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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
Avenged Sevenfold have a reputation of being the pop boys of metal. It's fair to say - they definitely have one of the more accessible sounds in the genre. While remaining easy to listen to in terms of the levels of metal, they often do it well. Their new song is not one of these cases.
'The Stage' is perhaps one of the most uncreative, gimmicky songs the band has ever put out. From the over-the-top angsty music video to the absolutely dreadful drum mix, this song really has hit all the checks for bad.
You'd think progressive A7X couldn't be that bad. You'd have thought wrong, though. 'The Stage' is melodramatic in the worst ways possible. The band is known for being bombastic and upfront, but this is just distasteful. It does have multiple distinct sections that work to a passable ending that takes the song out on its only positive note. The intro is brought straight from the title track 'Hail To The King' from their 2013 effort Hail To The King in a move which shows that the band is basically ripping themselves off (at least it's not Metallica this time). The song abruptly segues into a clean, almost bluesy bridge after an electrifying solo. The guitar in this part is really great, the instrumental as a whole sounding really genuinely pretty.
Then the heaviness comes back. It's not as bad as the verses had set up, but it's still not great. The song ends with dual guitar solos in that 'Nightmare'-esque fashion and pounding drums (the only part of the album where the drums are tolerable). A classical acoustic ending brings the song to an awkward end as the crash cymbal fails to fade out with the rest of the instrumental. Also, why did they end with an acoustic guitar? What is the relevance?
Not only is the performance out of place, but the instruments themselves just sound awful. The kick drum in the intro sounds like something a teen trying out a double-kick pedal or a sampling pad for the first time would sound like. The tone of it is so completely dead, too. The snare is okay, and the cymbals are fine, but as for the rest of the kit; it's like they forgot to mic them appropriately. Their new drummer Brooks Wackerman is really not doing them any favors - Bad Religion won't miss him if this is his work now... The guitar lacks bass or crunch, sounding floppy and weak. The lead parts are good, as is expected from Synyster Gates, but what happened to the rhythm guitar? Why does M. Shadows sound like a dying horse in the third verse? What's going on?
To make matters worse, the lyrics are absolutely laughable. By some tragic miracle, M. Shadows seems to have misplaced his own lyrics with an angry middle-schooler's diary. Who let "When did the walking apes decide that nuclear war / Was now the only solution for them keeping the score? / Just wake up / Can’t you wake up?" be words to a song? The key to being prolific and making a statement is ripping cliché metaphors straight out of angry YouTube comments? The second verse sings (in the song's awful, failing melody) "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," as if this isn't the cringiest line you've ever heard in a metal song (barring Limp Bizkit, of course, who made that their thing).
Just when you thought things couldn't get worse, the music video is atrocious. It's a giant metaphor on war and corruption, with handpuppets replaying scenes from the history of man, including the beheading of Louis XIV and World War I. An interesting concept, but done with the wrong song and the the wrong direction. Watching puppets in these scenes with crappy metal playing in the background doesn't do any justice. When Hillary Clinton and Vladmir Putin appear at the end as puppets controlling the other puppets, you can't help but say "Oh, come on." Then another set of strings control those puppets, the strings attached to a skeletal hand that presses a button the detonate a nuclear bomb, sending us back to the age of cavemen, because that's how evolution works.
There's so much wrong with this song, and it makes me angry. I want this song to be good. Repeated listens lighten the initial "what and why is this" reaction, but fails to make the bad elements of the song any better. It's a badly produced song and a badly produced video to combine into one fail of a show. Hopefully the rest of Voltaic Oceans holds up, because if this song (and the edginess of the album title) are proof of what's to come, we're doomed.
Rating w/ Video: 40
Sol Invictus: the “Unconquered Sun”. A Roman god who was brought up to a state of a cult by a Roman emperor. With every night, he was forced to submit to the chaos of darkness, yet emerged as victor every morning.
History lesson aside, Faith No More’s new album Sol Invictus has a close connection to the Roman concept. The band was always as the forefront of the rising metal scene of the late 80s to the late 90s. The band called it quits as shockingly as they had come out of the dark in 1998, reuniting in 2009 through 2012 for the “The Second Coming” Tour. It was not until this year the band finally released new material, for the first time in nearly two decades. In what has become one of the most anticipated metal records of the year, Sol Invictus delivered just what you’d expect from Faith No More.
The album is fairly diverse in sound where it wants to be. Faith No More makes strong use of pianos early on in the album, notably leading in tracks like ‘Sol Invictus’ and ‘Superhero,’ whereas it begins to take a more background approach in ‘Sunny Side Up’. ‘Separation Anxiety’ brings in the palm-muted, thick guitar tones in the verses, almost comparable to certain Tool tracks. This track in particular brings in some particularly heavier sounds to the table. Mike Patton delivers some brutal vocals on it to - understated yet forceful in the same manner. ‘Cone Of Shame’ brings some more creepy vocals to the table, with a more of a spoken-word approach to it. The riff then kicks in, resulting in a pure jam. ‘Rise Of The Fall’ brings some old-school vibes to it (closest comparison of a song I can think of is Avenged Sevenfold’s ‘A Little Piece Of Heaven’), bringing back the piano instrumentation to the front. Some alternate instruments in the string and brass sections make an appearance, too. ‘Black Friday’ is a bit weirder, harkening back to the feel of ‘Cone Of Shame’. Personally, the lyrics to ‘Motherfucker’ feel a little repetitive melodically at this point, but the lyrics (while a bit cliché) are pretty uplifting in a way. It almost feels like this song would work better towards the beginning of the album rather than near the end. ‘Matador’ repeats the formula of ‘Sunny Side Up’ before the album concludes on a high, triumphant note with ‘From The Dead’.
At some point, however, the album brings up a certain sense of déjà vu. Every track is individual in its own right, yet there is a point where things begin getting repetitive. For example, the reggae/baroque vibe of ‘Rise Of The Fall’ feels like a callback to the piano-led ‘Sol Invictus’. The whole “start small, bring in big instrumentation later’ is also evident on several tracks. ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cone Of Shame’ follow essentially the same exact pattern of each other; I’d go as far as to say they could even be alternate versions of the same song. Really, that’s my only complaint. If the album was a bit more diverse and less crafted upon one repetitive formula each song, perhaps I could have enjoyed it a little more than I did.
Let’s take a step back - Sol Invictus, that Roman God we discussed earlier. He was forced to battle the powers of darkness every night, coming out victorious every morning. In essence, Faith No More’s Sol Invictus shares a similar overarching meaning. Battling the evil within something, someone, or even yourself to rise again with each new day. The band’s newest album is a solid effort and a strong comeback, but definitely has room for improvement.
Favorite Tracks: Sol Invictus, Superhero, Separation Anxiety
Least Favorite Tracks: Black Friday, Motherfucker
Overall Rating: 7.5/10