Following in the footsteps of other great Chicago rock bands like The Smashing Pumpkins, Veruca Salt, Disturbed, and Chevelle, Chicago’s own Emperors and Elephants are poised to join the ranks of modern rock radio dominance with their solid debut album Devil in the Lake. While unabashedly taking their cue from the sound of great 90s and 00s rock bands like the aforementioned Chevelle, as well as Alice in Chains, Seether, and Shinedown (according to their website), Emperors and Elephants are not simply regurgitating these bands’ sound. It’s true that the band doesn’t reinvent the genre here, but their songs don’t particularly sound like carbon copies of the great rock bands of the 90s and early 00s either. Overall, they sound more like a smart amalgamation of them.
Lead singer Jesse Andrews is one of those rare frontmen who has an instantly recognizable voice, mostly because his range runs from Chris Cornell-like screams to Layne Staley-like moans to Axel Rose-like “yeeeahhhs.” The solid, grunge/modern rock riffs of Jeph Stiph and Randy “The Arsonist” Cooper (formerly of Texas Hippie Coalition) and rock hard drums and bass of Jason Meudt and Ron “Stoppable’ Vanders mesh incredibly well together for a band just putting out its first album. The album’s first single “Your Will” powerfully showcases all of these elements within a 4 minute 10 second span. It’s the perfect debut single, but not all that inspired. The real meat of the album though is found in tracks like “Man of God” and “Deep Sleep.” Nice heavy slices of Grade A grunge/modern rock steak (peppered with a smidge of electronic/industrial beeping and blooping at the beginning of “Man of God”) “Man of God” and “Deep Sleep” are the album’s standout hard rock tracks.
In the tradition of the greatest hard rock/grunge bands of the last 20 years, Emperors and Elephants have also developed their lighter acoustic side as well. “Hit of Red” with it’s well strummed acoustic guitar IS highly reminiscent of the great quiet/loud dichotomy songs from Alice in Chains and Soundgarden that they rode to mainstream success, and that they still write today. Instead of the ubiquitous detuned grunge solo though, the song sports a very Slash-like solo and outro instead, to its great benefit. Perhaps the most interesting track on the whole album is their hard rock cover of Chris Issak’s 1991 top ten hit “Wicked Game.” Andrews is not Issak (thank God), but he pulls off the only cover of this song that I’ve ever heard that actually works.
A solid debut from Emperors and Elephants, Devil in the Lake definitely has some sublime moments on it, even if it’s not the most original rock release of the decade. What Devil in the Lake does best is set the table (and the bar) for Emperors and Elephants’ subsequent releases, which I, for one, look forward to.