Three years ago, Engine - featuring Fates Warning singer Ray Alder in a drastically different vocal role - released a thick and groove-heavy self-titled album that rocked with a nu-metal mentality but didn't completely fall into the burgeoning nu-metal category. Like that debut, Engine's sequel, Superholic, is a far cry from the progressive metal of Fates Warning, particularly the ethereal direction the band has taken on such recent releases as A Pale Shade of Gray and Disconnected. Alder's angry vocals are enhanced by a grungy rhythm section that features bassist Joey Vera (who, incidentally, played on those last two Fates Warning albums and is a member of Armored Saint) and drummer Pete Parada. Guitarist Bernie Versailles rounds out the band with a lethal guitar sound that's executed with the finesse not often heard in younger bands that dominate today's nu-metal genre.
About half of the 11 songs here are screamers, devoid of many memorable moments. But when the motor gets running on this Engine, Superholic shifts into high gear with performances that are more inspired than the ones Alder and Vera have turned in recently with Fates Warning. Opening track "Losing Ground" chugs with vitriol about a "false society" and people who "take the best of everything and throw it all away", while "I Know" boasts a funky and crunchy rhythm section that surprisingly gives way to multipart harmonies and alternative-pop guitars. "The Perfect Star" is a touching mid-tempo ballad loaded with electric emotion, highlighted by Alder's gut-wrenching performance, while "Home" is one of the album's least-contemporary tracks, recalling Dream Theater and even U2. To prove they're not like other angry modern rockers, Engine also toss in a fuzzy and rowdy version of The Cure's "Fascination Street." You can bet your balls that Limp Bizkit or Creed would never cover an Eighties dance band!
There's very little that's polished about Superholic, and it's not likely to appeal to hardcore progressive fans. But if you let Engine rev in your CD player long enough, you just may find yourself preferring this over latter-period Fates Warning. Imagine that.