Since 1995, Chevelle have been grafting away with their trademark post-grunge/hard rock sounds. Despite being a major concern in their motherland across the pond, Chevelle just aren't a band that we Brits get, often dismissing them as trading on that knuckle dragging Nickelback thing that Americans seem to love but which we appear to have left in about 2002. In actual fact, what Chevelle have delivered on their seventh LP 'La Gargola' is, in places, a great deal more accomplished and more impressive than that.
Opening with a sinister, rattling intro, 'Ouija Board' kicks off with a punishing, thrashy Helmet-esque riff before going almost stratospheric in the chorus with some Soundgarden style weirdness. As an opening track it does the job and lays down a gauntlet which, sadly, the rest of the album is not able to follow.
To be fair, there are some great moments here and there's barely anything that you could even call a 'bad' track, it is just that the lofty heights of 'Ouija Board' are never again breached. However, you get the huge choruses of 'An Island', the dissonant weirdness of recent single 'Take Out the Gunman' and the experimental, layered guitar assault of 'Jawbreaker' which all tick the boxes a hard rock act should tick.
The main problem with 'La Gargola' though, is that it sits in an aural No Man's Land that is too pop for the metal fans and too metal for the pop fans. 'Hunter Eats Hunter', for example, trades on a slow and ominous dirge of a riff, but at the parts you feel it should cut loose like a proper rock band might, it never quite gets there. There just seems to be too much polish and shine here which dulls the edge of the chaos that Chevelle hint at and replaces it with the cold sterility of a pathologist's slab. Elsewhere is the most refined moment of the album - 'One Ocean'. This is probably one of the best songs on the album, offering a more restrained approach where the band explore a new sound with a vocal hook which would not be out of place on a Muse album. You just wonder how much it fits on an album which deals largely in huge drop-D riffs and controlled designer angst.
That said, when Chevelle get it right on 'La Gargola', they knock it out of the park. Perhaps they are playing it a little bit too safe and should go one way or the other - either make a killer hard rock album with less of the sheen or go down the pop route with full gusto. You get the feeling they could do either and make something really special. They just have to stop sticking so readily to the dead middle of the road.