Those of us who are no longer still too young to remember will recall that when Nirvana released Nevermind back in 1991, the majority of the few fans they had were a little shocked at how melodic they’d become. In retrospect, the switch shouldn’t have sent anyone into a spin because Kurt Cobain had given us a clue a year earlier with Sliver – a single that formed a perfect bridge between the garage-scuzz of Bleach and the pop-punk constructions of Nevermind.
In P.O.D.‘s case the Hansel And Gretel breadcrumb is Sleeping Awake, the lead single from the The Matrix Reloaded soundtrack that is included as a bonus track on this, their fifth studio album. Whereas previous album, the squillion-selling Satellite, was a heady mélange of rap, dub, reggae, hardcore punk and anthemic heavy metal, said song was a sleek, heavyweight rock song that consigned all signs of rap to the dustbin.
Payable On Death continues the theme. The hip hop has skipped and jumped away, there is more uniformity in the songs and, on the whole, they are less heavy than those of yore. However, in addition to the ever-present dub and reggae elements, one thing about Payable On Death is consistent with P.O.D.’s other albums: it’s a masterpiece.
Wildfire is an absolutely stunning opener – a blazing trail of stop-start Biohazard-ous guitar riffs and ragga-inflected vocals that moves into a chorus bigger than Fred Durst’s head. Will You and Change The World are more conventional but still powerful four-minute blasts of anthemic modern metal that see meaty guitar hooks sitting easily alongside more expertly thought-out, radio-savvy choruses.
The album reaches its creative zenith in the triumvirate of Execute The Sounds, Find My Way and Revolution. Execute The Sounds flits between toasting reggae and arena-sized hard rock in a manner that is seamless enough to make P.O.D.’s heroes, Bad Brains proud. Find My Way has possibly the most memorable tune on the album (and that’s saying something), while Revolution is an urgent piece of rhythmic metal with some sledgehammer riffs and a wonderful, Latino-flavoured chorus.
These three tracks are enough to show that no-one sounds like P.O.D. and that even when they’ve pared down the number of musical styles on offer, they’ve still got more musical tricks up their sleeve than most bands get through in whole careers. As if to underline these facts, they then thrown in a poppy, dub-heavy number, The Reasons, that sees Jason Truby giving it some understated funk on the guitar while the groove machine that is Wuv and Traa goes into overdrive.
Freedom Fighters and Waiting On Today pass by impressively before the ante is upped again with the rolling, smoking, seriously heavy, I And Identify; the aptly claustrophobic, atmospheric metal of Asthma that recalls Lie Down from 1999’s The Fundamental Elements Of… album; and the warm, gorgeous instrumental, Eternal, that sees Truby jamming with the former Glass Harp six-string legend, Phil Keaggy.
Of course, it’s not just the music that makes Payable On Death the puppy’s privates. The lyrics are as intelligent and yes, spiritual, as ever (“This is what love is / Gentle, purified / Stay true, protection / Always trusting, continue hoping / Conqueror, never fails”), Daniel Martin Diaz’s artwork is arresting to say the least, and there’s video footage, a bonus DVD and even a computer game for those of such a persuasion.
In other words, Payable On Death has every box ticked on the audit form for a great album. If it were listed on the stock market it would be what brokers call “a screaming buy”. You know what to do.