Chevelle – NIRATIAS

3 out of 5

Label: Epic

Produced by: Joe Barresi

There was some interesting press leading up to Chevelle’s NIRATIAS (“Nothing Is Real And This Is A Simulation”), with lead Pete Loeffler saying something to the extent of this album being a last bid at pleasing fans, and producer Joe Barresi encouraging the group – now a duo of Pete and drummer Sam Loeffler – to pursue a more melodic sound, suggesting the band was going to, at the very least, deliver something different.

At the same time, though, those snippets of press – accepting I may have misunderstood the intended implications – confused me. From my read of reviews and general fan sentiment, the last several Chevelle albums have been all-timers in their catalogue, garnering respect and praise. But perhaps not sales…? That, to me, is inevitable for groups who’ve climbed into the mega-spotlight for an album, but hoping to maintain such status seems like something reserved for a different era, or for artists playing to a different kind of radio single scene, and I’m not sure that was what Pete was after, anyway. It seemed more like his impression was that Chevelle was maybe always tagged as a post-metal / nu-metal hanger-on, and with NIRATIAS, he sought to put that to rest.

Which goes into Barresi’s statement, then, but that’s also puzzling: Chevelle’s Point #1 (seemingly dismissed by the hype surrounding their spot-lit release, Wonder What’s Next) may have had everyone mentioning Tool as a comparison, but it wasn’t nu-metal – that came with Wonder What’s Next, and I’ll agree that the group has been pulling away from that ever since. But I mention Point as proof that being non-screamy metal has been in the group’s DNA ever since, and once past Vena Sera, I feel like you stop seeing reviewers tossing off things like “this should satisfy fans of clean-cut yelly metal” and assessing the group more on their own terms. I no longer think they’re defined by expectations of them being loud and shouty.

But: while some acts are defined by changing things up every release, many / most do have a “sound,” and that can be the curse – the sound is what draws people to you, and so providing that, while still allowing oneself room to grow, is surely a difficult balance. To that extent, I think we’ve seen Chevelle’s still Tool-influenced groove metal offer a few different takes on that, with some more experimental / indie leanings on Sci-Fi Crimes and La Gargola; a slicker, pop polish on Hats Off to the Bull; and a very dark and heavy take on North Corridor. I’ll give it to Pete: NIRATIAS does push the sound elsewhere, really going in to some un-Chevelle like territory in the album’s last 1/4th or so. And prior to that… arena rock? I guess that’s the way we’re going to try to shake off any nu-metal comparisons?

That’s more damning than it sounds, at least to those of us who might be critical of such a tag. NIRATIAS starts off in very familiar territory, though I do think one can tell we’ve lost a bassist, now filled in by multi-multi instrumentalist Pete – opening tracks hit on a classic Chevelle groove, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like it grinds as deeply as it has on our recent releases. But the hooks are there, and I dig that we open with an instrumental track, as that calls back to Point #1 days. Followup So Long, Mother Earth even has a soaring of range that calls back to one of my favorite Chevelle tracks – Still Running – making this song an addition to an all-time playlist.

It’s with the interstitial Sleep the Deep that we’re signaled of a shift towards a more “refined” sound; a couple songs later, Piistol Star is very cleaned up, and I hear notes of other headlining grunge / metal acts floating through – Bush, Deftones – that maybe weren’t immediate sounds-like groups in the past. Calling this arena rock is being a little dismissive, but I suppose I’m hearing Pete trying to open up the sound a bit, whereas I liked how the last few albums were actually zeroing in on something very, very specific to Chevelle. These are good songs, absolutely, just pulling their punch a bit.

The last quarter of the album admittedly loses me a bit, going very much into the Deftones thing with Remember When, and otherwise focusing on the softer side of Chevelle – y’know, like when every album had to have that one acoustic track, but now x 4. But I guess this fits with NIRATIAS being more of a concept disc, and having sequencing that aligns with telling a story.

Whatever the ultimate goal, I hope Pete feels like it was achieved. NIRATIAS might not be my favorite Chevelle album, I still enjoyed it, and there’s absolutely evidence here that there’s a lot left to be explored from the songwriter, whether under the same band name or as some other project.