"Why am I this way?" asks vocalist Mark Hunter on the opening track of Chimaira's major-label debut, Pass Out of Existence. Well, take five talented musicians, lock them in a room for three years, feed them a steady diet of bad weather and good old Cleveland-style belittlement, and this is what you get. The question is not Why are you this way?; it's How else could you be? If thrash metal is the dominant sound in Cleveland's underground scene (see also Mushroomhead), Chimaira should be front and center. This album is littered with impossibly heavy, neck-jostling grooves. Fans of Max Cavalera-era Sepultura will find a kindred spirit in Hunter, and producer Andrew "Mudrock" Murdock (Godsmack) gives the album a steely tightness and unrelenting bottom end.
Lyrically, however, Pass Out is annoyingly monochromatic. Disillusionment and loss are the themes, expressed in lines like "I'm in a daze caused by pain/A failing force that wants to change/Painting the white to gray." It's downright comical to hear Hunter growl such drivel. But poetic subtlety has never been this genre's forte, and Chimaira is all about the riff. And there are riffs aplenty here. The album's third track, "Severed," ends with Hunter bellowing the song's title over a throbbing half-time crunch groove, and the chorus of "Split" recalls old Alice in Chains, a surprising and persistent influence on the band. The keyboards are often arbitrary and overdone; the only time they seem right is on the final track, the oddly Nine Inch Nailsish "Jade." Ultimately, however, this is a small complaint; Pass Out is national-caliber thrash.