Avenged Sevenfold – The Stage


Album

The Stage

Label

Capitol Records

Year

2016

Genre

For Fans Of

Metallica, Carl Sagan, Avenged Sevenfold (but better)

Summary

Once again, Avenged Sevenfold, but better.

Rating

85 / 100

The last Avenged Sevenfold album that I properly sat down and listened through was 2005’s ‘City Of Evil’, and well, there have been a few more records from this Californian metal outfit since, hasn’t there? Sure, I’ve always kept up with their releases in so far as the singles go, but I didn’t really bother with 2013’s ‘Hail To The King’ (which was for the better, by the sounds of it) but the way that the quintet released their latest record, ‘The Stage‘, really interested me. Following a recent live-streamed gig from the roof of the Capitol Records building in LA, the announcement came that ‘The Stage’ was out now. Like, literally right then and there!

Ergo, yours truly needed some personal alone time with this record, what with having it being dropped in my lap so suddenly, before beginning to write a thousand or so words about it and after a handful of listens I can do just that!

So first off, let me say that this album is really fucking long – seventy-three minutes and thirty-five seconds to be precise. When an album – rock, metal or otherwise – ticks over the hour mark I have to really wonder if it really needed to be that long, which is what I asked myself here. But you know what? Yes, Avenged Sevenfold’s seventh outing does indeed warrant this length as it feels necessary to the record’s overall quality. The mix and production here are both equally great, the performances are not only exceptional but also quite dynamic (I mean, you don’t get to this level if you’re objectively shit at music), and the overall compositions are suitably dense, flow well together, and are dare I say it, complex, and actually interesting to listen to. That last part is crucial with long running albums such as this, as having suitably simple or complex instrumentation – whichever the case may be – and good song structures that make your songs engaging for the listener(s) is absolutely key. And that’s the case here, thankfully.

Songwise, there are some terrific songs found within this grand affair, even if the opening title track is the weakest link, and is overshadowed by the far more interesting moments that follow it. Like the dark twang and instrumental swing and the brooding timbre on ‘Angels‘, or the simply serene, clean guitar noodling of ‘Roman Sky‘, that later builds and explodes into a monolithic orchestral rock epic in superb fashion, or how ‘Higher‘ really does soar in nearly every aspect. Elsewhere, the late album entry of ‘Fermi Paradox‘ (which is basically the contradiction between the lack of evidence and the high probability that extraterrestrial life may exist – the more you know) is a great exercise in circle pitting and headbanging with its faster tempo, galloping drums and driving riffs. The infectious drum groove and guitar leads in the chorus secure it as the best chorus of the whole album. Oh, and the subtle snare ghost notes and the chorus-tinged drums found halfway through are damn cool.

Couple those aforementioned songs with the rhythmic ripper that is ‘Sunny Disposition‘ and you’re easily looking at the core set of standout songs, surrounded by a whole host of other solid tracks as well, with little in the way of duds. With that being said, what really makes this album work is that these eleven songs, whether they are consumed in the full musical and conceptual context of the record or not, they still work on an individual level and they all still feel…whole.

Now, on the topic of the album’s concept and gun to my relatively large head, I couldn’t tell you about the larger-than-life science fiction concept embedded in these songs, as the music takes over the front two seats. I’m sure there are many blog posts somewhere on the Internet by now, each with thousands of words, handfuls of photos, and hyperlinks coming out the wazoo that breaks down this album’s plot, claiming that it really is about “artificial intelligence and self-destruction of society”. While there is definitely a greater narrative here,  (lyrically, ‘Simulation‘ seems to be the crux of it) the sci-fi themes touched on here about holographic universes, AI, the greater cosmos beyond the human mind all seem like they were just placed in a narrative blender after the band googled ‘sci-fi authors’ and glanced over a few Wikipedia pages. (That’s called the “Hideo Kojima Method” in the business, folks.) As such, this record feels like Periphery’sJuggernaut‘ releases; the music came first, and the concept and story came second by a fucking mile. Even so, I appreciate A7X’s effort and narrative aside, there’s indeed a greater sense of musical cohesiveness here when compared to their past releases, as I feel ‘The Stage‘ is leagues ahead of their previous output.

Obviously, with this being an Avenged Sevenfold record, I was expecting to be taking the first exit from Overdone Riff Highway into Excessive Solo City, with the traffic flow being directed equally by guitarists Zacky Vengeance and Synyster Gates (god, their names will never stop being cringey). Turns out, I was only half-right. Yes, there are plenty of guitar riffs and solos to muse over and chew on here but they never once feel ham-fisted like they have sometimes in the past, nor are they phoned in; they feel natural and necessary. Which was great to discover, as I’ve always found this band to be mere Guitar Hero/Rock Band bait and the metal equivalent of those acoustic guitar douche bags who only learn ‘Freebird‘ and ‘Wonderwall‘ and incessantly demanded they play either song at a moment’s notice, despite being average at best at both songs. Ahem.

While I’m talking about the band members, I cannot tell if M. Shadows is starting to really lose his voice after all these years or that he’s purposely wandered into this gravelly, almost-strained vocal style. I mean, it still sounds good and it works for the bands sound and it’s sublime on the softer, more dynamic moments found in ‘Simulation‘, ‘Exist‘, ‘Roman Sky‘ and ‘Angels‘. Likewise, in the louder, more intensive rock moments of the record, his vocals still hold up but I can’t help but wonder if his vocal days are numbered… which is something I cannot say about their drummer! Drummer Brooks Wackerman is mainly known for his efforts with punk rock legends, Bad Religion. But here, in the format of Avenged Sevenfold, he well and truly shines and he steals the show with nailing everything from tight snare rudiments, bombastic tom fills, to simple, hard-hitting grooves and his powerful, thunderous double kicks. (Sorry, Arin who?). His busy drum work is not only rock solid but it’s also completely fitting and delivered tastefully within the larger framework of A7X’s sound. I could seriously listen to Wackerman drum all goddamn day and he’s now skyrocketed up my list of the best drummers of the modern era with this record. The Rev would be proud, indeed.

Alongside the band’s typical rock/metal instrumentation and genre, there’s plenty of sonic and instrumental variety on offer. This is included, but not strictly limited to, synths, various samples, choral, brass and string sections, and in one particular case, a spoken word part from popular author and astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse motherfucking Tyson. Yep, that’s right, Neil deGrasse Tyson featuring on an Avenged Sevenfold song? Man, what a time to be alive!

That latter part about the famed human ambassador for the greater universe comes in the final track, ‘Exist’, which is a sixteen-minute long masterpiece. Many fans and critics have already labeled this record as a whole to be a masterpiece but it is here, in the final stretch of the band’s most ambitious record to date, that the phrase is actually warranted. It’s the longest song you’ll find on ‘The Stage‘ by miles and it’s also the best of the bunch. From the intro’s flashy guitar lead and the ebb and flow of the dark synth pads, to the pounding drums and riffing guitars that follow, to the beautiful, spacious yet surging mid-section, to Tyson’s equally bleak and inspiring radio-filtered speech that ends the song; this track is utterly brilliant! Hell, up until the seven-minute mark, I actually thought that it was going to be a solely instrumental track, but the solid vocal delivery from Shadows, coupled with the spatial panning keeps this song from being a drawn out, instrumental wank-fest. In short, ‘Exist‘ resolves this mammoth record, this massive journey if you will, in a truly wonderful fashion and it’s quite possibly the best A7X song to date. Yeah, I said it.

Conclusion

Look, I am far from what you would call a fan of Avenged Sevenfold but fuck me sideways and call me Sally, this record is damned good! And that is something that I honestly thought I would never ever say about this band, yet here I am. ‘The Stage’ is a monolithic record, in not only its musicality and its instrumentation, but also in its thematic scope (well, assumedly so) and it contains some of the band’s best material to date. It shows the band can be free from the typical conventions of their usual mainstream, stadium rock sound and be something…more. This is the band’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ and perhaps the best record to ever fall under the Avenged Sevenfold moniker.

Tracklisting

  1. The Stage
  2. Paradigm
  3. Sunny Disposition
  4. God Damn
  5. Creating God
  6. Angels
  7. Simulation
  8. Higher
  9. Roman Sky
  10. Fermi Paradox
  11. Exist

‘The Stage’ is out now and whether you are an Avenged Sevenfold fan or not, I truly believe that this record is worthy of your time, even if the artwork is kinda arse. Also, was this review too long for you? Well, tough shit, this album is really bloody long so a thousand plus words was more than warranted in my books. 

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