REVIEW: Avenged Sevenfold – The Stage

Well that’s a turn up for the books. After teasing us with single ‘The Stage’ a few weeks ago, Avenged Sevenfold have dropped their brand new album overnight; also titled The Stage. It’s becoming increasingly popular for artists to do surprise releases but this is a first for the rock genre, coinciding with a live-streamed performance that could be viewed entirely in virtual reality – a medium that’s been stated as an inspiration during the writing process for this album.

The Southern Californian rockers have had a rough few years since the death of beloved drummer James “The Rev” Sullivan, with replacements coming and going. We had Mike Portnoy for Nightmare, Arin Ilejay for Hail to the King, and now their newest release includes the talent of ex- Bad Religion drummer, Brooks Wackerman. But will he stick around? We can only hope.

Whilst their last offering, Hail to the King, was a solid example of contemporary metal it took too much inspiration from the genre’s most influential names, Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath et al; as such, it didn’t showcase any growth in the band. But now under the management of Capitol Records and with a new sense of direction Avenged Sevenfold are pushing away from the past and into the future.

Opening with ‘The Stage’, it’s clear that the band have taken a more prog-based approach to the album with Synyster Gates‘ signature lead guitar intricately screaming against M. Shadows’ familiar vocals, the operatic tone depicting the horrors of mankind with the band’s usual level of gothic charm. Up next is ‘Paradigm‘, a showcase for the technical skill of Brooks Wackerman as he delivers a more experimental approach to the usual Avenged drumming formula, complete with offbeat fills that build the momentum and create a far more expansive sound than we’ve seen before. The scale is off the charts in this album and it doesn’t stop growing. ‘Sunny Disposition‘ further demonstrates the playful nature of Wackerman’s drumming, yet the incorporation of a horn section that harkens back to earlier material by the band shows a newfound level of maturity in both songwriting and technical ability.

A personal highlight on the album is ‘God Damn‘, a track that defines controlled chaos. Frenetic cymbal work and the intensity of Shadows vocals creates a melodic anthem that will no doubt fill arenas. ‘Creating God‘ furthers the experimental melody with a somewhat middle eastern flavour that leads into Shadows channeling his inner Scott Weiland with the painstakingly drawn out phrasing of chorus “We’re creating God, master of all designs“. Yet another example of this new chapter, the old sound is still there but the experimental nature is a game-changer.

Both ‘Simulation‘ and ‘Higher‘ deliver spiraling narratives of paranoia and the scale of the cosmos whilst incorporating the familiar choral attributes of the Nightmare album.  The themes of technology and space are further explored in ‘Roman Sky‘, a song that echoes the eulogistic tone of ‘So Far Away‘. On the surface it’s a reference to the image of an astronaut that has loomed over the marketing material of this release, but the allusion to their late bandmate is too hard to ignore.

Whilst penultimate track ‘Fermi Paradox‘ starts off promisingly it wanes in quality and becomes increasingly more generic, a low point to the album but arguably the only one in sight. If you thought the fan-favorite ‘A Little Piece of Heaven’ was a long song then think again- closing track ‘Exist‘ is a 15-minute epic. A space age intro rife with arpeggios leads into  caustically heavy riffs by Zacky Vengeance that set the stage (no pun intended) for Shadows to deliver a vocally stripped-down exploration of the role of humanity in the galaxy; it’s almost Bowie-esque in it’s narrative. This largely instrumental track acts as the perfect end to an album that attempts and succeeds in broadening the sound of Avenged Sevenfold and bringing them into the future; one that certainly looks bright.

The Stage by Avenged Sevenfold is out now via Capitol Records.

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