I loved this band once. They unleashed the two best rock records in recent memory on us a couple years back. They seemed to be on fire, putting out successful singles, stylish music videos, and touring nonstop. Then, suddenly, Jim Root decided he wanted to start recording for Slipknot. That's fine, the band can keep touring without him. But then they stop putting out new singles and music videos, not even a year after the debut of the second half of their new album. This helped kill their momentum. What helped further was when they fired Root in November 2013 and then straight up lied to their entire fanbase about it while they embarked on an additional leg of touring. This lying had direct consequences for the band's paid fan club, who couldn't receive certain specific merchandise they had purchased, because it was branded with photos of Jim Root, who was officially ousted at this point. Instead of being up front about the issue, the band told the fans that Josh Rand didn't like the pictures of himself in the merch and wanted a reshoot. Nobody bought it. It was too superficial an excuse. They got away with it all until summer 2014, when Root finally came clean about having been fired by Stone Sour management over the phone. He said he hadn't even spoken to any of the band members since. His "temporary" replacement, Chris Martucci, ended up being permanent all along. It seemed like a giant, pointless cover up fiasco that portrayed a sense of this band rapidly falling from their insurmountable high without any dignity. Root labeled the band a "sinking ship" and told the press that at least one of the remaining band members was solely interested in money. Stone Sour seemed wounded and diminished.
That's what makes this first release post-HoGaB so interesting and so horrible. As if the band didn't feel as though they had screwed over their loyal fans with their dishonesty over the past year or so, they decided to initially make this release a Record Store Day exclusive, limited to 3,000 copies, with no news about a digital iTunes release until a few days ago. This was very poor distribution. The insult to the injury is that the vinyl release of this EP cost $20 or more, depending on your region, which seems altogether very pricy for a random collection of five cover songs. They just didn't seem to want their fans to hear this material.
The music itself is only subpar. This EP marks the first studio recording of the band since the HoGaB cycle and, even more interestingly, the first studio recording of the new lineup featuring Johny Chow on bass and Chris Martucci on guitar. Chow on bass is an earned privilege - previous Stone Sour bassist Shawn Economaki left the band following the touring cycle of 2010's Audio Secrecy, so the band went bassist-less for the studio sessions of their HoGaB cycle. Chow has held down the bassist side of the live stage for this band since late 2012 and, considering Economaki seemed to have left on good terms, Chow is a welcome addition to the band's permanent lineup. Martucci, on the other hand, is simply more dubious. Martucci has unfairly usurped Root's place in the band. Root wrote many of the band's previous hits, including "Digital (Did You Tell)" and "Say You'll Haunt Me". Many of his writing contributions to this band hit radio and hit big. It's hard to stomach simply firing him by having management call him. It's even harder to stomach permanently replacing him so fast.
Unfortunately, Martucci is not given any room to prove himself on this EP. He is featured heavily - he performs pieces of gang vocals for songs like "Creeping Death", he performs a guitar solo in "Love Gun", etc. That's not what real fans of this band are interested in, though. We want to know how the gaping hole in the Stone Sour writing process left by Root will be filled. This EP is not a proper answer. In fact, considering the circumstances surrounding the split with Root, this EP and the ones to follow it - Straight Out of Burbank and No Sleep 'til Burbank - feel very indulgent and self-interested coming from this band. I mean, we're talking about an EP that set loyal fans back $20 and only featured five songs and no original material. Are fans going to be paying $60 for the complete set before this is over?
That the music itself is only mediocre doesn't help. "We Die Young" starts off with a sputter and a bang and sounds nice enough. Corey Taylor, lead singer, is in nice form. He makes the tune a little bit more melodic than the original. This is pretty much a 1:1 cover of the original, though. It doesn't deviate at all. So, really, there isn't much to talk about. The cover feels a little to safe and the performance is considerably tamer than the Alice in Chains original.
This problem plagues the entire EP. There is a lack of originality here. The best studio covers come from bands who are bold enough to take old material, modernize it, AND add their own spin and flavor to it. That is seldom found here. There is one specific moment in the song "Creeping Death" during which Stone Sour alters a passage to display their aptitude for song pacing and many different themes within a song structure. The bridge section, which features the vocals "Die! / By my hand / I creep across the land / Killing firstborn man", now features considerably downplayed guitars, a prominent bass and drumline, and a surprisingly refreshing chorus of gang vocals in the backdrop shouting "Die! Die! Die!". This moment on the EP is surprisingly evocative of Stone Sour's piece from HoGaB 1, "RU486". It's a beautiful effect that adds a bit of an arc to the song that wasn't present in the original Metallica recording.
Other than that specific moment, the performances here rarely rise above the "good" mark. This is a troubling release for the band, then - one that gives the impression of nickel and diming their fans for mediocre recordings.