10 Years, 100 Songs: #93. “I Can’t Feel My Chest Anymore”
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 16, 2009
When nu-metal cracked with Limp Bizkit, Korn and their Family Values brethren around the turn of the millennium, one of the main bands hailed as progenitors of the movement were The Deftones. It was only barely true at first, but as the genre evolved slightly away from macho, aggressive hip-hop hybridization towards a more immaculately-produced, super-melancholy and highly tuneful direction, they started to sound a little more prescient. But as the genre reached its commercial apex and many considered the Deftones due for a breakout, the band retreated, getting more insular with their lyrics and more atmospheric with their music. It resulted in one of the decade’s great hard rock albums (or really, albums period) in White Pony, but it never resulted in the band getting the crossover hit they seemed to deserve.
Instead, we got Chevelle’s “Send the Pain Below.” The song hit on seemingly dozens of the benchmarks that had made the Deftones’ music so powerful over the years–the soft/loud verse/chorus dynamics, the gorgeous, crunching guitars, the yearning vocals and aching lyrics. Really, the similarities between “Send the Pain Below” and personal Deftones favorite “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)” especially (which I’ve already spent plenty of words raving about) are unbelievably striking, down to singer Chino Moreno’s shouts of “FAR!” triggering the guitar hook the same way that Pete Loeffler’s “MUCH LIKE SUFFO-CATING!” does in “Pain.” Even the bridges to the two songs are fairly similar. It’s not so bad that the song feels like a rip-off, but it’s virtually impossible to hear it without mentally acknowledging the similarities. But while “Be Quiet and Drive” came out in 1997 (at least a couple years too early) and peaked at a meager #29 on the mainstream rock charts, “Send the Pain Below” was one of the biggest rock songs of 2003, topping both the mainstream and modern charts and even reaching a respectable, if unspectacular #66 on the pop charts.
The success had much to do with timing, but it also had to do with “Send the Pain Below” simply being one of the best pop-metal songs of the decade. There are a couple things it does that even sort of beats “Be Quiet” at its own game, most notably in the superior way it uses dynamics. After that song’s short intro, it pegs the intensity at 10 and doesn’t let up for the rest of the song (minus the brief fake ending, anyway)–which is great in its own way, but stunts the power of the one-word chorus a little. By contrast, “Send the Pain Below” does its main hook the favor of keeping things low and lazy on the verses, barely even registering the guitar for parts of it and letting the rumbling, cranked-up bass provide most of the musical texture–a slightly risky move, but one that proves just as captivating as blasting guitars at full speed. Then rather than wail over it, Loeffler emits the verses in a kind of hushed, warbly moan, more reminiscent of Maynard James Keenan, lead singer of Tool–the other band that Chevelle always gets compared to, and the Deftones’ primary peer as far as late-90s alt-metal went. It’s the best of both worlds, a stunning combination.
The lyrics helped out a little, too. Many of the motifs are highly reminiscent of their predecessors–internalizing pain in general is a very Deftones-esque concept, as is suffocation–but they’re related in a far more accessible way. It’s basically just a song about being in a relationship–probably a romantic one, but hell, maybe the other Loefflers just ganged up on Pete a little too much as a kid–whose constant emotional abuse has taken its toll on the singer, to the point of near-literal cardiac arrest. It doesn’t beat you over the head with its subject, but it’s far from subtle either, giving listeners a sort of tangible narrative to hang on to. Couple that with the affirmative, de-personalized video of a snowboarder getting his ass kicked by a mountain, but rising above it to eventually land some nifty tricks at the end, and you have a song that’s both visceral and easily relatable to all audiences, without needing a lyric sheet to translate. It’s not poetry, but it gets the point across, and if you don’t want to shout out the “MUCH LIKE SUFFO-CAAAATING!!!” part when you get to the chorus, then maybe this genre really doesn’t have that much to offer you after all.
And if so, you know what? At the time, I thought that nu-metal and its various sub-genric spawns had nothing to offer me, either. But listening to songs like “Send the Pain Below” in retrospect, I realize that like the post-grunge boom in the mid-90s, the success of those rap/metal bands in the late 90s made a lot of really cool hits possible that otherwise would have ended up like those Deftones classics, just barely scraping the charts on their way to cult status. Not that there wasn’t a lot of terrible shit to go with it, but in the case of Chevelle–who would also go on to make a handful of other good, smaller hits over the course of the decade, like “Vitamin R,” “The Clincher” and “I Get It”–it resulted in an adrenaline-pumping, obscenely pretty song getting the commercial respect it deserved. It won’t be the last nu-metal-derived song on this list, either.