In the beginning--well, in the early '90s, anyway--there was grunge. The sound from Northwest bands like Mudhoney and Nirvana sliced razor-sharp punk into thick slabs of Black Sabbath-influenced metal to forever fray the mainstream public's image of straight-ahead rock & roll. As the '90s creeped on, rockers like Stone Temple Pilots and Bush were taking the fringes of the Seattle sound and smoothing them into modern radio rock. In 1994, the Texas band the Toadies stepped up to the post-grunge plate with the major-label release of Rubberneck
. The album went platinum and the single "Possum Kingdom" hit the alternative and hard-rock radio circuit pretty hard. The critics scratched their heads, though, claiming the band was just a bland reworking of the classic Nirvana sound.
Seven years later, the band released their Rubberneck follow-up, Hell Below/Stars Above, and critics are still scratching their heads. The album offers highly charged, raw-throated vocals and a wall of aggressive rock built on solid bricks of distortion ("Sweetness," "Plane Crash," "Push the Hand," "Heel"), but it still lacks the intricacy and hooks of, say, a Foo Fighters album. Sure, there are some slower songs ("Pressed Against the Sky") that give front man Todd Lewis a break from the testosterone rants, but overall Hell Below feels like one long song of Warped Tour-era rock that too easily blends into itself. --Jennifer Maerz