“When Legends Rise” — premiering below — is not only the opening and title track for Godsmack’s seventh studio album, but also the band’s statement of purpose.
Frontman Sully Erna tells Billboard that the song, and the album’s 11 others, came from a sense of rebirth and reinvention — both personally and musically — during the interim since 2014’s 1000hp. “When Legends Rise is not an egotistical statement as much as it’s a metaphorical way of kind of burning everything down to the ground and build it back up — a Phoenix rising from the ashes kind of vibe,” Erna explains. Among the inspirations were his own romantic break up and a subsequent drive to reboot all the relationships in his life, drummer Shannon Larkin’s embracing sobriety two years ago, and a revamped creative drive for the album.
“That’s the thread that kind of runs through this whole album is really just a cleansing, a rebirth. That’s where everyone is,” Erna continues. That it comes on the 20th anniversary of Godsmack’s self-titled debut album is also notable, according to Erna. “From zero to 20 years has been kind of one chapter in this band’s career,” he says. “I think we were kind of watching this thing taper off. I didn’t feel like it was booming and heading into stadium level, and I didn’t feel like it was going down into clubs. It just felt to me a little stagnant. So it felt like the right time to kind of change things up and maybe expand the fan base and go for something bigger and grow with our personalities and our maturity level, where we are in our lives, and I think this album is just really a reflection of that.”
Co-produced by Erna and Erik Ron (Panic! at the Disco, Set It Off, Attila), When Legends Rise still hits hard enough to be identifiably Godsmack, but there’s a perceptibly smoother, hooky edge that was completely by design — and evident in songs such as “When Legends Rise” and the first single, “Bulletproof.” “I was like, ‘I can’t be afraid of these’,” says Erna, who co-wrote songs with Ron, John Feldmann and Sevendust’s Clint Lowery for the album. “I know some fans are gonna feel like it’s a little too commercial sounding for us, and other new fans are gonna be attracted to it. We sat down and talked about it and we said, ‘Is it time? Is this were we need to go? We may lose a fan but we may gain 10 new ones.’ And so far it’s kind of playing out exactly that way. We have this whole new group of people coming on board and really loving this new direction.”
And you can consider the rest of Godsmack on board with it as well. “Before the writing even started they came to me and said, ‘Listen, we’ve been talking and thinking about it a lot and we want you to write this record’,” Erna recalls. “They said, ‘We appreciate you opening the door in the past to contribute and write, but we really feel we’ve always done our best when you’ve had control of the vision you want to deliver for this band. It’s been your band from the beginning, and any time you’ve grabbed the reins and run with it we’ve always done our best,’ so they asked me to take the lead.
“And I told them what I wanted to do. I wanted this to be that leftfield, that curveball that no one’s expecting. I think we need to shock people on this record. I think we need to put something out there that’s not gonna be expected but also maintains the integrity and strength of what we do as Godsmack.”
Godsmack will celebrate When Legends Rise‘s April 27 release at the Welcome To Rockville 2018 festival in Jacksonville, Fla., and will play other festivals into the summer before kicking off its summer jaunt with Shinedown July 22 in suburban Detroit. And Erna hopes to keep the Shinedown pairing going into other territories as well. “We’re thinking about staying together as a team and running this thing around the globe,” Erna says. “We have a lot of work to do and we’d love to have them come along with everything if they want to.”
Erna says a new album leaves little room for nostalgia or back-patting. “We actually kinda got away from that and we don’t really want to promote the 20-year thing,” he says. “Maybe we’ll revisit that at 25 years, but right now it’s about this record and focusing on this album. We’re kind of starting this thing up again the right way and aspiring towards making this bigger and better than it ever has been.”