In the past few years, Drowning Pool have sustained losses profound enough to almost undo them. In 2002, lead singer Davey Williams died of a rare heart defect, and the Texas-bred metal band was presumed finished. On the heels of that tragedy, Drowning Pool regrouped with new frontman Jason “Gong” Jones at the wheel, but numerous personality clashes and less-than-stellar reviews soon prompted his hasty exit. Still, the band decided to take one more shot.

Earlier this year, Drowning Pool re-emerged with the appropriately titled Full Circle. Since recruiting former Soil singer Ryan McCombs (a longtime friend of the band) and cutting the chains that bound them to a record label that had soured on their prospects, Drowning Pool have made an honorable comeback. Full Circle retains the steel-cage six-string approach of C.J. Pierce (who stages his aural assaults on an Epiphone Flying V), but sets most of the tunes on longer fuses—a function of McCombs’ dark, doomy growl as much as anything else.

“We were able to tour and play a lot of these songs live before going into the studio, which we never did before,” says Pierce. “In the past, we were cocky enough to say, ‘Here are the 12 songs that we want on the record’ and leave it at that. This time, we learned a lot from getting that instant crowd response every night. We were really able to figure out what worked and what didn’t.”

Full Circle is easily the most far-reaching Drowning Pool disc to date, with fist-in-the-air party tracks like their cover of Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” bumping against the emotion-packed wailing of “Soldiers,” a follow-up to their 2001 hit “Bodies” that serves as a salute to troops overseas.

You’ve done a lot of work with the USO to benefit troops. How did that become important for you?

C.J.: We were very fortunate to have been asked to go over to Iraq several years ago, and that was a really eye-opening experience. The soldiers were the most dedicated people I’ve met in my life. The least we could do is write a song for those guys.

Ryan: This has nothing to do with politics for us. It’s not a left wing or right wing thing. It’s all about those boys and girls over there who we’ve had the opportunity to spend time with. It’s amazing—you go over there and then get e-mails from them, thanking you for spending time with them and that’s just insane. They deserve all the respect in the world.

You guys cover Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” on Full Circle, which isn’t exactly the first thing people might think of you doing. How did you decide to take that one on? 

C.J.: We grew up in the days of Metallica Garage Days—where they’d take a song and make it their own, make it fun. We’ve played “Creeping Death” [Metallica] and we played “Shout at the Devil” [Mötley Crüe] when we did the Jägermeister tour back in 2002. And “Rebel Yell” was one we all agreed on. I read where it’s one of the most-covered songs out there, but most bands just do it like the original. We made it way heavier, way more of a Drowning Pool song.

Mike: Any time you’re out and see a bar band and they play “Rebel Yell,” the drinks go in the air, everybody’s singing “more, more, more,” even the girl who just got out of the insurance seminar at seven o’clock. Plus, it just fits, we’re a Southern band, it’s an ’80s tune, which is where our roots are. We just got back from England, and we played it there as “Hillbilly Yell,” because the whole ‘rebel’ thing means something real different over there.

Another first is that C.J. plays an acoustic guitar [on “Reborn”] for the first time on one of your albums. Why was this the right time for that?

C.J.: When I was a kid, I used to play the acoustic guitar at church all the time, and then I just put it away because it wasn’t metal enough. You know how a young guy goes through that kind of thing. Then after [Dimebag Darrell] passed away, I kind of went back to it a little more. If you get into a somber mood, you bust out the acoustic and it helps you to express that. I wound up writing a lot of songs in that mind frame, and then some of them transferred over to being heavier in the end, and some didn’t. “Reborn” ranks right up there with my favorite songs that we’ve ever done.

How did the new lineup take shape?

C.J.: We’ve known Ryan for years, so the friendship predated the working relationship by a long, long time. We had fans talking about him singing with us long before he joined. We were on the road with Jason, and Ryan was back home in Indiana. Sometimes we’d see him because we were friends—he was friends with Davey’s parents, even—and people construed those meetings as private auditions. We never had any intention of ripping him out of Soil, though.

Ryan: I’d be getting phone calls from my friends when I was still in Soil, and they’d be asking, “Are you joining Drowning Pool?” When Davey first passed, I’d be doing signing sessions and fans would pull me aside and say, “You should really join Drowning Pool.” But I was out of Soil for nine or 10 months before we hooked up—I was burned out and I had no intention of doing another band—for anyone other than these guys, that is.

Mike: C’mon, if Tommy and Nikki called and said “Hey, let’s do a little somethin’,” you’d have picked up the phone.

At least one of those guys did call—how did you end up working with Nikki Sixx on the new album?

Mike: It was pretty amazing. It wasn’t like we had a part written out and he just came in and played it. It’s like you walk out and meet an idol, break the ice, write together, and then sit on the other side of the glass while Nikki’s giving you the thumbs up—wow. And again, it’s something that went full circle; we were right at the cusp of doing something together when Davey passed and here we are.

C.J.: Whatever you’re doing—guitar, vocals, drums—you’re sitting in the booth doing your thing and you look out there and see Nikki and you think “He’s gonna know if I suck.” We did another song that didn’t make it, one that had Gunnar Sixx on it playing didgeridoo. That might come out at some point, but it wasn’t ready yet—it’s like a student who needs a little more attention. If it’s a C student, you help it along, and then it’ll be ready to graduate. 

To download a free MP3 of Drowning Pool's "Soldiers," click here.