Released last week on Victory Records, Taproot’s fifth album, the aptly named Plead the Fifth (though it’s the band’s 7th album if you count independent releases), starts out with a bang with the abrasive, Deftones-ish Now Rise. Stephen Richards’ shrieking voice, set to dissonant, downturned guitar riffs start out the record with quite an explosion of noise. The song soon changes back to familiar Taproot territory after the dramatic opening, with Richards alternating between his customary passionate screaming and melodic vocal delivery.

In a way, the song helps announce that Taproot has finally returned to their roots. Plead the Fifth is an album much more in tune with their older sound. With their last two records, 2005's criminally under-appreciated Blue-Sky Research and 2008’s decent but unremarkable Our Long Road Home, the band had mellowed considerably since 2000’s breakthrough album Gift.

Taproot rose in popularity amid the immense success of the rap/rock and “nu-metal” movement of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, which of course was dominated by bands like Limp Bizkit, Korn, and the Deftones. Taproot emerged during that timeframe, and while their sound was never terribly groundbreaking, they had a certain melodic edge to them that always made me pay attention to what they were doing.

I saw them open for Linkin Park in January 2000 at the Fillmore in San Francisco, and Richards dove from the balcony seats back to the pit, a feat that made me think “wow this guy is NUTS!”, and also that I had better keep track of this band.

Anyway, back to this album – it’s more than apparent that Taproot tried hard to recapture the raw, in-your-face sound that put them on the map. The guitars are fuzzy and very down-tuned, creating the same feedback-y, sludgy sound that was prevalent on Gift.

The album’s lead single, Fractured (Everything I Said Was True) starts with the same kind of echoed guitar tone as Linkin Park’s huge hit Somewhere I Belong, before going into a bouncy riff with Richards’ standard scream-for-the-verses and sing-for-the-chorus thing. While it isn’t as memorable as past singles like Poem, Again & Again, Calling or Wherever I Stand, it’s still a good, strong song by the band.

Release Me begins with a weird almost Rammstein-esque vocal chant that leads into a pairing of Richards’ voice and more dark guitar buzz. The chanting continues during the verses, giving the song a pretty cool atmospheric feel. The song has one of the album’s strongest choruses, too.

Stolage, the next tune, continues the chanting/buzzy guitar thing, building up to a great crunchy guitar riff. The song has a familiar sound to it that I can’t quite place, and in the end it’s one of the highlights of the album. All the great Taproot qualities are on display, the high-energy beat and riffs, Richards’ unique voice alternating from screaming to melodic singing, and an overall aggression that I’m sure makes the song a fun time in the mosh pit.

The interestingly-titled 911ost slows things down a bit, but not to the same mid-tempo level of the songs that made up a large part of Welcome. 911ost has a strong chorus, with an accelerating guitar riff giving it a powerful energy. The riffs offset Richards voice, which utters lines such as emergency, this blood on my hands isn't killing me…take these broken reins, away from me. The song is another of my favorites, as I really like the way it builds from the slower, quieter beginning to the layered, emotional chorus led by some great guitar work by Michael DeWolf. It’s a great mix of both sides of Taproot’s sound, blending the aggression and melody very efficiently.

Trophy WiFi sounds like it belongs on the lost album between Gift and Welcome, with more fuzzy guitars and a solid overall structure that exemplifies the band’s sound.

Pounding drums announce the arrival of Left Behind, before breaking into another mashup of screaming and melody. The song has a bit of a schizophrenic feel to it, changing tempos and sound frequently.

Overall, Plead the Fifth really surprised me. I was already shocked that Taproot was still around, as their popularity seems to have diminished since rap-rock and “nu-metal” have declined in popularity. No one really seemed to care about Blue-Sky Research or Our Long Road Home, so I wasn’t really expecting any more albums by the band. Plead the Fifth, though, is basically everything I could have expected. Whereas most bands, when saying that an album will be a “return to our roots”, are doing little more than hyping up underwhelming records, Taproot delivered in a big way.

The hard-edged songs that helped the band gain notoriety are on display on the record, balanced nicely with the frenetic aggression and spastic screaming that Richards employs on songs like album-closer Stares.

I never gave up on Taproot, and even though their last album didn’t impress me greatly, they have won me over again with Plead the Fifth.

If you were a fan of the band back when Gift came out, if you heard and liked the hit song Poem, or if you generally like hard rock with a melodic edge, check out this album. While it may not be 2000 anymore, Taproot’s sound is still fresh, especially given the majority of what is considered “good” rock music today.