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Smack Down
It's 'IV' - score! - and 10 years for Boston metallurgists Godsmack

By Lana Sweeten-Shults/Times Record News
November 10, 2006

Propelled by radio hit after radio hit at the genesis of her career, Mariah Carey plucked stardom out of the metallic-speckled musical heavens before she ever even stepped foot on a tour bus.

Godsmack is not Mariah Carey.

The band, an exception to the rule of rock god-dom - an axe-grinding anomaly, if you will - came at fame from a different angle.

The Bostonians strayed far from the tea party long ago, thanks to their nu metal-meets-old school metal-meets a-little-harder-than-rock sound. Unlike the Mariah Careys of the world, they never got much significant play on MTV, the purveyor of stardom and torchbearer of popular musical culture. But despite those odds stacked high like fat, ostentatious Marshall amps against them, Godsmack somehow thrived.

The Grammy-nominated band has more than scored a few charting hits. They have maintained the kind of longevity that eludes most bands, thanks to ever touring and building a brick wall of support that has never wavered over its 10-year dominion.

The tour, by the way, will finally reach Wichita Falls as the band assaults Kay Yeager Coliseum Nov. 18, its first stop here along with Wilkes-Barre, Penn., band Breaking Benjamin.

"As a band, we want to try to have a 20-year career and be as successful as we can, considering we haven't had much MTV play," said bassist Robbie Merrill from Lincoln, Neb., where the band was readying itself for a show.

The guys are already halfway to that goal.

The latest in their musical coup is the success of current album, "IV." The CD debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart, and it spawned the successful debut single, "Speak," which spent 12 weeks at No. 1 - the band's fourth No. 1 at Active Rock radio. Godsmack is the only rock band to have lit up the format with 13 Top 10 hits.

"IV" has been described as the band's first true attempt at "sonic experimentation," otherwise known as breaking from the musical norm and testing new waters.

"I think with every record, you're always competing against yourself. You always ant to get to that next level," said Merrill. " ... This record was a little bit different. (Lead singer) Sully (Erna) was in a little funk, so we'd just jam every day. We wrote a lot of songs, so we wanted to open up the doors a little bit."

Opening up the doors came by way a more bluesy sound on some tracks, like bluesy "Shine Down," another single from "IV."

Merrill played in a lot of bands before finding the right home with Godsmack. He's played for a long time in every band imaginable, from reggae to country groups, and "IV" reflects some of those influences.

It also reflects what Erna has described as the worst year in his life. He said he started to question his lifestyle in 2005. It's when he admitted to his significant other his infidelities on the road, and when he looked at all the rock-star excesses he embraced.

The result on this album are dark-fringed songs like "Livin' in Sin," "No Rest for the Wicked," and the typically angry metal song, "The Enemy."

That personal reckoning took time away from Erna's songwriting. But even if he wasn't writing, the rest of the band was plugging away. They wrote so many songs, in fact - some 40 of them - that some of the songs have been compiled into a Godsmack side project (minus Erna) called Another Animal, which includes Whit Crane from Ugly Kid Joe and Lee Richards, the original guitarist for Godsmack.

"We're looking to get the single out sometime in January and the CD out in February," said Merrill. The guys want to get the timing just right so they don't interfere with Godsmack and "IV."

"Ninety percent of the music was written for Godsmack, so we pretty much left it the same," Merrill said, though he added that the difference between this project and Godsmack is that if Godsmack is left-brained, Another Animal is right-brained. The project includes more harmonies and vastly different guitars.

For Godsmack, "IV" is one of the bigger risks they've taken because of the different sound, Merrill said. Still, the guys try to make sure to keep their longtime fans happy, too, with their classic sound.

"We're trying to explore other avenues of music and keep the interest of the band ... I think it's all positive."

Now all that's left for the band to do is do what they do best, which is hit the road and bring their sound to the people - a tough thing to do these days considering the guys completed a tour with Metallica recently and wowed audiences with drum duels onstage between drummer Shannon Larkin and Erna, who's also a drummer.

"We've done big tours before Metallica," Merrill said. " ... But they've been doing it for 25 years, so there's little things ... They jam before the show to get warmed up. We have pyro. We have video ... I love pyro, but I hate it, too, at the same time. This is how I look at pyro: cha-ching! That's coming right out of the band's pocket."

But it's all in the name of delivering that metallic-speckled musical heaven that only Godsmack can deliver.