Maylene and the Sons of Disaster: IV (Ferret) 

Birmingham, Ala.'s Maylene and the Sons of Disaster either have a severe identity crisis, or a strong and playful desire to leapfrog from genre to genre within the same album. I suspect it's the latter, given how diverse singer Dallas Taylor sounds here, especially compared with his one-dimensional yet still heart-stopping screams in previous hard-core act Underoath.

Whereas Maylene's first three records consistently display the Southern swamp-core side of the band, IV branches out in many kinds of fascinating, if more-commercial, directions—from the Black Label Society-style stomp of "In Dead We Dream," to the Nickelback-like attack of "Save Me," to the Southern alt-rock wallop of "Never Enough." But the killer melodic hook that will end up wowing everyone from Coldplay fans to Black Sabbath disciples is the stunning "Faith Healer (Bring Me Down)," the lyrics of which ("I'm just a wreck without you / A requiem to lead the blind") are a cut above the clichés generated by most of today's heavy-rock bands.

Sure, IV marks a fierce push toward the mainstream on behalf of Maylene (the band's name derives from the infamous crime gang led by Ma Barker), but given the bluesy slide-guitar licks with which Chad Huff and Jake Duncan punctuate nearly every song, there's no mistaking these guys. Bible-belt hard rock doesn't get any better than this.

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