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‘The Sound Of Madness’: How Shinedown’s Third Album Saved Their Career
In Depth

‘The Sound Of Madness’: How Shinedown’s Third Album Saved Their Career

With their third album, ‘The Sound Of Madness’, Shinedown came back bigger and stronger than ever, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

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In an interview with Billboard, conducted while Shinedown were working on their third album, The Sound Of Madness, frontman Brent Smith said he wanted the group to create “a huge hard rock record that has a lot of crossover potential”. And so it came to pass. Released in the summer of 2008, the album cracked the US Top 10, went double platinum and introduced Shinedown to rock’s big league for the first time.

At the time of the Billboard interview, however, the idea that Shinedown could fulfil Smith’s dream was by no means a given. Having formed during the early 2000s, the Florida alt-rockers gave a good account of themselves on their initial, Atlantic Records outings, 2003’s Leave A Whisper and 2005’s Us And Them (which peaked at No.23 in the US), which established the group as contenders. However, as they began thinking about their much-anticipated third album, everything went south in spectacular fashion.

Listen to ‘The Sound Of Madness’ here.

The backstory: “We knew we were sitting on something very special”

Most of the problems were internal and – in typical fashion – they stemmed from the amount of time Shinedown were spending on the road. Due to ongoing disillusionment with the whole process, the first band member to depart was bassist Brad Stewart, while Smith and original guitarist Jasin Todd were grappling with more familiar drink- and drugs-related issues. Smith – who was also about to become a father – managed to address his problems, but Todd’s difficulties remained. He eventually left the band in April 2008, after being arrested on charges of disorderly intoxication in Jacksonville.

“To be honest, I was holding on for dear life. I think we all were,” drummer Barry Kerch confessed in a 2018 Loudwire interview. “At the time, we were honestly falling apart. Brad had been let go. Jasin actually came to the studio to record The Sound Of Madness with us, but then his problems overtook his ability to do the record as well, so it was Brent and I looking at each other, like, OK, we have a singer and a drummer, how are we going to do this?… I think what was holding us together is that we knew we were sitting on something very special.”

Kerch had reason to retain his optimism, for while Shinedown were in disarray, they had still managed to stockpile demos of some of the best songs they’d ever written. Brent Smith revealed more about this when he spoke to Billboard in 2007. After relaying his crossover ambitions, he told the magazine that The Sound Of Madness was shaping up to feature “some of the most insanely intense and heavy material that this band has ever tried”.

The recording: “We needed someone to take us to the next level”

To get themselves back on track and make the album they knew they were capable of, Smith and Kerch enlisted studio help from James Addiction bassist Chris Chaney, plus an array of guitarists, including Tim Pierce and David Bassett, along with string arranger David Campbell, father of Beck. They also chose wisely when it came to finding a producer.

“Rob Cavallo [Green Day, Goo Goo Dolls] has a sound… and it’s exactly what we needed,” Barry Kerch told Loudwire. “We needed someone who could take the Shinedown of Leave A Whisper and Us And Them, which were kind of disjointed or just young, and he was able to take us to the next level.” Praising Cavallo’s abilities behind the console, the drummer added, “He’s able to get on record the emotion of a voice and great guitars. That doesn’t make drums and bass secondary by any means, but that’s what sticks out.”

Brent Smith’s life experiences – and his courage to write directly about what he felt and saw around him – also affected his band’s new material in a positive way. Some of his observations were external – as on the album’s coruscating lead single, Devour, which related to Smith’s travels in the Middle East and his thoughts on the US military stationed there – while other songs, among them If You Only Knew and the soul-baring Second Chance, were wholly personal.

Calling Second Chance “by far the hardest song I had to write on the record”, Smith told Always Acoustic, “It was about… what I had to do in order to break down the walls around me to discuss what my childhood was like and my upbringing… To have it finally, you know, be heard by the people was a big deal to me.”

The release: “That record changed our lives”

In many ways, the heartfelt Second Chance ignited The Sound Of Madness, shooting to No.7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and setting up its parent album’s subsequent success. With hindsight, Barry Kerch wasn’t surprised that this particular song rewarded Shinedown with a wider audience.

“I think because that song touched on an emotion that everyone somewhere feels, it’s really what created such a special moment with any and all of the fans of Shinedown,” he told Loudwire. “It’s a song where Brent lyrically just captured lightning in a bottle. Those are real lyrics and when you’re able to emote to that level the way that he can, anyone can relate to that.”

Overall, The Sound Of Madness was full of relatable moments: the rampant title track, the anthemic If You Only Knew and the epic, Smashing Pumpkins-esque The Crow & The Butterfly were also chosen as singles, but such was the confident melodic sweep of the record that even its more abrasive rockers, such as Cry For Help or Sin With A Grin, could easily have been given a standalone release. Indeed, this broad appeal accounted for why The Sound Of Madness eventually peaked at No.8 on the Billboard 200, following its release on 24 June 2008, going double platinum as it spent 120 consecutive weeks on the chart.

The album’s success also offered Shinedown the chance to start afresh with a new full-time line-up featuring Smith and Kerch, plus Zach Myers on guitar and the fittingly named Eric Bass on bass, and this new iteration soon capitalised on their breakthrough. Touring The Sound Of Madness hard with the likes of Disturbed and Halestorm (and playing the UK’s prestigious Download Festival in 2009), Shinedown moved up to bigger stages, graduating to the arena circuit by the time they headlined the Carnival Of Madness Tour in 2010. By then, their name really was in lights.

“We were used to slaving it out in clubs and it started to change,” Barry Kerch later noted. “It wasn’t clubs anymore, it was arenas. It such a gradual change that it takes looking back now to see how it all turned. I can say that the whole record changed our lives.”

Looking for more? Check out the best 2000s albums.

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