Static-X have based a career around routine. They have habitually released a new studio album every two years, each album has a song with the word "otsego" in its title, and, in between new C.D.'s, one band member drops from the lineup. Also, anyone who has listened to all of their albums knows that Static-X have made each album sound different than the last.
1999's "Wisconsin Death Trip" was a very good industrial metal album and a great debut, but 2001's "Machine" was (considered by most to be) a sophomore slump. "Machine" was just a full on metal assault, but 2003's "Shadow Zone," which recaptured the industrial-metal edges, was maybe Static's best work to date.
Static-X have one last tradition: being underrated. "Wisconsin Death Trip" went platinum, but that was mostly thanks to the hit single "Push It." Albums number two and three have been vastly overlooked. Part of their problem is that Static-X formed around the same time as most nu-metal bands, and, even though their music is like Pantera meets Ministry, it usually ends up sounding along the lines of White Zombie (another "nu-metal" band). Thus, they are lumped in with a lot of radio-friendly and unoriginal "metal" groups. But Static-X ain't Crazy Town. Their past three releases were all solid industrial metal albums which were heavy, consistent, and quite innovative.
Now we have "Start a War," a release that I had high expectations for. This was supposed to be an album that gets back to the roots of their debut, and former guitarist Koichi Fukuda (who worked with the band on "WDT") rejoined Static for this album, so it wouldn't be a complete shock to me if Static-X sounded like they did back in 1999. But, even still, I was excited to hear "Start a War," and expected it to carry on the "new sound" tradition. Did it?
"Enemy" has a fast skipping intro with trippy, bobbing guitars and drums. Some keyboards are included, giving this song a spacey vibe (which is creepy at times), and Wayne goes from whispering to laying down a couple of "Machine"-esque yells, to staccato vocals.
"Start a War" has beeping synthesizers in the verses. The guitars and vocals explode in the choruses, though.
"Pieces" has stop-start, staccato riffing and vocals, plus a mini guitar solo.
"Dirthouse" begins and ends with a almost a machine gun snare drum attack. The middle has soft, chugging guitar riffs with some synths.
"Skinnyman" has a lurching groove with chugging, industrial-tinged guitars.
"Just in Case" sort of echoes "So" from the last Static-X album. It begins with a booming, pounding rhythm, but then it turns to non-dominating guitars, synths, and vocals which switch from whispering to fairly clean and proper crooning.
"Brainfog" is maybe the weirdest song ever written by this band. The first two and a half minutes is sheer techno, followed by five minutes of silence. This is then followed by a capella vocals, which echo track 11 "Otsego Amigo." The vocals begin with a loud demonic voice, then Wayne rages out of control, then there is a bit of whispering, and finally, a man who speaks in Spanish.
But, even with the above heavy moments, "Start a War" probably has the most electronica out of all five of Static-X's releases. Plus, Wayne croons and whispers about as much as he yells. As aforementioned, Static-X has always been a solid industrial metal band, but here they are a bit more melodic; like industrial-techno-metal.
Now, I hope I haven't given you the wrong impression; Static-X didn't substitute any riffs in favor of synths. "Start A War" is still plenty heavy and VERY catchy (maybe the catchiest album of the year). It has more riffs than most industrial bands would ever dream of, and the first four tracks have a break neck speed, but the C.D.'s pace slows down as it progresses. (In addition to the aforementioned songs, "I Want to F-ing Break It" and "I'm the One" are two of the most exciting songs on here. "I Want to F-ing Break It" has a surging guitar attack and raging vocals, and "I'm the One" is probably the catchiest and most addictive track of the bunch.)
So, to answer my own question: yes, this album does have a new sound. Wayne and Company made this new sound by combining the metallic moments from their previous albums and adding more electronics. This C.D. does not go back to Static-X's roots and it does not sound very much like "Wisconsin Death Trip" (which is what was intended). Instead, "Start a War" is like "Shadow Zone" meets Nine Inch Nails. It's not watered down sound, it's more like Static-X with a new wave vibe.
"Start a War" probably won't change the minds of non-fans, but it's still a good album. You might be like me, kind of lukewarm on it at first, but this disc does grow on you. Plus, there should be some songs (i.e. the first four tracks) that you will like from the very beginning.
Even though I don't consider Static-X a nu-metal band, their C.D.'s are essential for nu-metal fanatics (as well as fans of industrial metal). Also, if you're a fan of Static-X's last three albums and are hungry for more, this album will satisfy your cravings. Finally, if you're new to this band, I'm not sure whether you should start here or not. I still think "Shadow Zone" is Static-X's finest hour, but "Start a War" IS a good representation of them. So, I do, generally, recommend this C.D. to all fans.
In conclusion, whether you like this album's new wave sound or not, please realize that every band needs to evolve, and the best bands never make the same album twice. Constantly changing your sound is not an easy task, so you've at least got to give these guys props for that.