Godsmack | Texas Review | Ralph Arvesen
Godsmack performing during the Best of Times World Tour at the Germania Insurance Amphitheater in Austin, Texas on August 31, 2023, with Sully Erna, Robbie Merrill, Tony Rombola, and Shannon Larkin. (Photo: Ralph Arvesen)

Godsmack has more Top 10 Rock Songs than Foo Fighters or their hometown heroes, Aerosmith. Stretching back to their four-times platinum self-titled debut, initially recorded in 1996 for $2500, the veteran band’s catalog of hits is enough to fill a marathon set without running out. Songs like “I Stand Alone,” “Awake,” and “Voodoo” are certified anthems deeply encoded into hard rock’s DNA.

Like the antiheroes of a heist movie planning one last score, the Lawrence, Massachusetts-bred quartet takes a victory lap with Lighting Up the Sky, dropping one more classic album as they ascend into the celebratory portion of their career. Sully Erna, Robbie Merrill, Tony Rombola, and Shannon Larkin climbed the creative mountain over and over. They are consummate rock fans themselves, so they refuse to finish as one of those bands where fans hit the beer line during “the new stuff”.

“Let’s look at Godsmack. This isn’t coming from an egotistical point of view. But we can play 15 songs a night and still not play all of our Top 10 singles,” Erna points out. “When most people go see their favorite band, they don’t care about the new records. We want to start our sunset years at some point and honor the ‘greatest hits’ portion of our career. Let’s create the biggest and best show we can.”

Lighting Up the Sky is undoubtedly a stunning swan song, should it truly prove to be the final studio album of new music from Godsmack. “Surrender,” the first new song in four years, earned well over a half million streams on Spotify alone in its first two weeks of release. Songs like “What About Me” and “Soul On Fire” stand up to anything in the band’s rich multi-platinum catalog. “Lighting Up the Sky is packed with melodies”, assures the frontman. The band’s body of work includes eight albums, four Grammy nominations, two iHeartRadio Music Awards noms, and a Billboard Music Award.

Godsmack self-released their debut album, All Wound Up…, in 1997. Republic/Universal Records signed the band to a multi-record deal and re-released a remixed version of the debut as 1998’s Godsmack. The sophomore set Awake (2000) debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and was later certified double platinum. Faceless (2003), Godsmack’s first with drummer Shannon Larkin, topped the Billboard 200 and went platinum the same year. Both IV (2006) and The Oracle (2010) debuted at No. 1 as well. 1000hp (2014) topped the Hard Rock Chart and opened at No. 3 on the Billboard 200.

When Legends Rise debuted atop Billboard’s Top Rock Albums chart in May 2018. Two years later, Godsmack tied Van Halen and Shinedown for the second-most top ten singles in the 40-year history of Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Songs airplay chart, with 26 songs. When Legends Rise produced three No. 1 singles back-to-back, including the title track, “Bulletproof,” and “Under Your Scars”.

The continued creative and commercial achievement with When Legends Rise accelerated the momentum into Lighting Up the Sky, even as the Covid-related lockdowns temporarily stopped live events.

“We knew nothing except grinding, sitting in a studio for months, then back on the road, and repeat”, Erna explains. “We wanted to make this one at a more relaxed pace, more about quality than speed. This will probably be the last full body of work you ever get from Godsmack, so we wanted it to be important, meaningful, and packed. We worked at it off and on for almost two years.”

As the compositions came together, a theme took shape organically. “I promised myself I wouldn’t give myself the stress of the workload, lyrically. I’d let the record come to me. I’m a fan of sequencing and how songs flow together. I like when a record takes you on a journey from front to back. I realized there’s a whole story here about one man’s journey, the ups, and downs. I believe it’s a story everyone will connect to, on a human level, because we’ve all gone through things in life.”

Erna arranged for a unique recording experience, combining veteran Godsmack collaborators. He produced the album together with Andrew Murdock aka “Mudrock” (Avenged Sevenfold, Alice Cooper), who produced the first two albums, Godsmack and Awake. Dave Fortman (Slipknot, Mudvayne), who previously produced The Oracle and 1000HP, mixed Lighting Up the Sky.

“Since the theme of this album was about reliving the entire journey, it just felt right to bring back the original team and get the best production we could”, Erna explains.

The powerful storytelling of Lighting Up the Sky covers boy-meets-girl, obstacles in relationships, the polarized political climate and the state of the world, betrayal, connection, rebounds, and more. It also gets into the idea of legacy, what we leave behind; fitting for what could be a “final” album.

“I don’t know if there’s another record after this. I feel this is very final for us”, Erna says. “All these stories came together, and when I put them in order, I realized it’s one whole story. It’s a very emotional album for all of us. And the people who won’t care about the intricacies of the story, the emotional depth, will still be able just to listen and enjoy. Because every song could be a single.”

Even if this turns out to be their last album, Erna emphasizes that this isn’t the end of Godsmack.

“We are in the best place we’ve ever been in our lives. Somehow, I feel like we were guided like the band was important enough to stay together. We learned to love each other as brothers. We climbed the highest mountains and got over them without breaking. It was an emotional moment when we got to that realization. We actually shed a few tears and gave each other big hugs. ‘Let’s go enjoy our lives.’ This isn’t the end. This is just a new beginning because the best of times is still to come.”
Fan reviews:

One of the best shows I’ve ever been. I started listening to Godsmack a bit late, in 2009 when I was hired by a German band who wanted more groove, and they showed me Godsmack as an example. Since then, I didn’t stop listening to it and even after moving to the US I don’t know why I never caught a show, so I did two in a row, what an energy! Sully, Shannon and the other guys really deliver it! Really amazing!

Godsmack is awesome! This is the fourth time I have seen Godsmack in the last 15 years. They have so many great hits and never disappoint playing them all. Sully always knows how to get the crowd into the show, and I always enjoy the fireworks and the drum battle royale. When they come back, I will be there once again.

Absolutely fantastic show. Exactly what I expected! Amazing!

Best concert I've seen in years. Aaron Lewis killed it. Sully and Godsmack were ridiculous.

Out of all the concerts I have attended in my 60 years on this earth this was one of the top five! Sound, lighting, effect and talent of both bands was incredible. It could have went on until the wee hours of the morning without anyone complaining.
Setlist for the show at the Germania Insurance Amphitheater
  • When Legends Rise
  • 1000hp
  • Cryin' Like a Bitch!!
  • You and I
  • Something Different
  • What About Me
  • Surrender
  • Awake
  • Red White & Blue
  • Voodoo
  • Batalla de los tambores
  • Whatever
  • Under Your Scars
  • Bulletproof
  • I Stand Alone

Godsmack was the main act at the Germania Insurance Amphitheater with guests Staind, Mix Master Mike, and Flat Black. They continue across the United States and Canada with the last stop at the AZ Bike Week in Scottsdale, Arizona on April 6, 2024.

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Photos by Ralph Arvesen
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