Avenged Sevenfold has had a bit of a hard go since the release of their last album “Hail To The King”. Although that particular album sold and charted well, it’s the first album of theirs that I can remember where it got a mixed reaction from fans. While the positive compliments were rife with people alluding to their growth and having a more stripped-down and appealing sensibility, the naysayers made mentions of the band somewhat phoning in the songwriting and leaning on their influences too highly for inspiration (Metallica being the obvious target). I fell in the middle of this fight, but I can remember it was the first album of theirs that I wasn’t drawn to.
Add into this their bitter split with longtime label Warner Bros. (and ongoing court battle), finding themselves on Capitol Records, and parting with drummer Arin Ilejay after a brief run as the permanent replacement for James “The Rev” Sullivan, and it’s been a bumpy ride for the group.
So with the cementing of the drum position with Brooks Wackerman (formerly of Bad Religion/Suicidal Tendencies) in place, the band was stuck with the task of trying to follow up their previous album with something that stick with all fans. And although the band went about dropping hints about the new album, and even giving out information of a December release, the album was released on Oct. 28th out of knowhere. The band decided to surprise the musical world with a bold move and virtually no lead up to the release except for the first single weeks earlier, and just like that, “The Stage” was dropped in our laps.
The big question mark for me is where the band would take their sound and if I’d be on board, or if they’d leave me and my interest behind for good. Well what I can say is that they surprised quite a number of people by not going in the direction of “Hail To The King”, and rather putting out a concept album centered around the theme of artificial intelligence and inspired by the works of Carl Sagan and Elon Musk. To say I was surprised was an understatement, but I was very excited and intrigued by the idea. And in all honesty, I can say that this album might be their classic to sit atop the throne of other incredible concept albums of years gone past.
The title track and first single starts out with light guitar finger-tapping and beautifully played drums, then the drive and punch fans are familiar with chugs into the eardrums. There’s the usual back-and-forth instrument theatrics with a great melodic slower section that builds into the middle of the song. This is a great mid-paced album opener, setting us up well for the next batch of songs that can definitely build on this momentum.
“Paradigm” follows as a straight-ahead rocker with more prominent and powerful guitars backed by hefty drum patterns and playful solos by lead guitarist Synyster Gates. “Sunny Disposition” goes from commanding to light and airy at the drop of a hat, all while maintaining a great groove. There’s also an interesting use of horns on the track which makes it unique.
On “God Damn” the band is now turning up the heat and getting more heavy while keeping the melodic sensibility that compliments the crushing aspects so well. There’s a great marriage of the heavy and acoustic here. It’s a perfect short burst that was needed after the more weighty previous songs. “Creating God” goes back to the mid-paced and the spacing out of ideas. Vocalist M. Shadows performance is noticeably the strongest I’ve heard so far on this album. There’s some impressive highs and a straight-forward attack that show how much he’s grown over the years with his pipes. “Angels” features an interesting dirge in the flow of the song. There’s a dirty aspect to the guitar, bass and drum sound. It has a somewhat depressive aura with a beautiful and emotional solo by Gates.
Everything about the song “Simulation” reminds me of the best moments of their past albums, with the punchy drive and creative slow sections, right to Shadows spoken word which highlights the horror type aspect of the band. It’s a throwback song in the best way. “Higher” features great shifts in melody and a razor-sharp guitar and layered drum sound that are the main sticking points for this song. It’s also another impressive vocal outing for Shadows. The interesting synthesizer use near the end of the track fuses well with the drum patterns. “Roman Sky” is a purely slow track, but the emotion put forth is very moving with the orchestral arrangements, and “Fermi Paradox” displays marching beats which turn into double-bass thumping accompanied by a spiraling solo to start off the song, which they return to periodically while using a plodding and somewhat subdued arrangement as the backdrop for the song.
And with the amazing variety of the previous ten songs fully swirling around my head, it’s time to finish off the album with the band’s most ambitious and longest song to date, “Exist”. This song perfectly sums up the vibe of the album concept with it’s astral and atmospheric journey. There’s a good seven minutes that flies by before we even enter any vocals. This is a monster of a song. The over 15 minutes in length never feels boring, and it runs the spectrum from heavy and persistent to labored and melodic. The emotion that stems from the whole feel of the song is sure to be a gripping statement about their collective musical genius. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson even contributes a spoken-word performance of original content for this very album which only heightens the appeal and context of the subject matter.
I’ve gotta tell you, I’m blown away. Just when I thought the band was starting to leave their best days behind them, they totally turn the tables and release this gem of an album. These songs show a serious growth for the band. It may push some longtime fans away, but they aren’t going to play by anyone’s rules. It’s great that they don’t want to be pigeonholed, and this album will help people see their multitude of influences. They did what a lot of popular bands won’t do these days, and that’s make an actual album, and not a collection of singles.
The addition of Wackerman on drums was a perfect choice, and his style compliments what Sullivan gave to the band with his incredible drum talent. Synyster Gates continues to show off what he does best in crafting memorable solos and an original guitar sound. The fact that I don’t see him mentioned among the top-tier of modern guitar heroes is criminal. And the whole band has elevated their collective musicality to include progressive metal (especially with “Exist”), and they do it so seamlessly that I think they can definitely help draw in fans from that subgenre with little to no hesitation.
While the band may get some new flak from fans for taking a different approach to their career and songwriting, I think “The Stage” was just what the band needed to show not only all of their fans, but the people that routinely put down the band, that they are here to stay, and reinvention is something that won’t hinder their legacy, but make it grow and flourish.
01. The Stage
03. Sunny Disposition
04. God Damn
05. Creating God
09. Roman Sky
10. Fermi Paradox
Playing time: 73:37
Release date: 28 October, 2016
Label: Capitol Records
Website: Avenged Sevenfold Official Website