There’s perhaps not a single genre on the planet more prone to a hyperbolic lashing than nu-metal. It’s not that a lot of hate for some bands in unjustified because oh boy, is it justified, but when that effectively boils down to “Limp Bizkit are the worst band ever” or “Korn are overrated” without any elaboration or justification, there’s a limit to how literally such claims can be taken. But of all of nu-metal’s bigger players who actually managed to craft a remotely sustainable career, P.O.D. seem to have gotten off easier than most. They’ve certainly deserved criticism for a clumsy, frequently over-earnest take on rap-metal that’s aged about as well as milk in the sun, but they’ve managed to avoid the retroactive crossfire fairly nimbly (something that’s especially surprising for an openly Christian band in the chest-beating, alpha male world of nu-metal). The fact they’ve, against all odds, managed to carry on is worthy of praise too, elevating themselves to a state of longevity and relative prominence that so many other mid-tier acts have aspired to but have ultimately been left by the wayside.
Of course, that’s no indication at all on the actual quality of Circles, and given the track record that mainstream metal from the 2000s has today, both in terms of new output and simply how well their past material has held up, the expectations for P.O.D. here aren’t looking stellar. To be fair though, amid a lack of predictions that could be described as un-optimistic at best, Circles is fine enough on the whole. It at least brings a decent amount to talk about to the table, given how constantly inconsistent, occasionally lumpen but unexpectedly fun it can be, occupying some breadth that’s a damn sight wider than most nu-metal revivalists who are more than comfortable with greasy pastiches of past sounds that never sounded that great to begin with. At least P.O.D. are moving forward with the times, though that really is for better or worse, and Circles does have its fair share of the latter. It leads to a lot oversized, flavourless hard rock monoliths that seem all the more determined to assimilate into the modern radio-rock landscape, though with Sonny Sandoval’s less-than-great singing on Always Southern California or Learning For The Silence, it falls to a slightly lower rung.
The limping tonal shifts don’t exactly help either (even though that’s hardly an issue exclusive to P.O.D.), especially when darker subject matter lacks the bite it really needs, like the discussions on abusive relationships on the title track or the state of the world on Dreaming. On the other hand though, keeping things lighter and as uncomplicated as possible stands as pretty clear proof for P.O.D. being a pretty solid party-rock band in the vein of someone like Skindred. It helps when they try to be a bit more outlandish and tongue-in-cheek, leaning on the ska-pop of Fly Away or the lifted refrain from Cypress Hill’s Insane In The Brain on Panic Attack, neither of which are played seriously at all but give some levity that feels a bit more up to speed for them. At their best though, there’s a baked, knocking groove to Rockin’ With The Best and Soundboy Killa that really does play to every one of P.O.D.’s strengths here, with a slow, grinding guitar that effectively cuts through the mix, and Sandoval showing himself as a fairly competent rapper for this more basic, broad mould.
That’s not to say that Circles is worth investing in as a whole, especially when P.O.D. are operating on the basis of covering all possible bases in a way that doesn’t feel as though their using the resources in the most effective manner. It’s just as unwieldy as a lot of modern hard rock, but then again, a lot of these sorts of albums fail to boast the high points of this one, and in the grand scheme of things, that definitely counts for something. Perhaps the mileage you’ll get from this isn’t the greatest in the world, but for nu-metal that should be coasting by on nostalgia alone at this point, you could definitely do worse than this, even if that praise really only extends to a handful of what’s on offer.
For fans of: Limp Bizkit, Hoobastank, Nonpoint
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Circles’ by P.O.D. is out now on Mascot Label Group.