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Chimaira's sound gets an overhaul for the band's second go-round with Roadrunner.

Opeth, with Paradise Lost and Tapping the Vein Agora Theatre, 5000 Euclid Avenue 8 p.m. Saturday, January 25, $14 advance, $16 day of show, 216-241-5555.
Chimaira's making music to drink beer to. - Kristin  Godard
Kristin Godard
Chimaira's making music to drink beer to.
Sipping a beer in Strongsville's Spider Studios on a wintry Friday afternoon, Chimaira frontman Mark Hunter looks as different as he sounds these days. As his band's new music tears through the speakers like Phil Anselmo through a six-pack, Hunter rubs sleep from his eyes (he was here until 5 a.m. before returning home for a few hours of rest) and prepares to begin laying down the few remaining vocal tracks for Chimaira's follow-up to its Roadrunner debut, 2001's Pass Out of Existence.

Producer Ben Schigel cues up a cut called "Overlooked," and the rush of amped, old-school metal that floods the room makes it clear that Chimaira is out to ensure that this song's title no longer applies to the band. Sure, the jackhammer double-bass-drum action and Lou Ferrigno riffs that fans have come to expect are still here, but there are notable changes. Hunter's range has doubled, his bandmates no longer tune down, there's a bevy of rubber-laying solos, and the whole thing throbs with a girth and groove previously unknown to this band.

"It's like a Pantera record, man," Hunter enthuses. "You put it in, and you're like 'I can drink beer to that music.'"

Hunter looks every bit as gruff as his band sounds. Gone is the close-cropped 'do he sported when Chimaira began making the rounds for Existence; in its place is a knot of tangled dreads and gnarly facial hair that make him look like a metal Moses.

"We've changed so much," he says. "We've tuned up, there's a lot more dynamics, a lot more old-school riffs. We just wanted to make our music jam, not be so tight and staccato. We wanted it to be smooth and give you that feeling like when you threw in Vulgar Display of Power. Basically, we just tried to make good songs this time around."

That wasn't always easy. After demoing a handful of cuts last summer, the band was stunned when Roadrunner rejected nearly all of them.

"They actually told us flat out, 'You guys need to write way better songs than this.' As a band, we were crushed," Hunter says. "Out of the nine songs we sent them, they liked two. Basically, we just had to put our egos aside and really listen to what they meant by that. It wasn't because the songs weren't commercial. It wasn't for this or that reason. They just said, 'These songs are not good.'"

"I think they were taken aback when we said, 'Hey, go back and work some more, you have to work harder,'" says Kevin Estrada, the A&R rep who signed Chimaira. "I think it humbled them musically a little bit and made them say, 'Wow, we really need to take a look at ourselves and find out what we can do better.' The record's a lot more complete now."

Estrada's right: Chimaira's latest, due out in April and tentatively titled The Impossibility of Reason, is impressively well-rounded. Though most of the record feels as though it were cut from granite, there's an underlying melodic edge and an immediacy that Chimaira has never exhibited before. The band comes across as much less studied and claustrophobic than in the past. This, no doubt, is largely attributable to recording the album in their hometown, with childhood friend Schigel, whom the band credits for helping hone its improved sound.

"Their last record was good, but one of the things I didn't like about it was, instead of maybe trying to make the songs better, they were more about trying to add noises and stuff to cover things up," Schigel says. "I'd rather start fresh, pop parts out, make it flow more, make the hooks bigger. It's more raw, not as technical. You can remember the songs after the first time you hear them."

It's hard to judge from only a few rough mixes, but it's safe to say that this album is shaping up to be one of the finest of its kind ever to come from these parts. Its mix of classic metal stylings with bruising progressive undercurrents could post Chimaira at the forefront of the American underground metal scene.

"All we care about is getting to the next level, so we can keep going, keep fighting -- we just want to keep playing," Hunter says before revealing a grin. "I've been broke for five years, I can be broke for another five. We don't want to overhype ourselves."

After all, that's our job.

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