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This article was originally published in issue #11
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Hailed by no lesser beings than Kirk Hammett and Judas Priest’s KK Downing as an icon, Godsmack’s Tony Rombola hasn’t enjoyed the huge public profile his playing deserves. Jamie Humphries interviews the highly influential guitarist while Levi Clay offers us a profile.
The noughties was a really interesting time for heavy metal music, whereas the early ‘90s were heavily influenced by thrash and grunge, by the late ‘90s things were changing. Nu metal had just taken over the airwaves and bands like Limp Bizkit, Korn and Linkin Park were bringing their own brand of heavy music to the fore. Although the bands of this era all had commercial viability in common, the thing that allowed you to break through on this scene was to have your own unique take on things: enter Godsmack.
Formed in 1995 in Massachusetts by singer and guitarist Sully Erna, Godsmack started life as, frankly, a slightly more modern take on Alice in Chains. However, things really got the twist they needed in 1996, when axe master Tony Rombola joined the fray.
The band’s first, eponymous, album was released in 1998, but there’s no escaping the view that it didn’t deliver what might have been expected. This was due to the recordings being funded by the band, then, when their popularity spiked and they were signed, the album was remastered. All the same, despite the production issues, the band’s classic metal influences and controversial language resulted in it going multi-platinum in the United States. It spawned some really popular hits, too, like Whatever and the grinding metal anthem, Keep Away.
Now Godsmack really got to show what they did best: going out and playing live music. They quickly became an “Ozzfest band” and were a mainstay for the hugely successful metal festival. And it wasn’t long before Godsmack would be back in the studio, the result being 2000’s Awake which, again, went platinum and even earned the band their first Grammy nomination, unusually for an instrumental tune, Vampires.
There's a curious thing about Godsmack, which is hard to account for: they don't sound dated.
Perhaps the band’s best effort came in 2003 with the release of Faceless, which is a nice metaphor for Godsmack’s public image at the time. Despite outselling Linkin Park’s Meteora on its week of release and debuting at the number one spot on the Billboard 200 album chart, Godsmack were still, somehow, relatively under the radar. Maybe a contributory factor in this was down to having their tracks synched for films (The Scorpion King, Pirates of the Caribbean), games (Prince of Persia, WWE Smackdown vs Raw) and TV (ECW wrestling and UFC). Nonetheless, tracks like I Stand Alone and Straight Out of Line were just awesome tunes that showcased just how much of a metal band Godsmack could be.
One of the defining elements of Godsmack is undoubtedly Tony Rombola. Take listen to Trippin’ from Godsmack’s fourth album, IV, to hear for yourself. For the nu metal fan generation, you could consider it a great thing that Tony was around delivering his unique brand of heavy metal, keeping the guitar hero torch alight.
Rombola’s gear is quite a hotly debated topic on the interwebs and a quick search will reveal lots of people talking about just how he got his tone on various gear forums. Guitarists care and it’s not surprising - he definitely has a desirable sound and he has worked hard to get it. Although he is known as being a Les Paul player, and has played a variety of Les Paul style guitars (most notably his McNaught), he has a collection of instruments, actually considers himself more of a Strat man and has revealed that he loves his Suhr Classic, as it’s just a real comfortable “couch guitar”.
All the same, if you want to come close to Tony’s signature tone, you’re going to really want a heavy guitar with two humbukers. You’re aiming for the Gibson scale length of 24.3/4” with 11s tuned to CGCFAD (although some are strung with 10s to drop D - GHS Boomers, in case you were wondering). You’re also going to want a high quality tube amplifier. Until recently, Tony didn’t have any major allegiance, but he has recently been seen fronting some of the superb EVH 5150 III heads (as reviewed in Gi 10) and has also used Mesa, Diezel or Splawn, so any of those should get you in the ballpark - always assuming you have that sort of money, of course! The only essential pedals for this style of playing is a noise suppressor, but Rombola is definitely fond of a wah for solos. Which isn’t to say he’s not a fan of pedals - just none seems to stand out as ‘his’.
Although the band split briefly, 2010 saw the release of album number five, entitled The Oracle, which featured the serious head banging anthem Cryin’ Like a Bitch. The album was generally well received in comparison to the previous IV, and marks a return to a heavier sound. The band came back and took the opportunity to get out on the road again, playing to packed venues wherever they went.
The October 2010 show in Detroit was recorded for a future release and was packaged with a second disc containing cover tunes: Live & Inspired was released in May 2012.
There’s a curious thing about Godsmack, which is hard to account for: they don’t sound dated. When you listen to Korn or Limp Bizkit, it’s hard to not suddenly be transported straight back to the late ‘90s but, although Godsmack rose through that era, listening to them now feels fresh, like you’re just listening to a really good metal band - and that’s one thing you can always count on Godsmack to be.