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P.O.D. - When Angels And Serpents Dance - Review

San Diego-based band returns with another blend of rap, rock and reggaa, but with a new record label and returning guitarist, can they ignite the fire they had five years ago?

My Story
When P.O.D. burst onto the scene a few years ago, nobody was laying down the same kind of shit. While rap-metal was already well on its way to burn out, P.O.D. took a different approach to their sound - a fusion of metal riffs, hip-hop grooves and south of the border flavor. Combine that with their spiritual undertones and you have the recipe for something completely new, poised to take over radio and MTV.

For their part, P.O.D. have continued to make good on that promise, with each album favoring substance over style, even as the band struggled with the loss of founding guitarist Marcos. Today, Marcos has returned to the fold, just in time to work on the band’s latest album. Can P.O.D. continue their streak of bringing the heavy metal thunder?

Their Story
P.O.D. (short for Payable On Death) formed in San Ysidro, California, a SoCal community not far from San Diego, in 1992. The seed of P.O.D. was sewn in the friendship between young guitarist Marcos and drummer Wuv, who both shared a background in jazz and reggae, but were heavily into punk bands like Bad Brains and Green Day. Eventually, they started a band with Wuv’s cousin Sonny (who brought a love of hip-hop to the group) and, later, bassist Traa, a displaced Cleveland native.

During the mid-90’s, P.O.D. took a very blue collar approach to their music career. The band gigged up and down the west coast, expanding east as word of their sound grew. They founded their own label, Rescue Records, where they released three Eps of raw rap-metal. Legend holds that the band moved 40,000 copies of those early demos, an unprecedented number for an unsigned band on their own indie. With their name spreading across the underground, it was only a few years of hard gigging before the majors came calling. The band signed a deal with Atlantic Records in 1998.

An EP called Warriors was P.O.D.’s first effort, a polished version of their early EPs, though it began to show their penchant for throwing reggae and Latin groove, as well as noticeable references to Christianity, in the mix. Still, nothing could prepare the band for the nerve that their debut full-length would strike. The Fundamental Elements Of Southtown was released in 1999. The LP charted two Top 30 Rock hits in “Southtown” and “Rock The Party (Off The Hook)”, heavy metal jams that incorporated hip-hop hooks and a passion that few nu-metalers were able to muster. Southtown went gold in only a few months, putting P.O.D.‘s name permanently in the spotlight. They toured on the 2000 Ozzfest, appeared all over soundtracks (most notably on Little Nicky, proving the Top 40 Rock single “School Of Hard Knocks”). To put an exclamation point on the banner year, Southtown went platinum as 2000 came to a close. All of this attention was setting up P.O.D. for a monster sophomore effort.

The band delivered with the starkly positive and passionate Satellite in 2001. The lead single, “Alive”, just missed the Hot 100’s Top 40 (#41), but a follow-up, “Youth Of The Nation”, blazed to #28. The single was also the band’s first #1 Modern Rock hit. Satellite shot to #6, eventually going triple platinum. P.O.D. released several hit Rock singles over the next couple of years, but it wouldn’t be all roses internally.

In 2003, founding guitarist Marcos abruptly left P.O.D., citing “spiritual differences”. The band soldiered on, hiring Living Sacrifice guitarist Jason Truby in Marcos’ place. The resulting album was 2004’s Payable On Death, P.O.D.’s heaviest album yet. Unfortunately, the spark just wasn’t there commercially. The album spawned a pair of Rock hits, including the #12 “Will You”, but didn’t capture mainstream attention as they had before. Undaunted, they toured relentlessly in support. Payable On Death reached #9 on the Billboard 200, but stalled out at gold.

Testify, an album that found the band once again steeped in their reggae roots, appeared in early 2006. The lead single, “Goodbye For Now”, was the band’s biggest hit since “Youth Of The Nation”, reaching #47 on the Hot 100. Like POD, Testify reached #9 on the charts. However, it failed to sale as well, becoming the band’s first effort to fail to go gold.

Testify marked P.O.D.’s final album on Atlantic Records. The band announced their departure in August of ‘06, alluding to changes at the label leading to their exit. Greatest Hits: The Atlantic Years followed shortly after. In the last days of 2006, P.O.D. also announced the exit of Jason Truby. He was replaced the next day by founding guitarist Marcos.

In early 2007, P.O.D. signed a new record deal with Columbia Records and began work on their fifth major label studio effort. In the spring of 2008, just weeks before the released ate, P.O.D. went on a short tour of Hard Rock Café venues.

The Album
On April 8, 2008, Columbia and INO Records released When Angels & Serpents Dance, the fifth major label studio album by P.O.D. and the follow-up to 2006’s Testify. It is the band’s first for Columbia Records and their first with guitarist Marcos since 2001’s Satellite.

The Band: 8.0
Sonny: lead vocals
Wuv: drums, vocals
Traa: bass, vocals
Marcos: guitars, glockenspiel, programming, vocals

It’s hard to put your finger on what P.O.D. lost when Marcos left the band in 2003. Jason Truby, his replacement, was a more than competent guitarist. In fact, you can argue that Truby both rocked harder and was more technically sound than Marcos had been prior. P.O.D.’s sound didn’t really change much without Marcos, either. Sure, Payable On Death was a bit heavier, but the second Truby album, Testify, grooved just as hard as Southtown. So, just why in the hell does P.O.D. just sound so RIGHT now that Marcos has returned?

In truth, there’s nothing in the playing that has changed. Sonny still breathes a passion and fire, rapping and singing with skill and ease, as other frontmen of other rap-metal acts have seen their bands desolve. Wuv and Traa still lend excellent harmonies and shouts, not to mention a jazzy yet explosive underpinning that allows for all that Latino spirituality. And for the returning Marcos - well, he’s got the riffs, no doubt. Is it his punk edge?

Nah, what translates here - what sounds so damn good - is brothers reunited. P.O.D. didn’t lose a technician, they lost a friend. And he’s returned on Angels & Serpents. The joy is there, the familiarity is there…it just sounds RIGHT. Throw in a brand new record deal (many bands have said those last days at Atlantic were miserable) and you have P.O.D. reborn.

The Songs: 8.0
1. Addicted
2. Shine With Me
3. Condescending
4. It Can’t Rain Everyday
5. Kaliforn-Eye-A (feat. Mike Muir)
6. I’ll Be Ready (feat. The Marley Girls)
7. End Of The World
8. This Ain’t No Ordinary Love Song
9. God Forbid (feat. Page Hamilton)
10. Roman Empire
11. When Angels & Serpents Dance
12. Tell Me Why
13. Rise Against

Angels & Serpents rocks out of the gate with the lead single “Addicted”, a track that typically deals with the everyday struggles and problems we all encounter. It’s this ability to relate that made “Youth Of The Nation” a huge hit in 2002. “Addicted” has that same pleading, raw power. And it grooves man, but so do a lot of tracks here. “Kaliforn-Eye-A” brings down the God of Thunder upon us (who also happens to be the God of everything else - don’t forget they’re a Christian act), while “Shine With Me”, with its meaty Marcos riff, is the logical link between Angels & Serpents and Satellite.

The big highlights here are the slower tracks. Unlike other modern rock acts, who sound either completely emasculated or pandering on their sappy “ballads”, P.O.D. know how to lay down a real atmosphere while speaking from the heart. “I’ll Be Ready”, which features Bob Marley’s daughters, is one of the best modern reggae numbers I’ve heard in ages. “It Can’t Rain Everyday” is a moment of raw emotion. “This Ain’t No Ordinary Love Song” follows suit.

The album closes with the ethereal “Rise Against”, which answers the question of “What’s the point of going on?”, and, unlike most rock band’s, P.O.D. gives us an actual reason. It’s this attitude, and true passion for their roots and their rock, that sets P.O.D. ahead of the pack