So this really came out of nowhere didn’t it? Somewhere amongst the stars, or like a bat out of hell? Now that we got some chuckles out of the way let’s actually talk about Avenged Sevenfold’s The Stage (Capitol), because it’s incredible.
It has been three years since their previous release Hail to the King, which while a good album felt more like it was trying to be the band’s inspirations than themselves. To call The Stage a “return to form” would be far too simple (and unfair); not only does it pull off being the band’s most unique work in their collection, but in that individuality mixes elements from Waking the Fallen up to Nightmare. In regards to the technical aspects this is the longest of their works to date (clocking in around 73 minutes), and embodies a variety of metal and hard rock instrumentals (among a couple others).
One thing to know right off the bat before diving in is the new drummer. With the departure of Arin Ilejay, the band has brought on Brooks Wackerman, former drummer of Bad Religion. To cut to the chase: everyone plays their parts extremely well. Wackerman is an incredible drummer with moments of building tension and driving adrenaline, Johnny Christ helps each song move forward with power and solid fills, while Zacky Vengeance, Synyster Gates, and M. Shadows all provide insane dynamics in their stylization. Vengeance and Gates capture such a vast variety of instrumentation from different spectrums, while Shadows helps establish that extra layer of emotion. The Stage is also due credit for embracing a more unique lyrical concept, focusing on the ideas of Artificial Intelligence (as well as the atypical themes of society falling apart). Specifically, it is the band’s research into the works of Carl Sagan and Elon Musk that not only help center a broad topic, but narrow it down.
Opener “The Stage” was the only single shared for this record before its surprise release, and while it is a solid track, it does not prepare the listener for what is about to come (which in all intentions is a massive positive). It introduces us to elements that only get stronger as the record progresses. The following track “Paradigm” includes more intense drumming with heftier shredding. This acts for a solid groove until the tempo flips and speeds things up with more of a kick to drumming, and the guitar attaining a beaming rhythm. Shadows’ voice is much more prominent here and is still just a little glimpse into the range of vocals that are to come as he demonstrates his use of general spoken words, strong singing, and screams (screams that feel reminiscent to Waking the Fallen days). “Sunny Disposition” brings with it deeper notes and alternating tempo shifts that make for a playful mix. With a fun addition using some horns, this feels like a walk down memory lane in remembering the sounds of City of Evil.
With an introduction that at first sputters with blast beats and shredding, “God Damn” then goes full speed and throws these elements up front. This is the first time the record has a heavier sense to it, which makes for great timing. Shadows harmonizes with the tempo changes, and brings in the hook to hit right on the listener’s ear. Sounds found here alone alter from aspects of thrash, metalcore and acoustic, back around to thrash. The balance in all this comes from the combination of Wackerman, Vengeance, and Gates. With their precise timing and technicality, they help space and structure each song to embody its own chemistry. While listener’s may notice recognizable aspects among the tracks, it should be made clear that no two sound alike.
“Creating God” and “Angels” share an interesting aspect where the songs have a twang to them (the former vocally and the latter instrumentally). “Creating God” holds more to hard rock elements and sticks to basic structure which leads up to a speedier bridge and sonic chorus. “Angels” begins with a strong somber tone in its notes and in vocals. This aura presents a country-rock aura that surrounds it (to give you some sort of idea in this, think of a darker Johnny Cash sound). There is minimal usage of instrumentals in “Angels” that not only helps bring out the emotions in them, but really helps the vocals, since this is one of the strongest uses of singing on the record. Its solo is also profound, and while it contains that same high brightness used before, it lingers just evermore upon the ears with a darker guitar and sparse drumming in the background. It is with reaching the halfway point that we ought to talk about the use of solos. At least one can be found on every song and they never sound the same. Again, this is another element that is able to take bits and pieces of technique used before, but become its own identity as the whole of the work moves forward.
The rest of the album from here is just as powerful and delightful of a treat as the beginning. The use of dynamic structure and instrumentation with vocals is still found in each song, with unique spins found from time to time. This can be the usage of keys or string instruments found in tracks like “Roman Sky” and “Exist”. These two specifically will standout to listeners with the former being a strong instrumental reminder of a little previous title called “So Far Away”, while the latter is a terrific instrumental track with good use of some vocals and solid commentary by the scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
The Stage is a masterpiece (yeah I said it). Call Avenged Sevenfold too mainstream if you want, but when musicians bust their ass and make incredible music, credit is due. With its brilliant composition, vast and strong collection of sounds, this is the Avenged Sevenfold record that shines the brightest amongst the stars. The Stage isn’t just a great step up from their previous work, but an outstanding addition to the halls of metal and rock that will forever be remembered.