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The Genius Of… The Impossibility of Reason by Chimaira

Nu metal was on the downswing and Killswitch Engage, Lamb of God and Shadows Fall were counterattacking. On their second album, Chimaira joined the fray and formalised the “new wave of American heavy metal”.

Image: Bill Tompkins/Getty Images

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America’s heavy metal pendulum was swinging in 2003. For the preceding half-decade, the scene was ruled by nu metal, with Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park rapping and raging their way to the summit of the charts. However – with veteran bands like Machine Head and Sepultura also pulled into the genre – people got fucking bored.

Sicker of the status quo than anybody was Western metal’s own underground. Nu metal was a supernova too powerful to sustain itself for long, and record labels knew it. Almost from the second Hybrid Theory marked the genre’s mightiest commercial moment, majors started eyeing up Killswitch Engage and Lamb of God. Such bands had no time for any hip-hop swaggering; instead, they attacked with punkish brevity and vintage metal guitar chops.

Chimaira were the defectors within this great musical coup. Although the five-piece initially rattled the Ohio underground with their metalcore This Present Darkness EP, the production of 2001 debut album Pass Out of Existence emphasised electronics to position them as nu metal also-rans. Not only did the album fail to chart, but getting saddled with the ‘nu metal’ tag pissed the band off. “We loved [American death metal legends] Morbid Angel, Deicide and Suffocation,” singer Mark Hunter told this writer in a 2022 Metal Hammer interview, “so being labelled ‘nu metal’ stung a little bit.”

On follow-up The Impossibility of Reason though, Chimaira took their rightful place amid the legions counter-attacking against nu metal. All of last time’s industrial touches were overwhelmed by the might of sheer all-caps METAL. The guitars hopped between chugs, pinch harmonics and tremolo picking; the drums frequently accelerated from groove metal oomph to death metal blasts; and Mark answered his roars with the odd rock ’n’ roll croon. It was stripped-back and no-nonsense – the kind of metal grandpa used to make, just louder and angrier.

Now 20 years old, Impossibility… hits like you’ve been smacked in the face with a heavy metal encyclopaedia that stretches back to the 1980s. Opening track Cleansation marches along like Pantera, then hurries in thrash and death metal mode. It even preempts the kind of white-knuckle breakdown that would later define deathcore. Single Power Trip is a three-minute metalcore blitzkrieg of squealing guitars and a motivating chorus, while Implements of Destruction takes up four times that length as a prog metal instrumental.

The campaign towards Impossibility… began almost immediately after Pass Out of Existence came out. Although their debut was shoved into the nu metal camp, Chimaira toured with rawer extreme music upstarts like God Forbid and Hatebreed. And, famously, they advertised themselves using a t-shirt emblazoned with ‘new wave of American heavy metal’ in the same font as Iron Maiden’s logo.

“It was just a marketing trick,” Mark told Hammer. “When I bought CDs back in the day, a lot of albums had a tag that said ‘new wave of British heavy metal’, and I thought it was really cool. I’d never seen anyone promote themselves that way over here.”

The phrase caught on. Whether it was from the t-shirt or an enterprising journalist coining it separately, the new wave of American heavy metal became the catch-all for Killswitch Engage, Lamb of God, Chimaira, God Forbid and Hatebreed, as well as others from Shadows Fall to Bleeding Through. These stateside peers all sourced inspiration from British and Swedish metal, and together they rocketed to prominence from the ashes of the nu metal craze.

Impossibility…’s 2003 release ironically made Chimaira late-comers to the scene whose name they coined: Killswitch Engage’s Alive or Just Breathing and Shadows Fall’s Art of Balance both won popular acclaim a year beforehand. However, that didn’t hinder the love the record received. A contemporary review by The Orlando Weekly struggled to put a label on how Impossibility… summarised much of its own genre. It called the album “über-nü-metal”, before concluding, “It’s a true sign of metal’s resurgence that an album this brutal would be accepted so heartily among record buyers.”

And it was accepted. Unlike Pass Out of Existence, Impossibility… charted in the US, reaching number 117 on the Billboard chart. It was the start of a climb that peaked when The Infection reached number 30 in 2009.

Admittedly, such commercial dents weren’t as deep as the ones Killswitch and Lamb of God later made. So – by the time the new wave of American heavy metal inevitably imploded under the weight of the next big thing, deathcore – Chimaira couldn’t compete. Their Impossibility…-era lineup crumbled apart in 2011, then they disbanded entirely three years later.

As a result, Chimaira’s magnum opus is today a classic for millennials and a hidden gem for everyone else. In pulling the band away from nu metal in favour of no-frills bludgeonings, it was a perfect distillation for what the new wave of American heavy metal sought to achieve nationwide. And, now that that scene has had its day, it persists as simply a really fucking sturdy slab of heavy music.

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