Since Art of Anarchy’s first album with newly recruited singer Scott Stapp is dropping next Friday, so I figured that before I reviewed that album, I’d take a listen to their original album as perhaps a preview of what to expect from their sophomore effort.
First, some background. AoA is a supergroup consisting of Jon & Vince Votta on lead guitar and drums, respectively. The Votta brothers then brought in ex-Guns N’Roses guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal and Disturbed bassist Jon Moyer to fill out the rest of the lineup. There was just one problem: they needed a vocalist. Enter Scott Weiland, of Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver fame (along with the occasional solo album). This is where the band’s story gets a little weird. Weiland wrote and recorded vocals for this album after sharing the music files back and forth with Bumblefoot. For all intents and purposes, he appeared to be a full-on member of the band, at least at first. But he pretty quickly and aggressively distanced himself from the project, calling it a “scam from the beginning.” Weiland implies that the band paid him to write and record the vocals for the album and that was it, claiming he “didn’t even know what their names were.” The weird part is that he participated in promotional photo shoots and music videos for the album, so he pretty clearly had at least met the other members and participated in the band to some degree. This fissure in the band prevented them from undergoing a proper tour in support of the album, and very likely depressed the album’s sales and visibility.
But there may be other factors. While the band taps into their hard-rockin’ DNA for some decent riffs and solos, the whole effort just feels sort of… generic. It’s pretty easy to tell that the members didn’t record their parts together, because the songs don’t seem to have a lot of cohesion. Or rather, they have cohesion, it just occurs in fits and starts and doesn’t seem to come together for any sustained stretch of the album. The two biggest examples of this are the two singles, “Time Every Time,” and “’Til the Dust Is Gone.” The former is my favorite song on the album, with a solid riff that complements Weiland’s vocals well. It also shows off his belting ability in the chorus. In somewhat of a rarity for most rock songs, it splices in Weiland’s voice with the guitar solo. “’Til the Dust Is Gone” has another good riff that builds on itself, and echoes the salsa-like acoustic guitar sound from the album’s instrumental intro, “Black Rain.”
This brings me to another point about the album: Scott Weiland is criminally underutilized in it. He is perhaps the epitome of rock star life, whose talent came in equal measure with his battles with drugs; battles which ultimately killed him in December 2015. There’s no denying that he was one of the most talented rock vocalists in history, though. I often refer to him as having a “rubber voice,” that he could bend the timbre and range of in amazing ways. Stone Temple Pilots’ first album Core provides some of the clearest examples of this. But there’s precious little of that on Art of Anarchy’s self-titled debut. It doesn’t help that his vocals are frequently obscured by the other instruments in the band, so the listener can rarely understand what he’s saying.
That’s not to say this album is entirely bad, per se. There are some cool solos and sounds that will pop up on occasion, such as the shiny-sounding intro to “Superstar,” and the call-and-response in “The Drift.” The guitar parts on this album are really heavy without sounding sludge-y. The drum and bass parts also provide solid support and even stand out on some songs, like “Grand Applause,” and the aforementioned “’Til the Dust Is Gone.” Ironically, it ends up sounding a lot like the proof of concept analogy that I used to describe Scott Stapp’s second solo album. AoA have proved that they have a fair to good foundation in place. Now they just need everything to come together as a whole in order to realize their full potential. I’ll be very interested to see what they come up with on their upcoming second album The Madness, now that they will function much more like a conventional band. If the lead single is any indication, the heavy guitar sound will combine with Stapp’s hard-hitting and straightforward vocal style to perhaps create a less melodic version of Creed.
As for this album, I’d give it a borrow it rating. It’s worth listening to once, and the two singles are worth keeping in your collection, if nothing else. Here are my track picks:
“Time Every Time”
“‘Til the Dust Is Gone”