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GODSMACK EMERGES FROM PRE-'IV' ABYSS

Godsmack's drummer Shannon Larkin says the band's upcoming performance at the Pensacola Civic Center is a family affair—in more ways than one.

"My mother lives in Gulf Shores, Ala.," he says, phoning from a tour stop in Lincoln, Neb. "She's definitely coming to the show in Pensacola. All of my nieces and nephews will be there. Actually, the whole damn family will be at that show," he jokes.

It's Larkin's Godsmack family—vocalist Sully Erna, bassist Robbie Merrill and guitarist Tony Rombola—that has been an object of concern for the 39-year-old musician. Earlier this year, Erna was battling with addictions, writer's block and a slew of other demons. After the frontman sent the crew packing during a creative rage, Larkin wasn't sure Godsmack would stick together.

"I remember sitting at my home in Florida, looking in a mirror, not knowing if we would continue being a band," he recalls. "Sully had so much going on at the time—everything from addiction to depression to issues with his girlfriend. The shit really hit the fan for him."

Larkin, who has played with major-label acts such as Amen, Wraithchild America and Ugly Kid Joe, says he felt compelled to turn Godsmack's dark period into a positive.

"With Sully's adversity during that three-month time, it opened this band wide and gave us all a whole new outlook on the songwriting process," he explains, adding that he teamed up with Merrill and Rombola to compose four songs used on "IV." "Actually, we wrote about 30 songs. In the past, Sully had written to his own riffs. And after he was fixed, we were able to give him those songs as a band and he loved them."

After Erna sent the band away for three weeks, he found vocal inspiration from "Living In Sin," a tune Larkin and Rombola created earlier at the band's Boston studio. "He called us back after about six days and I literally watched him go out of the darkness and into the light just because of one song," the drummer remembers. "The dark cloud lifted and it was magical."

In May, Godsmack's "IV" immediately shot to the top of the charts, selling 221,000 copies in its first week of release and becoming the band's second album to debut at No. 1 on Billboard's Top 200 album charts (the first was "Faceless" in 2003). After spending the summer touring with Rob Zombie, Godsmack is now headlining arena-size venues, including the Pensacola Civic Center on Wednesday, Nov. 22.

Larkin believes the behind-the-music drama associated with "IV"—an album produced by Andy Johns who did the first four Zeppelin records—has been a hard-earned lesson that's ultimately catapulted Godsmack into a completely new musical direction.

"For the success and longevity of a band, you can't keep making the same record over and over again. If you're one guy writing all of the songs, it's going to sound the same eventually," Larkin concludes. "It sucks that Sully had to go through all of that hell—but we're a better band because of it."

As for the onstage chemistry, Larkin says his Godsmack family is closer than ever after the release of "IV."

"Some bands are strictly business and others are like brothers who grew up together and live and die for the music," he remarks. "We're a little of both."