Heavy Alternative Rock

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Heavy Alternative Rock, also known as Alternative Hard Rock, is a catch-all sub-genre used to encompass the various alternative rock artists that play heavy music that don't necessarily descend, at least directly, from the traditional hard rock spectrum. It notably includes grunge and post-grunge bands, both of which can be heavy but of a different heritage to traditional blues based hard rock acts, but it may also include actual hard rock acts and releases that borrow heavily from alternative rock to create a fusion sound. Some examples of this include Nickelback (hard rock/post-grunge), Dizzy Mizz Lizzy (hard rock/alternative rock) and Foo Fighters (hard rock/alternative rock/post-grunge), at least on some releases, such as Wasting Light (2011).

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NICKELBACK The Long Road

Album · 2003 · Heavy Alternative Rock
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martindavey87
Nickelback’s fourth studio album, 2003’s ‘The Long Road’, sees the band finally do away with the post grunge sound of their earlier days and fully embrace the mainstream, radio-friendly hard rock vibe that gave them worldwide superstardom on 2001’s ‘Silver Side Up’ (which featured THAT song).

And to be honest, the band pulls it off perfectly. The songs are all well-written and catchy, yet rocking enough to get heads banging too. Unfortunately Nickelback would fall into that gray area where they’re not “metal enough” for metal fans, and too heavy for casual radio-listeners, however, the bands singles, which usually tend to be on the softer side, gives the band huge mainstream appeal, and it’s for this reason that fans of heavier music probably despise them.

However, with that said, when the band wants to rock, damn, they can rock hard! With pounding guitar riffs accompanied by a solid drum beat and bass line, the band can no doubt hold their own when it comes to heavier music, and their ballads... well, hell, I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for a catchy melody... and the Canadian four-piece are pretty nifty at that too. The production is also top-notch, giving the music a massive, driving sound, with every riff getting the punch it needs.

Frontman Chad Kroeger, one of the most hated rock stars on the planet, seems undaunted by his reputation, and delivers a fantastic performance, with a great range that emits power and emotion. Whether bellowing at the top of his voice or reflecting melancholically, the man has a great voice and is hugely underrated as a vocalist. (There, I said it).

Featuring guest appearances by Kid Rock and, surprisingly, Dimebag Darrell of Pantera fame (yep, you read that right), and with highlights including ‘Because of You’, ‘Flat on the Floor’, ‘Someday’, ‘Do This Anymore’, ‘Feelin’ Way Too Damn Good’, ‘Should’ve Listened’ and a bonus track cover of the Elton John classic ‘Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)’, ‘The Long Road’ is a fantastic album, which is neither too ambitious or complicated, but revels in its hard rocking simplicity, and is all the more better because of it.

NICKELBACK Silver Side Up

Album · 2001 · Heavy Alternative Rock
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martindavey87
It’s always the ones you least expect, right?

Who’d have imagined at the start of the year that Nickelback would be coming out of 2001 as one of the biggest bands on the planet? After two studio albums which had started to bring some minor success, the band unleashed this nugget upon the world, with a beefed up production that slowly steps away from the Seattle-grunge sound of their previous efforts, they were a much harder and heavier rock band, and with one of radios most played rock songs of all time, they were ready to become household names.

Stylistically, ‘Silver Side Up’ isn’t too much different than its predecessors, but the sound of the album has giving the band’s music a much more anthemic vibe. Featuring ten tracks, each one simple in structure, with hooks aplenty and catchy choruses, Nickelback had their formula, and mainstream success came in abundance.

Of course, the lyrics can get a bit cringeworthy and the songs can begin to sound repetitive at times, but let’s be honest here, this isn’t music meant to be studied and scrutinized. With pounding guitar riffs and a booming rhythm section, this is hard rock, pure and simple. And it sounds bloody massive!

Highlights? Well, there’s ‘Never Again’, ‘Too Bad’, ‘Money Bought’, ‘Just For’ and ‘Where Do I Hide’ for starters. Oh, then there’s ‘How You Remind Me’, only one of the most famous and well-known songs since the turn of the century. Reaching number one on the Billboard charts and helping ‘Silver Side Up’ sell in excess of eight million copies worldwide, it has widely been estimated as being the most played rock song on radio stations. Not bad at all.

While Nickelback aren’t to everyone’s liking, there’s no denying the success of ‘Silver Side Up’. Granted, it may have a couple of filler tracks, but otherwise this is a pretty solid effort, and as it’s since elevated the band to superstardom, it’s no doubt one of the more pivotal albums to come out of the early 2000’s rock scene.

NICKELBACK The State

Album · 1998 · Heavy Alternative Rock
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martindavey87
Nickelback’s second album sees the Canadian rockers begin to step away from the Nirvana-wannabes that they were, and slowly become the band we’d all come to know and love (and mostly hate). While I found their debut too much of a grunge record way after grunge’s time had expired, ‘The State’ sees them develop a more traditional hard rock style, particularly with the guitar playing, and with frontman Chad Kroeger sounding more like himself than a fake Kurt Cobain.

The formula is simple. Four-minute songs with driving riffs and raspy vocals, simple structures and lyrics that focus on whatever usual drivel people sing about; Relationships, depression, politics etc. It’s not terrible, and it’s a blueprint that has worked for countless bands and will for countless more, but unfortunately ‘The State’ is still a pretty mediocre release. There’s a few moments that show the potential the band possess, but the production still gives it a bit of a post-grunge sound that doesn’t do the music justice.

‘Breathe’ and ‘Leader of Men’ are both pretty decent tracks, though. And if nothing else, they certainly show the direction Nickelback are headed in, and it’s a direction that would bring worldwide success. However, it will come at a cost. But listening to ‘The State’, who’d imagine they’re listening to one of the biggest and most (in)famous bands on the planet?

NICKELBACK Curb

Album · 1996 · Heavy Alternative Rock
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martindavey87
I never really cared much for the term "post" being placed before music genres. "Post this" and "post that", it all sounded a bit pretentious to me. That is, until I heard Nickelback's debut album, 1996's 'Curb'. Often cited as "post grunge", it all makes sense to me now! Channelling their inner Seattle grunge scene, 'Curb' sounds a lot like a Canadian band poorly mimicking Nirvana or Pearl Jam a couple of years removed from the grunge genres mainstream peak.

Now, don't get me wrong, I actually like Nickelback, and don't understand the absolute scorn and contempt that is thrust upon them. But it's hard to believe the worldwide success they'd go on to have, considering the quality of this release.

I guess it's just a case of a young band trying to find their sound, but there's really nothing noteworthy here except a few half-assed watered down attempts at sounding like the aforementioned grunge bands. The musicianship is fairly average, vocalist Chad Kroeger (who'll go on to become one of the most hated men in rock music) has a good voice and an impressive range, but if you're going back to this album after hearing their later mainstream hits, it's apparent how much he's trying to sound like Kurt Cobain.

Still, it's not all bad. There's one or two moments where it's easy to hear where the band truly shine, and that's in the riffs department. 'Little Friend', 'Pusher', 'Detangler' and 'Where' are all innocent enough numbers. Nothing amazingly outstanding, but they have their qualities that make them listenable. Should I accidently stumble across them, that is.

But overall, let's face it, we only want to hear the bands 2001 mega hit 'How You Remind Me', and this sounds nothing like that band! This is a pretty bland and uninteresting (yet inoffensive if you do happen upon it) release. Wait for them to develop their own style and things will really start to fall into place.

NIRVANA Incesticide

Boxset / Compilation · 1992 · Heavy Alternative Rock
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Vim Fuego
“Incesticide” is a rare thing. For a rapidly thrown together record label stop-gap, it is actually a pretty good compilation.

“Incesticide” was made up of demos, b-sides, unreleased tracks, and other extraneous material recorded between 1988 and 1991. Released a year after the revolutionary “Nevermind”, it was intended to be a high quality version of material which was already circulating in bootleg form. Geffen Records decided not to promote it heavily, in case fans suffered Nirvana burn-out. Yeah, right Geffen, so why release the fucking thing in the first place then? Despite this, it still went platinum in the US, UK, and Canada.

So why did “Incesticide” do so well? Simply put, the album includes some of the best material Nirvana ever recorded. It shows off the breadth of Nirvana’s influences and the diversity of the band’s sound. Was Kurt Cobain a misunderstood genius or an overrated junkie slacker? Who the fuck knows. He made some interesting, noisy music, then blew his brains out, and left it up to the rest of us to decide his place in history.

First song “Dive” came from a recording session for Sub Pop which was intended to be for the follow-up album to “Bleach”, and was released as the b-side to “Sliver”. Of course, we know the follow-up didn’t come out on Sub Pop, and this song would not have fit on “Nevermind” anyway, with a feel closer to “Bleach”. The song has a fatter, warmer sound than the “Nevermind” album. Like all things Cobain, the lyrics are either cryptic or nonsensical, depending on your own interpretation.

Just to get things ass backwards, “Sliver” appears after “Dive”, even though “Dive” was the b-side to this single. Anyway, “Sliver” has the most memorable hooks Nirvana ever recorded, both in the bouncy bass line and the “Grandma take me home” lyric which constituted the song’s chorus. The lyrics are trivial, but engaging, seemingly taken from a child’s point of view, remembering an evening with grandparents.

“Stain” has a rougher edge than the previous two songs. It was originally released on the “Blew” EP. It’s a shouty punk song, with a great discordant noise solo, and is basically musical simplicity itself, both catchy and compelling.

“Been A Son” is a later song, recorded for the Mark Goodier radio show for the BBC in November 1991, with "(New Wave) Polly" and "Aneurysm" coming from the same session. It has another of those trademark vocal hooks, with Cobain slurring his vocals a little.

"Turnaround", "Molly's Lips", and "Son of a Gun", were recorded in 1990 for the John Peel Show for the BBC. “Turnaround” is a Devo cover, but is a surprisingly forgettable and unlikeable song. The next two tracks are Vaselines covers, and have a seemingly happy, bouncy feel to them, despite the reasonably grim subject matter of addiction on “Molly’s Lips”.

“(New Wave) Polly” shows the band made an excellent decision by sticking with the acoustic version of the song for “Nevermind”. While not a bad song, the shock value, and raw emotion present on the acoustic version of the song are not near as striking on this version.

"Beeswax", "Downer", "Mexican Seafood", "Hairspray Queen", and "Aero Zeppelin" all came from Nirvana’s first studio demo, recorded in January 1988. These show a young but focused band, playing like their whole lives depended on it, with a feel of determination edged by desperation. It demonstrated an early incarnation of the grunge formula of mixing garage punk with classic rock and pop sensibilities, with the added ingredient of emerging slacker cynicism. “Hairspray Queen” in particular fully demonstrated the musical weirdness which could emerge from such a mix, with a simple, yet effective three note bassline from Krist Novoselic, while Cobain’s vocals vary between Bobcat Goldthwaite rant, a subterranean grumble, and a crystal clear coherence. “Aero Zeppelin” is a straighter style rock song, and is really the first time on the album things seem to drag. While quite a powerful track, it seems too safe and mainstream compared to the rest of these demo tracks.

“Big Long Now” was recorded during the “Bleach” sessions. It would not have been too far out of place on that album, but was probably too slow paced. It is a dragging dirge, and feels like trying to emerge from a deep, deep sleep, but the grip of Morpheus is not ready to let go.

Final track “Aneurysm” combines the band’s noisier aspects with a driving punk beat. Kurt Cobain’s vocals are at their raggedy, melodic best, and the song has hooks big enough to catch mako sharks.

For such a diverse collection of recordings, “Incesticide” is surprisingly coherent. At the same time, it shows the breadth of vision of a group of young musicians, led by a reluctant mouthpiece, who didn’t care for the rules of how music should be created or sound, and wrote their own rules. Then they broke them repeatedly, and the outside world came to embrace their vision. Whether the outside world ever understood that vision then or now doesn’t matter. The resulting music speaks for itself.

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