In a country all about sports, bad politics and questionable social-statistics, arts and culture never seems to take priority over the above, which is possibly the greatest injustice we have experienced in the last twenty years. Amidst social bollocks and sensationalism, South Africa is a country buzzing with artistic currents from every corner of the country, waiting for the world to take notice of the infinite potential our music scene has down here. Seether, one of more successful musical exports, has become something of a household name. With 4.5 million or so international sales and a massive following, you can imagine that anyone who has ever picked up a guitar as a kid here knew about Saron Gas. The funny thing is that their style, appearance and overall projection is not very South African at all, which is double edge sword when trying to appeal to a local fan-boy, a decade after that teen moved past simpler tastes.
By no means is Seether the archetype of musical profoundness, and for the last couple of years they have tried to feebly blend amongst the likes of Chevelle and Staind. Yet, this is not the point. Like most contemporary commercial acts, their purpose is not to transcend the trend and template but to provide a healthy dose of digestible rock. If anything, their job is to keep it simple to inspire and catch those who would otherwise be alienated by anything with a bit of grit and guitar. Popular alternative bands do not serve the nit-pickers of the niche, and never should. For me, Seether is one of the few radio-rock outfits that made me want to pick up an instrument and get into alternative genres no matter the initial bad taste or limitations. They made something of it, surely the rest of us could coattail such dreams? So after growing up and listening to a mammoth amount of better bands in a less commercial sphere, where are Seether today for an obnoxious one like me?
Isolate and Medicate is exactly what you’d expect in a Seether release. Though, it is a solid reminder of why they are forgiven for not changing a damn thing in the last decade, with the song-writing returning to the simple, slow hard thump that was the Disclaimer days. While it does exhibit a few interesting ideas on top of their already established direction, the album merely closes in and refines that which they refuse to let up on. However, unlike the unravelling on the previous outing, Isolate and Medicate exhibits so much more self-awareness and precision, and is a lovely reminder of the days when the band was in every 2000’s kid’s CD player. The lyrics are self-depreciating yet sincerely executed, and the guitar work is simple although well-thought of in the sense that they actually tried to compliment the pseudo-cathartic experience in Morgan’s voice. Seether is convincing this time around, and while the album completely lacks in the originality department, it doesn’t feel ashamed of replaying the good ideas from the past, thereby avoiding the cringe-award for the year.
Tracks like “My Disaster” and “Suffer It All” display a new found energy in Morgan’s voice, and the instrumentation really compliments the sleek and, I daresay, unpolished production in each track. This is not to say it is a hipster’s wet-dream where the band went full-Jack White and recorded the album on reel-to-reel in downtown Johannesburg; it just sounds ballsy from kick to lead, which suits Seether’s grind. Actually, the production in my opinion has lifted this album up completely, and it is nice to hear a contemporary outfit return to a more wholesome rock sound, instead of fading into obscurity with overproduced indulgence that could never be recreated in a live setting. But as one starts to bask in warm post-grunge sensibilities, a dark cloud of torpid habits unfortunately shine through in Isolate and Medicate. Of course they bloody would.
Where the band has reigned in on their flaws, they unfortunately have sedated some of their strengths in desperate moments of forced experimentation. “Word as weapons” is as clichéd as it comes; musically and vocally, but it feels as if they were seriously trying to change it up. The end result is a song with a melody, hook, and tempo that is so overdone that I cannot not put my finger on the ridiculous amount of acts that resemble this sad example of (paradoxically) unintentional overplay. Strangely enough though, when you think back on the Queens of the Stone Age-like vibe in “Same Damn Life”, or the self-throwback of “Nobody Praying For Me”, it forces you to love some of the idea-thievery that went on here.
“I know we’re nothing profound, but my intentions were good” is a line that explains everything from Morgan and the boys up until now. From the clichés to the seriously crafted catchiness, I cannot help but love this album beyond its blemishes, and who am I to talk down the inner-adolescent joy of hearing a simpler band love what they do, and who do it so well for those who adore them. This release is not going to save today’s comm-rock drollness, but if this album were to be in a bargain basket a few years from now, I’ll see you at the bottom…