After a six year absence, alt metal band Cold have returned with their fifth full-length, Superfiction, an album that, for better or for worse, picks up pretty much where 2005’s A Different Kind of Pain left off. Longtime listeners of the band should know what this means, since Cold’s trajectory has been a fairly steady one, moving from the sludgy, standard-issue nu-metal of their self-titled debut to the (too?) tidied-up hard rock of A Different Kind of Pain. Fittingly, Superfiction is just as polished as its predecessor, and traffics largely in the same type of anthemic-yet-sensitive songwriting that singer/guitarist/chief wordsmith Scooter Ward has been fine-tuning for the past decade and a half.
It’s both disappointing and somehow reassuring that Cold stay the course so ably on Superfiction. After Ward’s supremely ill-advised solo project The Killer and the Star released its debut, an autotune-drenched steaming heap of pop, in 2009, it’s safe to say that many became a bit skeptical about the musician who’d formerly written top-quality songs like “Bleed” or “Black Sunday.” Ward’s voice, long one of the band’s strongest bastions (and one of its most obvious points of evolution), is not a thing that warrants studio tampering. Thankfully, Ward’s foray into such creatively risky territory, however misguided it may have been, seems to have instilled in him a renewed appreciation for the formula that’s worked so well in the past.
And make no mistake, things certainly are formulaic here. Lead riffs don’t get much more standard issue than the one featured on “Welcome2MyWorld.” The drum part on “The Park” (from band mainstay Sam McCandless, unremarkable yet perfectly snug in the music as always) is lifted almost directly from the band’s “Anatomy of a Tidal Wave.” Drew Molleur and Zach Gilbert’s guitars on “Emily” and lead singled “Wicked World” (and the album as a whole) are solidly in line with the sort of soft-loud arch thing Cold has honed so carefully, and Ward focuses on much of the same lyrical themes that have informed past releases (fame, violence, addiction, wicked witches). The album plays it safe, so much so that the accidentals in the chorus of “Delivering the Saint” feel like a big deal.
But then, Cold has never been all that much for challenges, musically speaking. For what it is—yet another offering in the safe yet solid vein that truly began on 2003’s breakout Year of the Spider—Superfiction is actually a damn good album. That Year may be long over, but whereas Cold’s past peers have mainly followed musical paths ranging from the achingly average (Staind, Seether) to the flat-out laughable (Gold Cobra, anyone?), Ward and company have been steady and consistent as a band that may not break much (or any) new ground, but is reliably above par in its chosen field. When Superfiction hits, it hits hard, as on the surprisingly coiled driving rhythm of “What Happens Now” (courtesy of McCandless and bassist Jeremy Marshall), the sing-along outro of slice-of-life highlight “American Dream,” or building outro “The Ballad of the Nameless.” Even when the band borrows, it borrows well. The immense “The Crossroads” channels the power of Pink Floyd’s “In the Flesh” in its intro, before settling on a chorus reminiscent of Seven Wiser, of all bands (now there’s one from the archives).
Ultimately, Superfiction likely won’t sway anyone not already in the Cold Army, nor will it net the band any critical attention above and beyond what it’s always received. It will, however, reassure the band’s fans that Cold is hasn’t missed a beat since its hiatus, proving again that conventional hard rock need not mean stale hard rock. And hey, it sure beats the hell out of autotune.
Cold comes to The 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. on August 10th. Superfiction is currently available from all online retailers (the iTunes version features an exclusive bonus track, a middling cover of Aerosmith’s “Dream On”). It is offered by both national chain Best Buy and local retailer The Sound Garden in Fells Point for a price of $12.99, new.