Metal and theatric grandiose always blend well together - Avenged Sevenfold are the band to bring the two together with flying colors without fail. Their surprise seventh record The Stage progresses their giant sound even further.
It's been a long few years for the band since the release of Hail To The King in 2013. The Stage is the band's first record with drummer Brooks Wackerman following the departure of their drummer since Nightmare, Arin Ilejay. The band also changed record labels, with The Stage being their first on Capitol. It's a confusing and impactful time for the band, and it'd probably be best to take things slowly and test the waters.
Nope. Avenged Sevenfold have done quite the opposite; The Stage borders progressive metal, songs featuring complex structures and multiple sections, the majority of the tracks on the record clocking in at over five minutes long. It's the band's longest record to date, beating out City Of Evil by a minute. There was surely uncertainty in the creation and risk of the record, but Avenged Sevenfold burst into it confidently and succeeded with flying colors.
The record does, however, get off to a bit of a bumpy start. The title track 'The Stage,' also the album's lead single, kicks off the record, and if you read our review of the track, you could probably tell that I was not a fan. I'm not quite certain what it is; whether it's the lack of a clichéd music video accompanying it or the context of the record, the track certainly sounds like less of a trainwreck as it did upon my first impressions. That doesn't mean it's a standout; it's more like a mild derailment. There's a lot of things going on with the song, and it doesn't play towards the benefit of it. Wackerman doesn't make a great first impression on this track - and that's not his fault. It's the fault of whoever mixed and produced the drums on this track. There's never been a deader or messier kick drum sound than what you hear in the intro of the song behind the tapping guitar. The lyrics are just plain embarrassing, too; how can "Jesus Christ was born to die / Leave it to man to levitate his own to idolize / We’re simply sociopaths with no communication baby / I see your angle but we differ from our points of view" be acceptable in any song? The melody is still tacky and the parts don't really feel cohesive. It sets the foundations of what the record will introduce later on, but the song itself doesn't cut it.
The album only gets better from there; in fact, it gets better and better as it progresses. 'Paradigm' kicks in with immediately more impressive (and better produced) drumming and a powerful guitar riff, the verse furthering this as the guitar imitates the drums and M. Shadows escapes his shaky melodies from the former track and returns to his signature vocalizations, complete with an epic scream to really bring the entire song together.
Big riffs are a key element of any A7X record, and The Stage is no exception - in fact, it may have set a whole new standard. Creepy, dark powerchords dance with the thick rhythm guitars in the intro of 'Sunny Disposition' before the pounding drums drive the song through the chugging guitars and classic A7X melody. The song ends rather rawly, a peaceful and mysterious guitar line falls in line with an equally pretty bassline to end it all off. 'Creating God' also has a powerful riff, though pretty simple. It's just ascending powerchords, but there's something in the way it imitates a big bass synth line that makes it sound a bit robotic and all the more powerful.
Electronics make a surprising debut as a key part of some songs on The Stage. Though there aren't any songs that fully blend the line between electronica and metal on the record, there's some toying around with the idea. 'Fermi Paradox' is the last place you'll expect to hear synths, its thrashing intro leading into powerful verses. You then meet the bridge of the song, synthy electronic keyboards supporting an amazing bluesy solo from Synyster Gates that shifts the mood of the song to something more retrospective. After one final verse, the soloing returns and brings the song to its end.
The album is closed by the fifteen minute progressive rock epic 'Exist.' It begins right away with arpeggiating synths and the same beautiful orchestral elements that build the previous track 'Roman Sky' and its tragic drama. 'Exist' is a sort of summation of the record - it's almost like the polar opposite of 'The Stage' - 'Exist' is a showcase of the mastery of every single element introduced on the record, while 'The Stage' hides in the shadows as an uncertain projection of what they wanted to sound like. The phenomenal, dramatic intro blasts straight into a thrashing mix of pounding drums and dual sweeping guitars. The song then bursts sporadically into both heavy and thick riffs until it hits its halfway mark, where the distorted riffs are replaced by another great, bluesy solo before clean guitar reminiscent of Radiohead's 'Electioneering' come into play and the first vocals of the song are sung. Shadows sings in a pained tone, "Our truth is painted across the sky / In our reflection we learn to fly," profound lyrics that emulate the searching adventure of the track. 'Exist' is a journey through space in search of an escape from the tragedies of Earth and to find a place for a chance at redemption; somewhere to start anew, unbound by any burdens of the past.
The Stage is a monster of a record. It may take a bit to get it up and roaring, but when it does, it takes metal to an epic level. Avenged Sevenfold hit it big with this album - it's by far one of their most introspective and honest ones to date. Despite all of the brooding changes and pressure on them, they burst into this new frontier with confidence and took it over and made it their own. The Stage is a successful experiment, though not free of imperfection - if it was, how would the next record be able to top it? Because if this is the direction they take, it certainly will.
Favorite Tracks: Exist, Roman Sky, Creating God, Angels
Least Favorite Track: The Stage
Rating: 87 / 100