October 8, 2008

CD Review: Brian 'Head' Welch - Save Me From Myself

Frankly, I am surprised I like this album as much as I do. I have to admit that the prospect of a 'Head' solo album did not hold much excitement for me. I am a Korn fan from way back, from the moment I first heard the cymbal-tapping opening to "Blind" I knew this was a band for me. They were different, heavy, and insidiously catchy. Sure, they came after Rage Against the Machine and Faith No More (well, "Epic" anyway) but it is Korn that led the so-called nu-metal movement of the early and mid-1990's. There is no denying they hit at the right time with the right sound, influencing scores of bands that would follow them. However, I always saw them as a band where the sum was greater than the parts. With Save Me From Myself in my hands, I am willing to retract that statement, but only partially.

Welch's story is an interesting one. He rose to fame through the mid to late-1990's as a founding member of Korn, consistently turning out strong music. In the early 2000's Welch became increasingly distant from the band. Years of touring and living the rock and roll lifestyle were taking a costly toll on the guitarist. Addictions to alcohol and methamphetamines were tearing his life apart. This led to the momentous decision to leave Korn in 2005, after which he went into rehab, kicked his demons and found a new spiritual life. All of this was chronicled in his memoirs, which bears the same name as this album.

Now, three years after leaving Korn, a band that is still going despite hemorrhaging band members, Welch has made his return to the music scene, writing and producing an album of surprisingly potent music. It doesn't hurt that he also surrounded himself with world-class musicians such as Trevor Dunn (bass: Mr. Bungle, Fantomas), Tony Levin (bass: King Crimson, Liquid Tension Experiment), Josh Freeze (drums: A Perfect Circle, Nine Inch Nails), and Archie J. Muise Jr. (guitar).

headThe music is solid, at times complex and often nicely melodic, but with a touch of dissonance. It is very reminiscent of Korn. Despite his exit from the rock and roll lifestyle that served him for so many years, he has not lost his touch as a guitar player. If nothing else, his playing on this album is a little more adventurous than he was with Korn. It is definitely in a similar vein, but without the structure of Korn to conform to, he plays more melodically, layering in more guitar tracks, thus creating music that is instantly familiar, just a bit more lushly realized.

"L.O.V.E." is the opening track and it begins in a way that immediately brings Korn to mind with its single picked notes that sound a bit like a lullaby. I know, not exactly what Korn was like, but it brought them to mind. Granted, listening to an album by a former member of Korn makes comparisons to the band unavoidable. As the album wears on, the comparisons are still applicable, yet the music does stand on its own.

Brian Welch reveals himself to be a better guitarist than I may have been willing to give him in Korn. Granted, there is not much in the way of soloing, but his riffing and the way he approaches each song is quite good. Each song is varied, gets into a groove and brings you along for the ride.

Where the album falters is in the lyrics. Being a Christian, I admire what he is looking to do here by injecting his spirituality and positive messages into his words, but it is pretty clear that he is not a lyricist at heart. Like his memoirs (which I plan on reading in the near future), I suspect this is the next step he needed to take in order to cleanse himself of his demons. The lyrics clearly reflect his struggles with addiction, his departure from Korn, and his journey towards peace through religion, not to mention reconnecting with the man behind the image that had built up around him over the years.

There is no subtlety to his words; they are more blunt instruments that occasionally sound unintentionally funny. For example, here is a snip from "Loyalty": 'Let's make a hit, we'll be so rich and famous, We'll have it all, we'll be everyone's favorite, No way, I won't sell out for the money, Kill me, I'd rather die, It took us ten years to build a fan base, I quit, I can't, I won't live a lie, This is goodbye.' I don't know about you, but sounds rather funny to me.

This brings me to another note; all of the vocals are performed by Welch. You know what? For not being a singer by trade, he does not sound all that bad. Sure, his range is pretty much right down the middle, but he can growl well enough, and his clean singing has a nice tone. I am impressed with what he did here.

Bottomline. Better than expected, hampered primarily by the lyric writing. Nice guitar playing, overall strong musicianship, decent singing it is hard not to like the album. If only he was a better wordsmith, this could have been really, really good. That said, this is definitely worth spending some time with, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.



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