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Fifteen Years Later: Probot – Probot

Back in my days as a grumpy gatekeeping adolescent, the idea of mainstream artists enjoying heavy metal was such a foreign concept. References to the genre were plentiful enough, but they were often either limited to the basics or had an “ironic” tinge that felt insulting. That attitude is obviously still a thing in pop culture but thankfully I’m not as salty about it as I used to be. Either way, it was quite shocking in 2004 when Nirvana/Foo Fighters drummer Dave Grohl released a metal-themed solo album that was staffed with vocalists whose credentials went beyond superficial recognition.

As is the case with these Santana-esque collaborations, the style of a given Probot song is often dependent on the featured vocalist. This is perhaps best demonstrated by the Lee Dorrian vehicle “Ice Cold Man,” which apes the doomy Cathedral aesthetic so well that the band ended up performing it themselves on tour that year. Elsewhere, “Shake Your Blood” could be mistaken for a Mötorhead song with Lemmy’s signature gnarled vocals and driving bass, “The Emerald Law” explores Wino’s tripper side, and the psychedelic “My Tortured Soul” sits well in Trouble singer Eric Wagner’s hands despite having originally been written for Ozzy’s Down to Earth.

Having said that, there are songs where the pieces don’t fit together as well. “Big Sky” is the biggest offender; it’s frankly uncanny to see Tom G Warrior, a guy who’s somehow influenced literally every metal subgenre in existence, perform on something so musically nondescript. The Voivod pastiche on “Dictatosaurus” doesn’t quite translate beyond high-pitched alt guitar, and the almost blues swing of “Sweet Dreams” just doesn’t suit King Diamond no matter how much evil laughter he forces into it. I suppose the stomping “Silent Spring” doesn’t really suit DRI’s Kurt Brecht either, but it’s far too groovy for me to get that offended.

The musicianship also stays solid regardless of presented style. Grohl’s drumming is inevitably more aggressive than his day jobs but keeps its tight character while his guitar work is consistently sludgy yet malleable. However, his riffs often feel dumbed down and structures come off basic, leading one to wonder if he was afraid of upstaging his chosen vocalists. Such a phenomenon seems inevitable on an album like this but more involvement from the guest guitarists (One of which being Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil) might’ve been enough to offset it.

As flawed as these “one singer per song” outings tend to be, Probot’s sole album may be the best example of the template at work. The songwriting method is rather homogenous and not every collaboration works, but the stylistic variety keeps things interesting and you can tell that Grohl and co had fun crafting these tracks. At the very least, this album introduced me to many of the legends that now dominate my playlist. I wouldn’t be surprised if other millennials could say the same.

Highlights:
“Shake Your Blood”
“Silent Spring”
“Ice Cold Man”
“My Tortured Soul”

Addendum: The idea of a sequel album is occasionally brought up in some circles. As much as people love to speculate on who would appear on such a project, I’d personally want Jack Black to sing on the whole thing. Just listen to “I Am the Warlock.” He’s way overdue to sing on an “actual” metal album.

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