Chophouse / Surfdog

There is a fine line between exploring your musical boundaries and just making plain boring music, and Metallica haven’t been too steady on their feet lately in that regard. Bassist Jason Newsted jumped ship in time to concentrate full-time on Echobrain, a group of people he’s been playing with for laughs for a few years already, retaining his credibility in the process. Albums made by major bands’ former bassists don’t necessarily imply essential listening, as Bill Wyman demonstrates on a regular basis, and while Echobrain leave a bit to be desired, it’s a nice surprise to discover that this album is, in fact, a remarkably well-rounded one.

Drawing heavily on modern rock acts ranging from Soundgarden to Foo Fighters, Newsted and his oh-so-young bandmates kick off with the magnificent power-pop rush of “Colder World,” and barely stop for breath throughout the run of the album. Their sound is surprisingly layered and complex, but there’s no denying the immediacy and hook-ridden nature of the songs. The band could possibly do with a second rhythm guitar to beef up the tracks from time to time, they sporadically sound a bit thin. But other than that, the band’s playing is as rock-solid and tight as one could possibly hope for — although their major forte isn’t, or shouldn’t be, their playing, what with tunes like these.

Ironically, it is only when the two star guest musicians pop up that things slow down a bit. Both former Faith No More guitarist Jim Martin and Metallica’s Kirk Hammett deliver boring, standard metal blues-y guitar solos and are allowed far too much space considering the quality of their contributions. Proof, if nothing else, that while Echobrain aren’t necessarily going platinum and beyond, at least they don’t have to rely on other people to achieve artistic success.

Chophouse Records:

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