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Staind, ‘Chapter V’ (Elektra)

Nu-metal, the late-’90s most embarrassing, self-serious musical trend, isn’t even a blip on the cultural radar any more. It has vanished, supplanted by — what else? — its own little offshoots, ones that mostly lean in a funnier, emo-ish direction. This doesn’t mean that the genre’s former multi-platinum titans aren’t still pumping out self-important “return to form”-style releases; Staind’s new Chapter V is just that, further cementing nu-metal’s complete irrelevance. A towering achievement of sludgy, mid-tempo homogeneity, Chapter V exists in a time warp where dead-serious, loud n’ grandiose music still reads as affecting, and where blunt, graceless lyrics that shill their author’s pedestrian pop-psych worldview don’t bludgeon the senses — like they do in real life. Big time.

Despite assertions to the contrary, Staind was never actually about “the music.” It was always about lead singer Aaron Lewis, who brought to life his painful childhood fallout with a shuddering, Vedder-meets-Kermit caterwaul that reigned over his anonymous band’s forgettable sludge-metal riffs. Staind’s music is unabashedly utilitarian and purpose-oriented, like chicken soup for the angry, inarticulate, alternately misogynistic/sensitive teenage soul, but little more. Lewis’ standoffish, bitter stanzas (“You can’t feel my anger / You can’t feel my pain / You can’t feel my torment / Driving me insane”) compete with thoughtful, outward-looking lines (“Should I blame this on my father?”), erecting a cave in which emotions can richochet off the walls, audible to all, while remaining inaccessible. Lewis speaks to armies of kids who think no one else knows how they feel by telling them that nobody knows how he feels. The validation is instant, cacophonous, and ultimately empty.

Chapter V, unsurprisingly, is more of the same. Exactly the same. The album hits a comfy midpoint between 1999’s speed-metal-lite Dysfunction, and 2001’s mellow-by-comparison Break the Cycle, which contained the ubiquitous single “It’s Been A While,” undoubtedly the group’s songwriting zenith. 2003’s 14 Shades of Grey even upped the melody a bit, but apparently that didn’t suit Lewis: Chapter V leans on double-kick-drum riffs, hook-less choruses, and a singular, steady tempo that carries all the way through its twelve tracks. Opener “Run Away” might be the best of the bunch, with an almost-sweet melody and soaring chorus harmonies; single “Right Here” is a fine mid-tempo power ballad, trafficking in the same tired Alice in Chains-isms that Staind’s always harnessed for hits. That said, no one really knows who listens to this stuff any more, or to whom Aaron Lewis is speaking after all these years — except Lewis, of course.