Redemption rock

By TED DROZDOWSKI  |  May 4, 2006

“And I’ve been with my girl for five years, and I was with other women on the road. You wake up in the morning with this strange girl in your bed who you really don’t want to be with . . . It’s fucked up. You’re doing it just because you’re supposed to, because it’s part of the life. So I came clean with my girl and she’s been helping me get back on track and has kind of forgiven me. Which I have to give her a lot of credit for. That’s a hard pill to be asked to swallow. If I was in the same position and had come back from two years on the road and she said she’s been suckin’ some guy’s cock while I was gone, I don’t know if I could have done it. It probably would have been ‘the boot’ — out the door. And it could have just as easily been that way for me.”

Erna had just made his confession at the time the songs were written — after looking long and hard into his heart and finding a lot of what he describes as “darkness.” “I needed to come clean, so I did. But after that, everything was hanging over my head at the time. I didn’t know if I would be forgiven. At the best, I thought, ‘I’ve made a clean slate of this for myself. If it can still work between us, great. If not, at least I have a clean slate and can move on.’ ”

For a while this situation locked up his creativity. “I sat in the studio with my pen day after day — and nuthin’.” At the same time his band mates, guitarist Tony Rombola, bassist Robbie Merrill, and drummer Shannon Larkin, were working on music independently and at a furious pace. “At one point they had written so much music that I asked them to go home and take a break. I was afraid I would never catch up.”

Obviously he did. But not before the instrumentalists had composed some of the most interesting music in Godsmack’s canon. Erna’s spiritual themes are supported by a mix of electric and acoustic instruments, often textured in a way that makes reference to classic Zeppelin, but without compromising the low, bullfrog chug of modern metal that Godsmack helped cast in platinum. “Shine Down,” with Erna’s earnest declaration that “I still believe in immortal love,” is the album’s shimmering centerpiece. At times the acoustic playing recalls Zeppelin’s “Battle of Nevermore” and more-balanced tunes from ZoSo. The thundering single “Speak” and the string-colored confessional “Hollow” counter the thunder of hard rock with emotional bite and intellect. The nuances are provided by the blues foundation that Rombola contributed.

Still, it seems Erna had the clearest notion of where Godsmack should go for IV, and that was back to fundamentals. “The trick was to get the balance of the kind of driving hard-rock thing Godsmack is known for and a real blues edge, which would open up the melodies and the mood of the album.” Perhaps that’s why Erna’s mates asked him to produce the album, though Johns was, as he puts it, “chasing after us to let him produce us.” In the end Johns played a vital role in the engineering and the mixing. “I’d tell him I really want to get a lot of the old-school Led Zeppelin type of stuff in the mixes, like crazy panning and fades in and out. I also learned a lot from being around him. I soak up a lot of information from people quickly and put it to use myself.”

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