It's a story of survival and vindication that would make a great Cameron Crowe movie: More than two and a half years after Drowning Pool were derailed by the death of frontman Dave Williams, the band has regrouped with a new singer and created Desensitized, a rib-rattling ode to pain and perseverance that debuts at #17 on the Billboard albums chart next week.
The disc is dedicated to Williams, who was 30 when he died of a heart attack (see "Drowning Pool Singer Found Dead"). The inside artwork features a quote from the late singer and a tribute statement from the band, and songs like "This Life" and "Killin' Me" are clearly about feeling alone and empty. However, Desensitized — so named because it's the way the band felt in the wake of its singer's death — isn't a concept album, and the band's new singer Jason "Gong" Jones isn't living in Williams' shadow.
"Filling his shoes ain't gonna happen, so I just try to be myself," Jones said. "Basically, the whole album is an acknowledgement that life is hard and unpredictable and you should have a good time, but don't f--- it up."
The singer, who has struggled with substance abuse and homelessness, had plenty of personal experiences from which to draw. And though his words are personal, the way they're expressed is universal. "There's a lot of stuff about loss on the record because everyone has dealt with that," Jones said. "I watched my dad die when I was 10 years old. He was 40, and it was a real learning experience. It taught me that life is short, so you shouldn't piss it away" (see "New Drowning Pool Singer Says He Had A Vision Before Tryout").
Jones wrote all the lyrics on the album, which is a developmental step from Drowning Pool's bruising 2001 debut, Sinner. It's comparable to the growth onetime touring partners Sevendust displayed after their bludgeoning self-titled first album. Some of the new songs, like "Step Up" and "Hate," are similar to the propulsive nü-metal of Sinner. But there are also tracks such as "Nothingness" and "Bringing Me Down" that are more melodic and rock-rooted. There's even a wrenching near ballad, "This Life," and a number of cuts, such as "Think" and "Forget," that feature darkened harmonies similar to Alice in Chains.
"It's a lot more diverse than the last record," Jones said. "We set out intentionally to make it that way. We wanted to take the listener on a ride. We didn't want to do a record that just beat the hell out of you for 40 minutes."
The band will be playing on the MTV2 Headbangers Ball tour through May 7 with Hatebreed, Unearth and headliners Damageplan, whose founders, guitarist Dimebag Darrell and drummer Vinnie Paul (both ex-Pantera), used to party with Williams.
"Those guys have been great to me," Jones said. "At first I was a little unsure if I really fit in, but then Dime and Vinnie, who were Dave's tight friends, gave me the thumbs up. I pretty much didn't have to worry about anything after that. If those dudes are cool with me, I figure that everybody eventually will be."