Avenged Sevenfold - 'The Stage'

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: 59

Rating w/ Video: 40

Of Mice & Men - Cold World

If something in 2016 earns the privilege of being tagged as "nu metal", you know it's going to be a disaster. Of Mice & Men have done it. 2013's Restoring Force was a powerful and emotional record, full of anger and loss. You could feel its big moments bombarding you and you'd remember them vividly.

Their fourth album Cold World is not Restoring Force. It doesn't even sound like Of Mice & Men. It's a bunch of songs that bring to question where the line is drawn between "influenced by" and "copied from". It started with the lead single 'Pain' (see our review of it here), which basically ripped off the old sounds of Slipknot, probably so that they could appease the crowds of their opening slot with them. It only gets worse.

I've never heard an album where every song sounds like a carbon copy of a different artist. I'm really not sure what they were doing here. The album starts off with 'Game Of War', which is literally just a worse version of Puscifer's 'Grand Canyon'. It's an awful intro, too - it's four minutes long and incredibly underwhelming. 'Real' features Austin Carlile singing, which is cool, if it wasn't clearly trying to be a heavier version of Minutes To Midnight-era Linkin Park. Maybe the boys spent a little too much time with them on tour in 2014... There's also the complete mess of a Limp Bizkit song with 'Relentless'. It's the most nu-metal thing to be released since nu-metal died. That is not good.

To it's credit, it's not completely horrible. Just mostly. 'Like A Ghost', the one track on the album I can actually say has some substance. Aaron Pauley's singing in the verses are a bit odd (it sounds like he's trying to imitate Marilyn Manson), but Austin Carlile screams powerfully in the background as he sings, making those powerful accentuations that made a lot of the vocals on Restoring Force so great. It's the first energy with raw energy, too, but it's a bit too late. By the time you get to this song you've already lost hope in the album. At least the interlude '+' has nice strings.

When the band isn't copying another, the tracks are just painfully average. There is absolutely nothing special in songs like 'Down The Road' and 'Away'. They're boring. They don't even have the quality of another band for fans of that particular band to enjoy. The album ends on 'Transfigured', sounding like even they gave up on this record. Where is the soul of the album? What happened?

It doesn't feel right to assign blame to any band member; after all, an album has to be a team effort. But it's hard to ignore the overwhelming presence of Aaron Pauley on the album. It feels like he took this album over. It has his sweet singing parts that featured in a few tracks on Restoring Force (most of which were really great) and gives himself a part in almost every song. It feels less like an Of Mice & Men record and more like a demo CD of a solo Pauley record. His highlights on Restoring Force were so good because they were refreshments between brutal screaming and metal tracks. Now that he's in literally every song, it's hard to enjoy his voice, which is a true shame. Of Mice & Men has Austin Carlile for a reason, and it's not to make him sing. It's to let his screams make the music stronger and more vivid. Why silence him?

Cold World feels like a step in the wrong direction. It's hard to even call it an Of Mice & Men record - it sounds like Aaron Pauley featuring a backing band and a guest screamer sometimes. It's a sad and boring record. It's nu-metal moments don't help, either. Of Mice & Men had finally found their signature sound, and after building on it for a single album, they dropped it almost completely. The only response I have to this record is a question: why?

Favorite Track: Like A Ghost

Least Favorite Tracks: Relentless, Down The Road, Transfigured, Away

Rating: 52 / 100