The mid 90s was a time when rap-metal reigned. No matter how genre-crossing acts sprang up (usually from the US), the alternative record buying public clamoured for more. For the huge amount of (sometimes deserved) column inches afforded to Rage Against The Machine or Limp Bizkit, so many other bands worked just as hard on the fringes – Snot would have been bigger than everyone if not victims of tragic circumstance, while bands like Shuvel and Reveille now seem all but forgotten, but were as good as any.
Somewhere in amongst the scene’s cult heroes were Californians HED(p.e.) [aka HED Planet Earth], a band who gained positive reviews for their debut full length in 1997 and via their second release (2000’s ‘Broken’) became regulars at OzzFest. The OzzFest stints ensured the band had continued success in the US, releasing a string of albums and playing regular live shows along the way. While so many of HED(p.e.)’s peers broke up, moved on, or became forgotten as relics of a scene that disappeared under the weight of the emerging metalcore, frontman Jahred ploughed on tenaciously against changing tides. Four years in the making, almost unbelievably, ‘Evolution’ is their tenth release.
While long-term fans of HED(p.e.) and those who like a bit of rap-metal for the sake of it are likely to enjoy ‘Evolution’, it has to be wondered whether the title comes with more than a hint of irony. While the band has seen a revolving cast of musicians (that at one time included Snot guitarist Sonny Mayo), most of their music hasn’t really evolved, per se since huge chunks of this twelve track recording are stuck in a nu-metal/rap-metal timewarp. Most of the band’s less subtle schtick makes up the bulk of the first couple of tracks. ‘No Turning Back’ drives itself via a huge chugging riff but doesn’t have much to offer beyond that – all lyrics (delivered in a hoarse quasi-rap shout) are indecipherable, while a ragga-metal bent creeping in for a chorus sounds neither natural or effective. The only decipherable message here is “no-one can judge me now…no-one can silence my voice”. Sure, the toughness and arrogance is admirable, but the sentiment far, far from original. A guitar solo, meanwhile, is buried so deep within the mix, Jaxon may as well not bothered playing at all. ‘Lost In Babylon’ brings a similar toughness and lack of subtlety while pushing a funkier edge to the fore – that funk element alone makes this track far superior, but to be honest, this is still bog standard rap-metal fare that sounds like it was conceived in the late 90s. Sure, it’s still better than most material from their 2006 travesty ‘Back 2 Base X’, but it’s so, so tired.
The heavy ‘Jump The Fence’ and ‘One More Body’ show no signs of improvement – all lead boots and shouting – and while on the former HED(p.e.) seem more than convinced of their own talents (“we got that fire, we got that fire”), more discerning listeners will certainly disagree. To make matters worse, a sentiment that may have filled two and half minutes is stretched over five, ensuring boredom sets in long before they’ve finished. ‘Let It Rain’ follows suit with a similar sense of grittiness (and another downtuned groove) but, again, quickly outstays its welcome. Aside from anything else, a one line chorus repeating the title ad nauseam just doesn’t cut it – not even with the addition of a choir of backing vocals. By the time it reaches its end with Jahred spouting the clichéd “let your love rain down on me”, it just feels like this band have no original thoughts or talents to call their own.
There are only a couple of instances where this album hints at something (slightly) more interesting. A stronger sense of melody cuts through ‘2Many Games, largely thanks to a riff that sounds like it has been lifted from an old Zeppelin number. Any flirting with melody is quickly flattened by a truly horrible vocal – as with 90% of HED(p.e.) material, Jahred comes acoss as a charmless empty vessel, almost incapable of delivering anything with range or substance. Once he decides that singing “woman, woman” in a Robert Plant style is appropriate, this track becomes an embarrassment to say the least. Although not up against very much competition, ‘Evolution’s best track, ‘No Tomorrow’, eschews most of the rap elements, preferring instead to deliver its message with a growling voice that almost carries a Southern drawl. This deep voiced approach combined with a corker of a riff, one blending downtuned metal with an extra smidgeon of groove, places HED(p.e.) in line with metal band SOiL; while – again – this is fairly derivative, it’s head and shoulders above their usual musical preferences.
At the tail end of the album the mood is very different, as the band cast aside all heaviness in favour of reggae. ‘Nowhere2Go’ is an echo-driven piece that benefits from a great bassline and a couple of very Jamaican melodies, but never seems to use them to their greatest potential. All vocals, meanwhile, sound disjointed or slightly hoarse in their attempts to convey a relaxed attitude. It lollops along for almost six minutes never really going anywhere – in terms of reggae metal crossovers, they should have taken a close look at Skinded, a band whose brand of crossover appears far more natural…and they literally wipe the floor with any competition. In a vain effort to keep the mood going, ‘Let It Burn’ follows with more reggae; although bouncier, lighter and more pleasurable for the most part, it closes with a heavy-handed foray into ragga territory. At this point, you’ll find yourselves wondering why on earth you’re wasting time listening to this when Skindred are just the push of a button away. Lastly, ‘Hold On’ takes a simple reggae base and places vibrato guitar parts over the top. This is quite enjoyable to start with, but by the time it hits its stride and Jahred starts ranting about corporations in a cod-reggae voice, it just becomes hard work. As with most of their output, HED(p.e.) try hard, but remain totally unconvincing.
That’s the problem with HED(p.e.) on the whole…and has has always been. As hard as they try, most of their material sounds forced – there’s no natural flow to any of it. Most of the heavier rap-metal on this album sounds lumpen and partially out of date at the time of release and the reggae tunes are just uninspiring. For listeners looking for crossover thrills, sure, you’ll find some half-decent heavy riffs (but you’ll find similar in so many other places. Just don’t bother with this – there are many other bands more deserving of your valuable listening time.