comes from a similar notion of instant karma, inviting a “smack” from God by showing hubris, as when the group’s drummer showed up with a cold sore on his lip for a photo shoot and Sully made fun of him, only to turn up next day with a similar sore.
Godsmack has always acted that way, committed to giving the band’s fans their money’s worth with a great live show (as documented on the 2004 DVD Changes) and solid records. They performed a concert at Camp Pendleton outside of San Diego in ‘05 for the troops coming from and going to Iraq. The concert was recorded for a CD and DVD called Rockin’ the Corps to raise money for the fallen soldier’s families.
“We’re a basic hard-rock outfit that takes a lot of pride in the grooves we create. As a drummer, that’s what’s important to me. I believe our songwriting has matured to where we’re creating as a whole, we’re more defined” says Sully.
With Godsmack IV, the band has carved out their turf and are ready to take their presence in the rock world to the next level.
Through this record, “We’re finally discovering what we truly love to play, which is a lot more rootsy than the metal edge we’re used to.” concludes Sully.
Same brand, different bottle, but one thing remains true. In Godsmack, you can trust.