LOS ANGELES It's no secret Coal Chamber have been on the verge of breaking up in recent years.
Last month it almost happened onstage when singer Dez Fafara and guitarist Meegs Rascon got into a squabble (see "Coal Chamber Come To Blows, Threaten Break-Up At Texas Show").
It's also pretty obvious that although the Los Angeles foursome emerged on the scene just before the rise of nü-metal, Coal Chamber have never been able to reach as many listeners as bands like Korn and Deftones.
So when it came time to record their third album there was nothing to lose.
"We wanted to take a chance," Fafara said, sipping on a beer in his tour bus at a recent gig. "Rock and roll is a little bit watered down right now. We wanted to take a chance and do something really raw, even with the artwork and everything. We were going to do no liner notes, black cover, black everything."
In the end, Coal Chamber elected to use some cryptic white imagery on Dark Days, due Tuesday, but overall the album is one of the most raw metal albums to be released in years.
"I don't think we went back; we went forward," Fafara explained. "We thought, 'If this is going on now, what's going on next?' We wanted to make an album that we can play live. And we can do this whole record live."
The band also took risks whenever possible, starting with the selection of producer Ross Hogarth, whose résumé includes engineering albums for Jewel and John Mellencamp.
Coal Chamber wrote Dark Days rather unconventionally, as well. Rascon and drummer Mike Cox recorded ideas in their home studios and sent Fafara copies so he could write lyrics for them. The first time the band which also includes bassist Nadja Puelen actually played them together was in the studio with Hogarth.
The recording sessions were particularly intense, even for a metal band, since many of the tracks are about issues the band has suffered through, including changes with their record label, management (see "Coal Chamber, Osbourne Management Part Ways") and lineup (see "Coal Chamber Bassist Quits Band To Fuel Family"). Hence the title Dark Days. "A lot of the songs I don't like to talk about," Fafara said.
One song he would explain is "Empty Jar": "We came home, brotha, and our finances had not been taken care of by anyone," Fafara said. "When you're hungry and you're missing a million dollars, you have to write about it. Mine is the empty jar. What you see isn't always what you believe. People see me pull up in a Towncar because the record label just drove me to an interview, and they don't understand the struggle musicians usually have. Somewhere down the line, we weren't thinking about the business. We are now."
"Fiend," the album's first single is about the band's experiences being on tour, with lyrics like "Taking everything in sight/ All through the night/ Leaving scars/ And crashing cars" over a classic rock riff. "That is the most rock and roll I've every played," Rascon said. "Like Led Zeppelin. It's still the same [Coal Chamber sound], but more rockin'."
For the "Fiend" video, the band took another risk, recruiting first-time director Paul Brown, a popular metal photographer.
"We filmed it at the Munsters' house," Fafara said. "The idea is the band rehearses every day in a garage and all these kids come in to see us. We don't see them, but they see us. It's very artistically done, real grainy, artistic, yet simple. Paul was the perfect person to go with. It was that or pay $5 million for the same treatment and get half the effort. He captured everyone in their own element."
Coal Chamber will celebrate the release of Dark Days with a free show Tuesday at the Key Club in Los Angeles; a free New York show will likely follow later in the month. Coal Chamber will perform "Fiend" May 15 on "Last Call With Carson Daly."