Shinedown’s vocalist Brent Smith describes Threat To Survival as “the most autobiographical album we’ve created to date“. Though each song has its own story, the unifying theme is about overcoming hardship and our “primal instinct” when faced with conflict. Shinedown are known for their immersive tracks (which Smith dubs “cinematic”), but Threat To Survival is of a different creed; there are some huge numbers, but a country or pop vibe is apparent for a handful of them. All in all, there is a diverse mix of genres threaded through the album, which will appeal to a wide audience.
The opening track, “Asking For It”, has already established itself in my ‘songs passionately sung in the shower’ collection after a mere two days. It begins like a pop-punk anthem sung on a school field, but the unexpected introduction of violin riffs elevate this track from great to awesome. Smith sings: “Careful what you say and who you say and who you say it to” so expertly (almost rapping it) that it reinforces the voice as a wonderfully adaptable instrument.
The song that follows is the only single from the album so far: “Cut The Cord”. It became number one on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart and on Active Rock Radio, knocking Disturbed’s “The Vengeful One” to second place. Guitarist Zach Myers sums up the song by saying: “I think it’s about setting yourself free from anything that’s holding you down“.
A chorus of children frequently sing “freedom, la la la la / freedom, follow me” yet embraces a hard rock sound. The imagery of children has been used by many rock artists (Korn, Nirvana, Marilyn Manson, Clawfinger…) and, for me, transports children from a place of innocence to one of self-dependence. Speaking of, many songs from the record act as encouragement and strength for people who may need it: “Dangerous” and “Misfits” perfectly fit this description.
I was pleasantly surprised when I heard “It All Adds Up”, more so by “Oblivion” which follows; the instrumentals are evocative of Rob Zombie (who Shinedown have supported in the past). The songs aren’t outright scary, but the composition evokes fear or intimidation. The bass drum stalks the guitar in the introduction to “It All Adds Up” and a steady rhythm is established that reminds one of driving down a dark road in the woods. Perhaps the fearsome melody is for the “bitchy girls and boys” that the lyrics fight against but either way, it’s creepy and I like it.
“Oblivion” begins with and frequently features voices that sound like musically inclined ghosts; this, coupled with the dark, determined sound of the guitar, gives the song a strong presence. “Crawling out of my skin / Shed every trace of you, just one last thing to do”; the lyrics sing of removing someone or something for personal growth. At the conclusion, the ghostly chorus sound mournful, making it feel like something has truly ended, like airborne ash thrown up from dying flames.
There are some songs that I wouldn’t have guessed were by Shinedown had I not already known, most notably “Thick As Thieves”. The song starts off like a pop chart-topper and there are voices singing ‘oh’ in alternate pitches (think “Pompeii” by Bastille turned down a notch). What’s a shame is that I didn’t connect to quieter songs like this, but that’s personal preference rather than a critique. “State Of My Head” and “Long Black Cadillac” – two songs released as digital downloads before the album’s release – also have a more subdued sound. The best thing about these two tracks is Smith’s deep southern twang, giving them a real authentic vibe.
The final thing that I want to mention is the last song, “Misfits”, a song about Smith’s first love, although lyrics like, “And after all we never played by the rules / We broke the mould and found our own kind of cool / It didn’t matter that we weren’t on the list / ‘Cause we were misfits” can be applied to anyone who has felt similarly ostracised. Though it’s another quiet tune, it breaks free from the others thanks to the sincere message of solidarity and companionship.
When I found out that Shinedown were releasing a new album, I wanted to review it because of my love for “Fly From The Inside”, a song from their debut album Leave A Whisper. I didn’t expect to like Threat To Survival (released twelve years later) as much as I did, but that’s what happened. I believe that this hard-hitting and powerful collection of songs has the potential to connect with people who need it most. Threat To Survival is out now via Atlantic Records and can be purchased here.
Words by Shanade McConney