REVIEW: Stone Sour – House of Gold and Bones Part 2

stonesour

Artist: Stone Sour
Album: House of Gold and Bones Part 2
Genre: Hard rock/metal
Label: Roadrunner

Late last year, I wrote about Stone Sour’s House of Gold and Bones Part 1 and described it as possibly the finest thing the band had ever done. A brilliant piece of modern rock, its precision and intelligence and sheer power conveyed a talent and confidence rarely demonstrated in the genre. The key to its success was not just the band’s knowledge of their strengths, but in knowing how to exercise them. They kept the tracks clean and varied and never strayed into overly indulgent territory. If Part 1 is the spark that started the fire, then Part 2 is where it becomes an inferno. Where the first half was clinical, this one rages – a towering, engulfing piece of work that sets free its bare and harangued heart. It is, perhaps inevitably, a lot darker than the first one and feels consistently haunted, despairing, and pursued. There’s a sense of foreboding and weight that never quite lifts, as if the band have descended into a fog and are stumbling along a path that threatens to be consumed at any moment. It builds beautifully on its predecessor but also strikes quite firmly away from it, drawing familiar themes to potent and unforeseen conclusions. Because of its wilder nature, it doesn’t have quite the sharpness or methodical efficiency of Part 1, but it’s a much more engrossing album and one that’ll leave a deeper impact.

What stands out about Part 2 is how much more vulnerability there is. The songs are almost flayed, laying bare the soul and suffering at their core. They rage as dramatically as they did on Part 1 and are heavier in most parts, but there’s a softer side to them too. There’s more emphasis on atmosphere and suspense. The watchful darkness which seems to gradually smother the songs reflects the persistently wounded streak in Corey Taylor’s vocals. He’s a commanding presence, as ever, but more often than not he sings like a man pursued – acutely aware of his own humanity in the midst of all this ferocity. “Red City” conveys this from the off. It’s a slow-burning and extremely intense opener that bears down on the listener like a great weight. The music has a watchful, sinister air, slowly swallowing up the vocals with increasingly oppressive moves. “Sadist” has the same effect. Creepy, twisted, and manipulative, it’s a pining meditation on obsession and loneliness pursued through the darkness by something ghoulish and macabre. The band use sweeping, mournful strings to bring out its spectral side and a guitar solo to reassert dominance. It is interesting to note how, even at this early stage, so much of Part 2 is so restrained. The songs open slowly and indulgently, building a sense of anticipation and fearfulness. When unleashed, they feel doubly powerful for it. “Peckinpah” is laden with such moments – stealthy strings, ominous percussion, and minimalist keys add to a sense of displacement, as if journeying through a fog on an unmarked path. The arching chorus then acts as a release, bringing out more intense, gravelly vocals and determination. Further along, “Blue Smoke” is a kind of nightmarish interlude. Taylor’s voice is far off and afflicted and the music sparse, creating a vision of inhibiting darkness.

Part 2 is not, however, all eeriness and suspense. At other times, the sense of dread becomes animate, as the songs explode in pure raw aggression. “Gravesend” is all reckless abandon. Sharper vocals and screeching guitars represent something set loose, while a grating, warbling guitar solo adds a definitive note of glamour. It’s a hardened and feral song that quickens at the end, as if closing in on its quarry. “The Uncanny Valley” is monstrous and momentous. “Do Me a Favor” confronts the demons that have haunted the album throughout and lays down the gauntlet, all burning will and intent. By the time the final, title track rolls around, caution has been slung firmly to the wind. “The House of Gold and Bones” explodes in with a vengeance, opening on a malevolent gang vocal. Taylor summons a fearless energy in his voice, discarding all evidence of uncertainty or weakness to become one with the sprawling music. It’s relentless and colossal, a towering finale for a magnificent double album.

A textbook example of perfection, House of Gold and Bones is a searing example of how rock should sound in this day and age. It’s fearless and driven, masterfully understood and executed, with a distinctly personal and human heart. It’ll take some kick to unseat this from the best of the year lists.

SCORE: 10/10
Review written by Grace Duffy

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