It was September 4 of 2009 when Chiodos made the shocking statement on their MySpace that Craig Owens had been let go. In the 17 months since then, the band hired new vocalist Brandom Bolmer and released 2010’s Illuminaudio, a record well-received by long-time fans and new ones alike. Craig’s release of the D.R.U.G.S. album this week would appear to officially place any memories of the Craig/Chiodos days in the past.
Still though, there is a one minute blip that both Chiodos and Craig would rather you forget. On June 9, 2010 (9 months after Owens’ departure and 3 months before Illuminaudio‘s release), an old Chiodos demo entitled “Thermacare” leaked online that featured the original line-up. Recorded with producer John Feldmann during Warped Tour that summer, the demo was originally planned to be part of the next Chiodos record before Craig’s departure was announced. After the break-up, Chiodos and Craig agreed to split the song evenly down the middle. Owens would retain the rights to the lyrics and melody to be used on his next album, while Chiodos would keep the music they wrote.
All those negotiations happened behind the scenes, away from the public eye. Then, the leak happened. After being accused of leaking it, Owens spoke with AltPress, giving all the details. Since then, both Chiodos and Craig have released their own incarnations of the song, respectively titled “Stratovolcano Mouth” and “The Only Thing You Talk About.” With three distinct versions available, let’s analyze the bunch.
Chiodos’ “Thermacare” (Demo) – As the first of the trio released, “Thermacare” becomes the control point for the other two songs. Each member of the old Chiodos line-up are at their best here; guitarist Jason Hale riffs away in killer fashion, taking the forefront musically until Bradley Bell’s synth expertly dominates the chorus. Owens’ vocals are easily the deepest and strongest here than they were in virtually all of Chiodos’ back catalog, never once going to his thin falsetto. His upbeat melody over-top the heavy backing musical contrasts fantastically. Though never officially released, “Thermacare” set the bar quite high for its future evolutions.
Chiodos’ “Stratovolcano Mouth” (from 2010’s Illuminaudio) – Rather than directly porting the music from “Thermacare” to the new track, Chiodos did some tweaking here and there. There are slight changes in the second verse and a new bridge, extending the song a full minute longer than the original demo. To further differentiate the two versions, Bolmer decided not to listen to “Thermacare” before writing his own melody and lyrics.
As always, Brandon’s vocals sound fantastic over the track. The hypnotic entrance works well, and his verse and chorus hit hard. In the difficult situation of re-writing a song the public already knew, Bolmer did well. There are a few issues though, most notably with the mixing and mastering. Brandon’s vocals sit so high above the music that Hale’s riff, one of the highlights of “Thermacare”, is hard to hear (The “woahs” and “ahs” at the beginning don’t help either). Again, Bolmer sounds great, but Craig’s shrill tone lets the music shine through, while Bolmer’s power tends to stand atop the backing music. The length of the track seems long as well, though it may have gone unnoticed had the demo never leaked. Even with the problems, “Stratovolcano Mouth” is a solid song on a great album.
D.R.U.G.S.’ “The Only Thing You Talk About” (from 2011’s Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows) – With his own melody and lyrics intact, Craig took his work along to the new band. Rather than substituting new parts to distance the new track from the demo, D.R.U.G.S. did everything possible to keep it close to the original. While the Hale lead line I’ve gushed about is obviously gone, Nick Martin and Matt Good created their own riff that is comparable and may even hit heavier. Even though Bell’s synths starred in the demo, they aren’t necessarily missed here. The track is a winner.
The Winner – Though I enjoy Illuminaudio quite a bit, “Stratovolcano Mouth” comes out as the clear last place in the equation; it isn’t bad by any means, but it failed to capitalize on improving the original demo.
The question becomes whether “The Only Thing You Talk About” is truly a better track than “Thermacare”. In the interest of being decisive, I have to hand “Thermacare” the coveted bragging rights by a nose. Though the fully-mastered and produced D.R.U.G.S. track is great, the 128kbps demo featured the best backing of the two.