The return of Coal Chamber is marked by two mindsets. The first signifies a celebration of friends who have experienced a greater clarity about them to want to come together in a practice space again. The other mindset posits that they had a case of unfinished business they needed to take care of with bold strokes, lead-pipe cruelty and aural finesse. Cox willingly admits that Coal Chamber “are like a brand new band. We still have to prove ourselves to the world.”
“I’m so grateful to be able to do this with these people,” says Fafara, beaming. “How many times in your lifetime do you have the chance to rekindle a relationship, love affair… rekindle art? Members of Coal Chamber have an iconic aura about themselves that exists without the band. But when you put them together, it’s like a superpower. You can feel it in the room when we’re rehearsing, and you can feel it onstage. There’s something special in each of us individually, but when you put it together, it’s an extremely powerful, prideful thing.”
“Dez could’ve started another version of Coal Chamber,” says Rascon. “Actually, any one of us could. But that’s cheesy. The chemistry of this band can’t be replaced. Nobody can do the things we do individually. You could get other players to imitate what you’re doing, but it’s just not the same. I wouldn’t say we were the greatest musicians, but the chemistry and the connection we have is completely authentic.
Dez Fafara didn’t think about it when he wrote the lyrics to “Rivals,” the title track of the new album from the reconstituted Coal Chamber. The murderous song from the premier groove ‘n’ gouge metal unit is seemingly top-loaded with mixed messages. Consider the name of the album, which harkens back to the band’s public disintegration in 2003. Then check out the song’s chorus, where vocalist Fafara vanquishes his antagonist off the grid with sentiments like, “I just want to say this to you/you’ll never be anything without me,” with a vocal prowess that’s one part PTSD-stricken sociopath and one part enraged Gila monster.
When made aware of this, the singer is quick to dismiss any notion of resentment toward any of his band members. “First of all, that lyric has very little to do with anyone in the band,” he begins. “In addition, this is the first Coal Chamber record where I wasn’t writing songs about the members. I promise you the person who I am talking about will hear that song and will know it’s about him immediately. I’ll tell ya, writing this record has saved me thousands in psychotherapy!”
The rest of us listening to Rivals will be confronted with a different kind of immediacy, one felt by the sheer bone-powdering force and propulsive bounce Fafara, guitarist Meegs Rascon, bassist Nadja Peulen and drummer Mikey Cox have delivered. Recorded in less than three months and overseen by producer Mark Lewis in late 2014, Rivals doesn’t necessarily mark a reinvention of the band as much as it is installs a psychic system upgrade for maximum mayhem. New bands big on ambition (while low on vision) and old-guard rockers who continue to mine the same tired tropes should be very, very afraid: Coal Chamber didn’t press the reset button on their career as much as they smashed the thing with a ball peen hammer.
“Rivals is definitely not a throwback record,” Fafara stresses. “It’s definitely a little more mature, sure. It has killer riffs and big hooks. I think it’s a heavy-metal record with alternative, goth-rock overtones. It goes to so many places and worlds. Whether people know us or not, I think when people hear this record, they’re gonna hear something refreshing. We write what we think is cool, based upon what we can do with each other’s abilities and instincts. Rivals is the perfect progression for how Coal Chamber should be. There’s a lot of metal out now that really sounds the same. The feeling I get is like it’s us versus everyone. It’s like that movie 300: The Spartans were up against an army. We’re fucking hungry for this. It’s kind of exciting!”
“It’s definitely unfinished business,” says Peulen excitedly. “I never thought there was any real closure after we broke up. But I never thought the breakup in 2002 was the end. I always felt it had to come full circle and that’s what it feels like right now. For all intents and purposes, the last word on Coal Chamber’s rebirth has to belong to Cox, who, when asked what he’s been listening to lately, responds with Rivals in a way that’s free from irony, ego and self-aggrandizing.
“I’ve been building recording studios for the past year,” he says. “I sit in four hours of traffic in Los Angeles every day. On the way to work, I listen to it for two hours, over and over. And on the way back, it’s two more hours, over and over. I have other musical tastes, but I’m totally addicted to Rivals.”
He pauses to laugh. “Maybe I need Coal Chamber rehab…”