Nearly five months after its release, the sonic punch of Godsmack's third album to debut at #1, The Oracle, is still leaving bruises (the latest single "Love-Hate-Sex-Pain" is perched at #15 on the Billboard Rock Songs chart) and the band is currently supporting the record on a major tour with Five Finger Death Punch and Drowning Pool. But for the moment at least, frontman Sully Erna is more excited about his recently released world-music-inflected solo album, Avalon, which debuted at #24 on this week's Billboard 200.
"Godsmack will always be my main priority. I know that, but right now, Avalon is my baby," Erna said on a break between tour dates. "It's a complete departure from Godsmack, and that's why I love it so much. As a musician, I like to express different sides of myself, and this is way more intellectual and eclectic and primal than what I usually do. It's the kind of thing you'll really want to stop what you're doing when you put it on to listen to."
The lead vocals on Oracle are instantly recognizable as Erna. The rest of the album is more otherworldly, flush with tribal drumming, plaintive acoustic guitar strums, layered vocal harmonies and gliding cello. Many of the songs ache with vulnerability, others shimmer with a near-goth mysticism. In loose terms, the album sounds like acoustic Alice in Chains and Led Zeppelin (Erna's two favorite bands), combined with elements of Jethro Tull, Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd and Dead Can Dance.
The approach isn't entirely unprecedented for Erna. Over the years, Godsmack have released tribal and acoustic songs such as "Voodoo" and "Serenity," and in 2004 the band released the unplugged album The Other Side. With Avalon, however, Erna takes his fascination with Native American, African and Brazilian percussion, ethereal keyboards and monochromatic jams to new heights.
"The hardest thing about doing this record was finding a common pulse, because all the songs were written over a number of years and they're all different," Erna says. "I really wanted this to be something that flows together as a single body of work, not just a bunch of singles, so it was kind of a challenge to make everything connect. If I owned a record store and I got this album, I wouldn't know where to put it because it's not like anything else that's out there."
Avalon features a multitude of guest musicians, including Dead Can Dance percussionist Niall Gregory, multi-octave vocalist Lisa Guyer and Bulgarian cellist Irina Chirkova, who provide extra flair and dynamics.
"I met Niall at a Dead Can Dance show, and we kept in touch," Erna said. "I was reluctant to approach him at first, because I didn't know if this was something he'd be interested in, but he was totally into it, and that gave me a lot of confidence. Lisa is a friend who I met years ago who has an amazing voice, and she lent so much to the album."
As cohesively as the majestic song "Sinner's Prayer" flows together with the haunting "The Departed" or the melancholy guitar ballad "My Light," Oracle was neither smooth nor easy to create. Erna started arranging songs in late 2007 and spent over a year recording the album at Sanctum Sound studio in Boston and mixing at Serenity West studio in Hollywood.
"It was definitely a process, and it was sometimes a pain in the neck," Erna said. "Scheduling everything was really tough. I'd be arranging and composing something, and I'd realize you need a cello player for a certain part, so it's a matter of calling the right person in to do their parts and making sure they're available. That happened over and over. But everyone on there is a top-notch player and together we recorded a beautiful album."
What do you think about Sully's new sound on Avalon? Let us know in the comments!