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Good Godsmack
Chart-stomping rockers return to prove the Tease isn't just that

By JOSH NIVA
Anchorage Daily News

Published: June 19, 2006
Last Modified: June 20, 2006 at 02:01 AM


It's the fandemonium-inciting stage routine equal to the Drumstick Toss and Synchronized Amplifier Jump. It's the Tease.

You know, when a huge band comes to town, rocks the house and closes with the singer shouting "(Insert city here) rocks! We can't wait to play (insert city here) again." It's an oft-used, always-effective tactic in pop-culture craving Alaska, where traumatized music fans go years between star sightings and big gigs. But the Tease is just that: a tease. Bands rarely return to Alaska, unless its 20 years later, and they're cruising the state fair circuit.

Like most major label acts visiting Anchorage, Godsmack employed the Tease when it played Sullivan Arena and Fairbanks' Carlson Center in July 2003. Apparently Godsmack wasn't teasing — this was a promise. Just two months off the release of its chart-topping new album "IV," Godsmack is returning.

"First off, the shows we did up there were amazing — we had some killer shows and (singer) Sully (Erna) promised we'd be back," drummer Shannon Larkin said from his Toronto hotel room, the morning after a gig. "It's not only a beautiful, beautiful state, everyone seemed excited to have us there. Of course we wanted to come back.

"We saw that we were going to be in Vancouver and said 'Why not motor over to Alaska again?'"

Godsmack isn't the type to tease. Unrelenting in its hard rock sound, drive and touring schedules, and led by unflinching singer-songwriter-producer Erna, the quartet is viewed as rock's working-class boys done very good.

• Very good as in its first three albums went platinum, with its fourth, "IV," projected to join its predecessors.

• Very good as in it's the only band to ever place 13 songs in the top 10 of Rock & Radio's active rock chart and has already cemented its legacy with modern rock anthems and unforgettable riffs like "Voodoo," "I Stand Alone" and "Awake."

• Very good as in its popularity continues to grow even as radio programmers, listeners and fans skew to progressive and indie rock. The band recently received a plaque certifying 10 million album sales in the United States.

The keys to success and longevity in an ever-changing rock landscape? Larkin says it's as simple as staying true to your group and its followers.

"You can sell millions of records and all that crap," Larkin said, "but in the end, when you're successful as a band, you care more about the fans than sales and critical response."

Reviews for "IV" were less than flattering: Rolling Stone gave it two stars out of five; The Associated Press said the band was "hard pressed to sound innovative and perhaps hamstrung by earlier successes."

Fan response? "IV" debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's album charts in May. Its lead single, "Speak," owned rock radio for three months.

While critics bristled, Godsmack and its fans celebrated a songwriting evolution. The band maintained its hard rock approach on instant classics like "Speak" while pushing its songs into new spaces — there's even a nod to the blues, albeit a very heavy one, on "Shine Down."

The songwriting progression came from a dark place and out of necessity. Erna, usually the group's take-charge leader, slipped away during the early writing stages to focus on his personal life. Rumors and reports claim Erna was facing issues from alcoholism to infidelity to writer's block.

The remaining band — Larkin, guitarist Tony Rombola and bass man Robbie Merrill — took the lead. The trio holed up and wrote as many as 40 songs. When Erna returned healthy, happy and ready to write, he added lyrics to songs he liked, pitched his own tunes and decided on the final lineup for "IV." Songs like "Living in Sin" and "The Enemy" give insight to Erna's struggles while also allowing the band to display its power.

"With Tony, Robbie and I contributing more material than ever before," Larkin said, "it gave it a fresher sound and gave Sully a chance to do more things vocally. It's new, fresh."

The songs from the trio that Erna waived were turned into a side project: Larkin, Rombola and Merrill are recording with buddies Whitfield Crane (Ugly Kid Joe) and Lee Richards (Dropbox) in a band called Another Animal. That group is already signed with Universal, Godsmack's label.

"Does it sound like Godsmack?" Larkin said with a laugh, "No. It's a whole 'nother animal."

And what of the monster that is Godsmack? Larkin said his crew is "stronger than ever."

"Sully got through his issues; the band talked more than it ever had before; the wind never really deflated," Larkin said. "This thing is bigger than one individual. We're a band that luckily has a boatload of people interested in what our next record is going to be like. It would be awfully selfish for one person to overlook that fact.

"We have the best job in the world," Larkin added. "We're lucky to be where we are."

And where the band is now is a familiar place: Confident, on top of the charts and, yes, headed back to Alaska.