Working solo throughout the majority of his career, shredder Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal hit a new height of popularity when he joined Guns N’ Roses to work on their long-anticipated comeback album, “Chinese Democracy.” Though his time with the legendary classic rockers had been more contentious than satisfying, and he would officially be out of the band just a handful of years after the album’s release, Thal was also working on a new project with Disturbed’s bassist John Moyer: Art of Anarchy. The supergroup conjured even more buzz when it was announced that the late Scott Weiland (of Stone Temple Pilots) was the frontman of the group, though Weiland disputed the news, stating that he was not officially a part of the band, despite having contributed all lead vocals and performing in a music video for the band’s first single “‘Til The Dust Is Gone.” Weiland didn’t associate himself with the supergroup any further when they released their eponymous debut album in 2015, but when he passed away at the end of that year, Art of Anarchy made the album free to download as a tribute to Weiland.
Continuing on, Art of Anarchy found their next lead singer in another performer of ’90s glory: Creed’s Scott Stapp. With Stapp suffering his own hardships in the past few years – from failing to get Creed to properly reunite, to his headline-making mental breakdown – his joining with Art of Anarchy makes for a redemptive step out of a rougher period for both parties, and in their second album, “The Madness,” Art of Anarchy seek to reinvent themselves from the post-grunge mishmash that was displayed in their debut album.
Stapp’s description of the group’s new sound as being a blend of Disturbed, GN’R and Creed is fairly delivered upon in “The Madness.” While some songs continue the general hard rock sound of their previous album, like the stomp-rockin’ “1000 Degrees” and the southern swagger of “Dancing With the Devil,” songs like “Echo of a Scream,” “Afterburn,” and the eponymous song kick into a tougher (albeit overproduced) alt-metal gear that wasn’t ventured in the group’s previous album. Those stronger metal moments make a better home for Thal’s furious guitar soloing, which feels a bit overblown in less aggressive songs on the album (save for the GN’R-esque power ballad soloing in the softer “Changed Man”).
Whether working in a low or high gear, though, Stapp’s role as lead vocalist is the glue that holds “The Madness” together. Along with the instrumentals playing to Stapp’s familiar hard rock territory, his voice carries the melodic torch well in any situation, from the uplifting power in “Won’t Let You Down” and “A Light in Me,” to the forlorn disposition in the dynamic “No Surrender,” and the revitalized Stapp single “Somber.”
Similar to his recent solo album, “Proof of Life,” Stapp’s lyrics in “The Madness” are another honest chronicle of his recent struggles with depression. With the first songs of the album highlighting the simmering negativity of a past-prime music career (“Landed in the fire / Of the sinners and the liars / And a burned out history” in “Echo of a Scream”) coming to a destructive boil (“I’m gas on the fire, sick and I’m tired / I am a curse, I’m my worst enemy” in “1000 Degrees”), Stapp shows his nadir right after in the allusion of a suicide attempt in “No Surrender” (“Time has stopped / Time to choose / This could be the end of you”). From there, Stapp slowly makes his climb back up to a healthy normalcy – first admitting his issues (“I’m lost in a free fall / But I’m not free at all” in the eponymous song), then reconciling with the loved ones he hurt in his previous metal state (“No I won’t let you down, let you down / I won’t let you be a casualty of my own war” in “Won’t Let You Down”), and finally finding strength in resilience (“Yes I had to crash and burn / To finally see the light” in “Changed Man”; “Your shadows stay to remind me that there’s / There’s a light in me” in “A Light in Me”).
Compared to the group’s debut album not really finding its bearings in terms of a focused musical direction, Art of Anarchy’s output in “The Madness,” though not reinventing the wheel in any way, feels much more concrete and cohesive in establishing a sonic identity. And with Weiland’s role in their first album being noticeably disconnected, Stapp’s role as the new lead vocalist meshes much better with the rest of the band, showing a chemistry that could really make the supergroup last for some time.