Balancing on the border of metal and hard rock, Stone Sour have earnt their place as one of the greatest bands to have existed. Despite various line-up changes over the years, Corey Taylor’s genius has shone through in each and every moment and the staple Stone Sour sound has remained despite a few curveballs along the way.
Going back to the beginning, Stone Sour released their self-titled debut album in 2002 featuring ‘Bother’, ‘Get Inside’ and ‘Orchids’. Clearly the heaviest album in their catalogue, Stone Sour seem to have gotten gradually softer over the years ending up with the questionable ‘St. Marie’ in Hydrograd which was released in 2017, possibly the least Stone Sour sounding song. Softer doesn’t always mean bad of course, an example is their 2006 release Come What(ever) May featuring the masterpiece of their career, ‘Sillyworld’. A stunning blend of Gilmour style vocals reminiscent of ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, with an acoustic and electric blend of guitar riffs and the truest lyrical content referencing society.
Corey Taylor has a way of writing material that feels like it has been around forever and that is reflected in 2017’s Hydrograd. Opening the album is the instrumental introduction ‘YSIF’ with a classic welcome message ‘Hello you bastards’, how else would you expect a Corey Taylor production to open? The drum beat builds tension and paves the way for the cleverly named ‘Taipei Person/Allah Tea’ or ‘Type A Personality’. The chorus is catchy with alternations between heavy and soft vocals and the instrumentation adjusts accordingly. Double-kicks in the last third become dominant and give the track solid bass. ‘Knievel Has Landed’ is defined by its rhythm and vocal melody. The harmonies create a crowd atmosphere which produces a depth to the sound and the final scream is raw. The title track, ‘Hydrograd’, has a haunting feel with some questionable lyrics, ‘I’m not better than you, I’m just better’.
That’s the first section of this album. Hydrograd as a record doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be, it flickers and has some problems. One minute it’s heavy, then it’s soft, then it’s country and then it’s classic rock and roll, as a listener, it’s hard to predict what’s up next, possibly a good thing, possibly not. Moving on to ‘Song #3’, a song for all the lovers out there, it’s soft and worthy of lighters in the air (or just hands because of health and safety). Changing up to something heavier again, enter ‘Fabuless’. Catchy and diverse is this track in a nutshell. Opening with a rolling drum beat and an interesting chorus structure which begins heavy, goes soft and ends on the gritty vocals for ‘you can’t get home from here’, which is sure to get heads moving. It features a few nods to one of the greatest rock and roll bands that has ever lived, The Rolling Stones and the theme is talking about famous for nothing celebrities as Taylor has explained in various interviews.
As previously mentioned, Stone Sour like to throw a curveball or two every now and again and in this album it’s ‘Witness Trees’, an eerie number featuring some very offset tones, however the advantage of this is that it creates movement. ‘Rose Red, Violent Blue’ has a knack of getting stuck in your head, however ‘this song is dumb and so am I’ says it all really. This is not some of Corey’s best work as he is capable of writing like the lyrical greats such as Bowie which he has proved time and again. The biggest question mark on the album is without a doubt ‘St. Marie’ which is Stone Sour gone country. There is nothing wrong with that, and the song by itself is not terrible, it just doesn’t fit with the album and adds to the uncertainty of the record as a whole for not knowing what it wants to be.
‘Whiplash Pants’ brings the heaviness back into the record featuring grungy harmonies and expression with the sound of something being knocked over at the end. This song also features the best solo on the album. ‘Friday Knights’ encompasses most of what Hydrograd is about with its constant flickering between heavy and soft with anthemic harmonies. ‘Somebody Stole My Eyes’ brings a thrash metal element to the table and the record closes with ‘When The Fever Broke’, where a progressive, instrumental layer features in the track which provides the atmosphere and it is the longest track on the album.
Hydrograd is certainly one of those records that grows on the listener the more it is played, however it is full of inconsistencies to the point of them having a negative effect. This does not mean to say there are no great tracks featured here as ‘Taipei Person/Allah Tea’, ‘Fabuless’ and ‘Whiplash Pants’ are all tracks soaked in that staple Stone Sour sound built with meaning and passion.