Released: July 27th, 2010
On July 27th Avenged Sevenfold released their fifth studio album entitled Nightmare. This is the first album released since the death of drummer Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan. Sullivan passed away in December 2009, while the band was in the process of working on this project. After their loss and some soul searching the band has fought back and moved forward and released, in my opinion, their best CD to date.
Shall we begin? I must admit this is not an album you can listen to one time and accurately critique it in any form or fashion. The first time I played the CD I just felt a sense of sadness at the loss of Jimmy. The second time wasn’t much better. On the third listen, the song “So Far Away” hit me like a ton of bricks and reminded of a personal loss, again an overflow of sadness. But by the fourth or maybe fifth attempt of getting through the CD I felt a change. Then while blasting “Welcome to the Family,” the second track on the album, I smiled. At this point I felt I was ready to finally delve into each track with some perspective.
In Jimmy’s absence Mike Portnoy of the band Dream Theater, who Sullivan admired, agreed to get behind the kick and bring Jimmy’s legacy to fruition. Portnoy is a legend in the world of drumming and there could not have been a better person to finish Jimmy’s work. Portnoy along with producer Mike Elizondo helped this devastated group of friends through perhaps the hardest recording processes of their career.
The build up to the release of this CD was well marketed by the band, their label Warner Bros. Records and their loyal fan base. There were such teasers as the release of A7X’s first single “Nightmare” in May, 2010 and the posting of the song “Buried Alive” on You Tube in mid-July. There were puzzle pieces released over time of what the CD cover would look like. Every day it seemed like there was yet another build up to “Nightmare.” And by the end of July the fans were without a doubt ready to hear this CD.
By the time Nightmare was released I had heard the title track at least a hundred times, and it’s a great single, but at this point I was ready for the remainder of the songs on the album. I wanted to hear the last material Jimmy would ever work on.
Track 2, “Welcome to the Family” is straight forward Avenged Sevenfold; you hear the opening lyric “Hey kid – do I have your attention?” you know who it is and they do have your attention, completely. This is a fitting song because Avenged Sevenfold and their fans are a family, a family with a strong bond, a tireless and devoted bond and this is an excellent song to welcome everyone on the journey that is Nightmare.
With track 3, “Danger Line” what stands out to me is M. Shadows vocals. Shadows has been criticized for his vocal ability. I do not hear a lack of anything on this track. What I do hear on this song (and on the CD as a whole) is a range from Shadows that I have never heard before. There are clean vocals, smooth transitions, octave changes, great tone and pitch. There is still harshness in his vocals at times, but I recognize it as his signature, a defining aspect of the A7X sound. I must say, I could do without the whistling at the end of “Danger Line.” I am not a huge fan of whistling in songs, but that is a personal choice and others may love it. No offense to whistling enthusiasts whatsoever.
Track 4 is one of my favorites, “Buried Alive.” The song is musically strong and is intensely dark lyrically. The intro to the song is mesmerizing. Vocally, there is a nice mixture of Shadows’ melodies with a good dose of angry screeching, just when you think it is a ballad, you get a foot in your ass that reminds you, this is metal sweetheart. I will admit, in sections this song does have a tad of a Metallica feel, but it never loses the essence of what it truly is, a pure A7X song. Musicians have been inspired by other musicians for decades and I don’t see how that is any more relevant on this CD than it would be for anyone else. Case closed on that subject.
“Buried Alive” leads into the straight forward rock song, “Natural Born Killers,” this song sounds great while driving in the car with it as loud as you can take it. It is aggressive, but with a smooth edge, A7X is very adept in finding the right balance of hard and soft in a song. There is nothing to complain about in “Natural Born Killers,” it is what it is, a terrific damn song.
Track 6 is “So Far Away,” which without a doubt, is a great ballad written for The Rev. It showcases Syn Gates writing abilities and also has a guest appearance by Gates’ father, Brian Haner, Sr. on guitar. It is a deep, heartfelt letter to a friend that is no longer here.
The CD’s angriest addition is the track “God Hates Us,” this song resonates through your soul like the most hostile, hard-hitting old school A7X of days past. This song is praised by many of the hard core A7X fans who have missed the screaming of the early days and they welcome its return. Shadows shows on this song that he still has the ability to scream with the best of them and that he should never be underestimated.
The next track, “Victim” calms things back down. First off, I could do without the female vocal intro. Honestly, I would have liked the song much more if there had been no female vocal in it at all. I don’t feel it adds anything. Nevertheless, “Victim” is a solid offering, but it is my least favorite song on the record– I have no clue why, other than the added vocals.
Track 9, “Tonight the World Dies” is a very moody song and shows off the talent of lead guitarist Synyster Gates with the rhythm expertise of Zacky Vengeance and how well these two complement each other. But what pulls this song together is Johnny Christ– his skill on bass is clearly noticeable and completes that bluesy, dark feel that the song projects.
Track 10, “Fiction” is one of, if not my favorite song on this CD. The last song Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan wrote, three days before his passing. This song is a journey and would not be what it is without the addition of the piano. The piano gives the song a sense of determination, a forcefulness to move onward and upward until the songs reaches a plateau and you are released. At this point in the song you are completely set free. Also “Fiction” would not be what it is without Jimmy’s vocals. The vocals may not be perfect in one section, but it gives the song meaning, power and something every fan appreciates, one last glimpse of who Jimmy was and will always be, talented. This is a epic song. A masterful song, and one that will be remembered by A7X fans forever.
I would have been happy if the CD ended here with this last moment with Jimmy, but I guess that would leave the album in a of place letting go, a place of loss. That is not how Jimmy would want to end this album. He was full of life, full of energy so there has to be more. Therefore there is the final track, “Save Me.” This song is just what the listener needs to complete this journey. The longest song at just under 11 minutes and it is the perfect song to wrap up this tribute to Sullivan. The song may be long, but you do not notice the length. You notice the expert drumming and double bass work of Portnoy, which is one of the highlights of this song personally. In the final track you notice the music and the talent of this group of musicians, which cannot be denied.
Nightmare is a valiant effort, that has the progression of M. Shadows to a better vocalist; undeniable evidence that Syn Gates should be added to the list of greats as a phenomenal guitarist. This CD showcases the musicality of this band as a whole. A7X would not be who they are without the presence of M. Shadows, the axe work of Syn Gates, the skillful way Zacky Vengeance plays off of and duels with Gates. Let us not forget, the way that bassist Johnny Christ gives the band’s entire sound depth. Jimmy’s drumming is undoubtedly missed, but Portnoy more than gave his final work the quality it deserved. This is one CD every A7X fan, every rock fan, should have in their collection.
Bottom line, with Nightmare you hear a band that has experienced loss, pain. They are a band that has pulled itself up from the darkest depths of despair and shown that they are a force. They have proven that no critic or review, good or bad, about A7X will ever sway what this band means to the people that mean the most to them, their fans.
Rating: I give this CD 9 out of 10 stars. Why only 9 you ask? Because 1 bright star must stay in the heavens for The Rev, I hold back 1 star for Jimmy, in remembrance of him and his talent. “Tonight we all die young….”
2. Welcome to the Family
3. Danger Line
4. Buried Alive
5. Natural Born Killer
6. So Far Away
7. God Hates Us
9. Tonight the World Dies
11. Save Me