While Shinedown’s post-Sound of Madness career has been anything but consistent, they’ve still managed to outlast most of their grunge/rock peers thanks to Brent Smith, who is easily one of the most talented vocalists in the mainstream sector of those genres. His ability to transition from raw, gritty barks to soaring melodic choruses is something special, and for the majority of Shinedown’s existence, it has allowed listeners to overlook some of the band’s other glaring deficiencies.
A lot of folks will be bothered by ‘Planet Zero’s apparently right-winged lyrical content, but the truth is that political affiliation alone doesn’t make a song bad or good. Revealing your political affiliation like a series of low-end YouTube comments, on the other hand, does: [I think we’ve reached the ceiling / They’re canceling your feelings], [Shut the door, say a prayer, kill the lights / Bite your tongue ’cause it might save your life], [Better pray that you’re not erased…On your knees or you’ll be replaced]. It doesn’t take long to realize that they’re criticizing cancel culture, and to be more accurate, beating you over the head with it. You can be for or against these lyrics — that’s your prerogative — but a less meme-worthy set of verses would have gone a long way in establishing ‘Planet Zero’s concept as possessing enough depth to actually convince someone on the other side of the aisle to pay attention. Instead, this just plays out like a poorly thought-out Facebook rant. The emotional crux of the song is delivered poorly as well, a very clumsily sung “All hail power to the people / Except you, you check the box we don’t like” where it sounds like Smith is trying to fit too many words into a very brief passage.
Lyrics have never been Shinedown’s strong suit, so let’s move on to the actual music. I can definitely appreciate the uptick in energy; this thing is one of their heaviest songs in years and at times almost borders on metallic. The bleakness of the riffs and the manic energy on drums help to sell the dystopian vibe that all of Planet Zero (the album, due April 22) allegedly adopts, and there’s a pretty heavy rock breakdown two-thirds of the way through the song (although I could have done without the countdown from 10…what is this, ‘Space Oddity’?). In terms of the song’s prevailing chorus/melody, it’s…okay, I guess…but nowhere near the massive hooks that Smith and co. penned back in their heyday, or even more recently.
All in all, we’re left with a politically motivated track that is quite heavy, but not all that memorable. The potential for Planet Zero to emerge as a worthwhile observation of our modern societal issues still technically exists, but based upon this lead single, the odds are stacked against it. Here’s to hoping that Shinedown’s most ambitious effort doesn’t end up collapsing under its own weight.
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