If Fozzy wasn’t fronted by Chris Jericho, they wouldn’t stand a chance in the modern rock world. It’s just fortunate that they are really and that they’ll always have the “ex-professional wrestler in a hard rock band” crutch to fall back on, especially since it doesn’t seem like they’re set to switch things up any time soon. Hell, theirs is the sort of texture-less, basic hard rock that’s stereotypically become synonymous as a WWE soundtrack, so it’s all too appropriate that that’s what sums every notable thing about this band up so neatly.
But since for the last couple of Fozzy albums, Jericho has cut his involvement with wrestling in order to make music his main endeavour, you would at least hope that there would be some kind of progression or evolution taking place in his band’s sound. And to be perfectly fair, seventh album Judas at least feels like a cautionary step at widening their sonic palette, mostly taking the form of modernising their sound. Now usually with these sorts of straight-laced hard rock bands, that sort of claim throws up some serious red flags about just how well it’ll be done, a degradation of quality which hasn’t had much to shout about in the past to be perfectly honest. Fozzy aren’t actually improving on that track record either, with Judas taking a clutch of tracks that are totally derivative but would otherwise be even remotely enjoyable, and turning them into mechanical clunkers with any fire or vibrancy leached away without hesitation.
That’s not to say stripping those unnecessary layers away would automatically make Judas a good album, but as far as this sort of hard rock goes where broadness or levity is a primary characteristic, there’s at least the potential for that here. The title track and Drinkin’ With Jesus are the sort of muscular hard rock cuts that would benefit from as much meat as they can get, and while more could definitely be done in this department, there’s at least energy there that kicks off the album on a high. And even if Fozzy aren’t the most poetic lyricists in the world, they honestly don’t have to be, and Judas fills up that quota of big hooks without even breaking a sweat; just take the stomping Burn Me Out or the power ballad Painless that abide by these archetypes to the letter, they’re done with some vestige of panache. Even if the rap verse on Three Days In Jail is the sort of hysterically sharp left turn that has Fozzy dangerously close to pushing their luck, it’s still progression, and wouldn’t be too bad if given a chance to really go for broke with some real heft.
But even with those meagre positives, they still have to come with some kind of qualification, mostly because Judas sees Fozzy committing the cardinal sin when it comes to a band modernising their sound – they’ve done it purely for the sake of doing it. Specifically in the guitars in where this is most noticeable; they want to be able to roar, but they’re so heavily compressed and crushed that they’re turned into little more than a flat, omnipresent buzz. It’s not even that it isn’t noticeable either, like on Weight Of My World where, come the chorus, the intention was clearly to have these riffs explode, but they’re so fenced in that it actively blows the mix out when they first come in, just to eke out a tiny bit more volume that they’re not even allowed to have. It doesn’t even end there either; real drums are frequently thrown out for programmed ones like on Burn Me Out that sound horribly stiff and awkward, and considering the natural power that Jericho has in his vocals, it’s totally bemusing to see him doused in filters to make him sound so strained, like Wordsworth Way which awkwardly tries to scrape in notes higher than his natural range, or especially Elevator, which is already a cringeworthy self-esteem attempt (“So hold on tight and don’t look down / As I lift your body off the ground / To the penthouse far above the clouds”), but with bubbling vocal manipulation that can be painful to listen to.
It’s understandable what Fozzy are aiming for here – trying to redefine their sound with a fresh coat of paint for 2017 and spread that appeal even further – but the execution is so botched that it’s hard to know whether this was what they really had in mind. Strip it back to its pure fundamentals, and Judas has enough hard rock charm to fill a hole, but when it’s slathered in so much unnecessary meddling, that becomes harder to find than it should. There’s appeal there if you squint at it perhaps, but Fozzy aren’t ageing gracefully with this one, rather trying to keep up with the pack and falling way behind.
For fans of: Shinedown, Pop Evil, Skillet
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Judas’ by Fozzy is released on 13th October on Century Media Records.