Shinedown have built their name on rock songs both brutal in power and epic in scope. Now, with their latest album, Shinedown (Brent Smith, Barry Kerch, Eric Bass, and Zach Myers) veer away from that densely layered sonic palette and take a more direct approach. Featuring lead single “Cut the Cord” — a blistering track that shot to #1 on Active Rock radio — Threat to Survival finds the multi-platinum-selling band achieving their most powerful sound ever and offering up their most important album to date.
As Smith explains, Shinedown’s approach on Threat to Survival had much to do with the emotionally raw material at the heart of the album. “When we started the writing process we realized the changes that had taken place over the past 2 years, our experiences, the relationships that had come and gone, the album really took on a life of its own,” says Smith. “It’s like the songs were saying to us, ‘The songs were so honest, it felt necessary to present them in the most straightforward way possible.”
In forming the emotional core of the album, Shinedown delved into many of the most thorny issues facing the band members in recent years, such as Smith’s navigating his role as a father. “There’s not any song that’s directly about my son, but as we were writing I was asking myself a lot of questions about what it means to be a good father,” he says. “It forced me to look at who I am as a person and what’s really important to me at this point in my life.” In both the writing process and in the final product, that unflinching self-examination proved sometimes devastating but ultimately life-affirming. “I always say that I write songs because it’s therapy, and that very much held true on the writing of this album,” Smith notes.
Throughout Threat to Survival, Shinedown explore matters of life and death and beauty and pain with a fierce energy and indomitable spirit. On “Cut the Cord” — a song that continues a record-setting streak in which each of the 19 singles released over Shinedown’s career has climbed to the upper regions of the radio charts — the band looks at the insidious nature of self-destruction and puts out a call for self-empowerment. “Some people might listen to ‘Cut the Cord’ and think it’s about drug addiction,” says Smith, pointing to one of the song’s most piercing lyrics (“’Cause agony breeds no reward for one more hit and one last score”). “But really it’s about anything that might wrap itself around you and keep you from becoming the person you truly want to be.” Produced by Shinedown’s own Eric Bass, “Cut the Cord” fuses Smith’s growling vocal work with thunderous drumming and lead-heavy guitar riffs, weaving in spooky, choirlike background vocals to thrilling effect.
Elsewhere on Threat to Survival, Shinedown instill their self-reflection with a brighter mood that’s often exhilarating in its intensity. On the piano-laced “How Did You Love,” for instance, Smith’s soaring vocals demand an exacting reassessment of how to go about building a more meaningful life. (“It’s not what you believe/Those prayers will make you bleed/But while you’re on your knees/How did you love?”). “That song’s about asking yourself about how you’ve dealt with difficult situations in your life, and whether you tried to give some love to the world or just allowed hate and negativity to consume you,” says Smith. “So the lyric is ‘How did you love?’, but really the question is ‘How did you live?’”
A bold statement of determination against all odds, “State of My Head” opens with an ethereal, dreamlike intro before powering forward as a groove-driven anthem (“The only way I’m leaving is dead/That’s the state of my head”). With its stomping rhythm and surging guitar work, “Outcast” is as a full-throttle celebration of unbridled confidence and daring manifesto of Shinedown’s dedication to constantly outdoing themselves as artists. And on “Black Cadillac,” Smith delivers a darkly charged but soulful epic that twists its funereal metaphor into a strikingly hopeful message. “For me ‘Black Cadillac’ is a warning to take inventory of who you are and realize that nobody owes you anything in this world,” says Smith. “It’s about looking around and noticing the things you’ve maybe taken for granted, and deciding to become something better than that before your time’s up.”
“If you’re going to make something that’s going to exist forever, sometimes you have to fight yourself to get out what you need to express,” says Smith. “You need to break down all the walls and get rid of whatever distractions that might be holding you back.”
Shinedown continually bring both staggering musicality and a powerful emotional complexity to their music. “There’s always been a certain level of positivity with Shinedown — that’s even where our name came from,” says Smith. “There’s a sense that everything that’s bad has a little bit of good to it, just like everything that’s good has a little bit of bad. The songs on this album address the reality that we’re all going to die at some point and that sometimes the willingness to survive is all you have. It’s about holding onto that sheer will to live, and getting through whatever might come your way because the legacy that you leave behind is what will carry you on to your next journey.”