Avenged Sevenfold – The Stage
Label: Capitol Records
Release Date: October 28, 2016
Avenged Sevenfold is back with their 7th studio album The Stage. This marks the band’s first release on their new label Capitol Records after a less than friendly exit from their former label Warner Bros. Records. Moving from Warner Bros. to Capitol was not the only change the band has made, there has also been a shift in the band’s line-up. Avenged announced in July 2015 that they had parted ways with drummer Arin Ilejay, due to creative differences. The band had already been working behind closed doors with another drummer for over a year but didn’t want to move forward with another new member unless they knew that the chemistry was on point. As it turned out it was a good fit and few months after Ilejay’s departure former Bad Religion drummer, Brooks Wackerman, was officially welcomed into the Avenged Sevenfold family.
The Stage was co-produced by Avenged Sevenfold and Joe Barresi (Tool, Chevelle, Queens of the Stone Age, Parkway Drive, Bad Religion) and is the band’s first conceptual album which focuses around the idea of artificial intelligence. A.I. is a subject that vocalist M. Shadows is fascinated with and had researched for several years. Shadows brought the conceptual idea to the rest of Avenged Sevenfold and the band was interested and intrigued with moving forward with what would become the band’s latest album The Stage. Let me say this, do not be scared off because this has been described as a conceptual album, whether you “get” it or not, you can enjoy this CD. The Stage is musically more than just a concept about our existence and if A.I. is an existential threat to humanity, so give it a chance.
At over 73 minutes, this is the longest Avenged Sevenfold album to date with several songs over the 6-minute mark. The first song is the title track “The Stage.” The song might be over 8-minutes long, but when you are listening to it there is not one moment where you feel the song could (or should) have been edited. There isn’t anything unnecessary from the synthesizer intro to the classical acoustic guitar outro. M. Shadows vocals are strong, which is evidenced in the song’s incredibly bridge that trails off into a howling growl. The song begs humanity to wake-up and look at the history of our existence and see how we continue to make the same choices that lead to the same mistakes, we are destined to fail because we never learn from the past. “The Stage” is engrossing and an incredibly smart choice for the band’s first single.
Next up is “Paradigm,” what can I say, I am absolutely all about this song. If you were looking for that signature Avenged Sevenfold sound, “Paradigm,” has everything you need. The guitars are low with a soaring guitar solo, the chorus is fast and heavy, the melodies and screams are perfect and Brooks Wackerman’s drum skillfulness really shines. This song has emotion and most definitely a sharp set of teeth and may very well be my favorite track on the entire CD.
“Sunny Disposition” has a bit of a dark and sinister atmosphere and features a guest appearance by Angelo Moore and “Dirty” Walter Kibby of Fishbone who added some additional horns to the track. With the added horn section, it has a familiar Hail to the King sound, but unlike HTTK “Sunny Disposition” has double bass kick in the ass which HTTK sorely lacked. I noted a few moments where I felt a vibe of something off the Meliora album from Ghost, but that by no means is a complaint. Next up is “God Damn” which is the shortest track on The Stage and has a metal edge with a melodic infusion. The song is hard throughout the verse but slower during the chorus. Those slower tempo sections may cause some to discount this song because they “can’t see the forest for the trees,” but the song is worth hearing if for no other reason than for the verse portions, which are the strongest parts of the song in my opinion.
“Creating God” has a great lead-in and the guitars and drums continue to play off-of each other effectively throughout. This song’s power can be found in the melodic vocals during the chorus, a silky guitar solo along with the musical muscle brought in the breakdown. After “Creating God” is the track “Angels” which has a laid back and relaxed pace with an unquestionable bluesy feel. Shadows shows off his skills, proving that a simple emotive approach with effective sustains is sometimes all you need. “Angels” is soothing and envelopes you like a warm blanket after an arduous day.
Track 7, “Simulation,” has that rise and fall momentum. It allows you to breathe then it comes at you with an adrenaline cocktail that slides you into a gritty aggressive old school smack of a Megadeth experience. “Simulation” then moves nicely into the next song, “Higher,” which is well-built from beginning to end; lyrically and musically tight, not to mention the drum fills are impressive. If there was a blue print on song writing, “Higher” would be it. The track has a nice balance of levity with just the right amount of darkness.
“Roman Sky” is a beautiful song, slow with a soothing orchestra arrangement that sets the emotional backdrop. The breakdown transitions the song lifting you straight into the stratosphere before you break out into the vastness of the universe. “Fermi Paradox” is another favorite track on The Stage. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it suits me just fine. It starts by building on a foundation of that Avenged sound but then begins assembling layers of the band’s evolution and maturity as it progresses. Shadows described the song as having “melodic vocal melodies” that are put over “black metal blast beats.” I would have preferred a couple of different musical decisions here and there, but those things are insignificant and does not dismiss all the other fantastic elements of this song like, for example, the vocals in the pre-chorus.
The final song, “Exist,” comes in at over 15 minutes in length, which is a long song by anyone’s standards. Shadows has described it as an idea that starts as a “musical interpretation of the big bang” and then evolves organically from that thought. It begins with seven minutes of an impressive instrumental jam fest really featuring Syn Gates’ guitar prowess before the song changes tempo and the vocals begin. Once the vocals kick in, the song has a sound very reminiscent of the “Space Oddity” era of David Bowie. Then 12 minutes into “Exist,” the song switches gears again sonically and includes a spoken word addition written and performed by renowned astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson. It feels like the song is broken down into three different parts and the musicianship is without a doubt 100% rock-solid, but it is does feel a bit long toward the end and the spoken word portion is not my taste. I can appreciate what they are trying to achieve and if you are going to put a song this long out there, you need to keep it interesting, which admittedly they did. I do get it, but that doesn’t mean I need to be on board for the entire ride, but I am aboard for most it.
Unlike prior albums, The Stage did not have significant marketing before its release. On October 27, 2016, the band livestreamed from their Facebook page a 3D/360-degree virtual-reality event performed from the roof of Capital Records. Avenged Sevenfold shocked everyone by announcing after the performance that The Stage would be released on October 28, 2016 not only online but it would be available for purchase physically in the stores that same day. The band has said that they had become bored with the standard marketing build up before an album release. The band felt that the mystique that once existed surrounding a new release has been lost in an era of fans being accustomed to hearing an entire album well before it ever hits the stores. If they were trying to catch their fans off guard with a surprise mystery release, they succeeded masterfully in a huge way.
As with every Avenged Sevenfold album there will be those that love it, those that hate it and those that are indifferent. My first listen through of The Stage I was concerned that I would be disappointed with this album, I didn’t want a repeat of my Hail to the King experience, because to be honest HTTK is my least favorite Avenged effort to date. It is not that it was a bad album, I just never connected with HTTK, but while listening to The Stage I heard a voice in my brain that said A7X are back.
With The Stage I can say that Avenged Sevenfold have indeed found their mojo again. Synyster Gates lifts you up with his guitar mastery, Zacky Vengeance anchors every song with his deep crunchy guitar epic-ness, with bassist Johnny Christ right there driving in his rhythmic metal grove. M. Shadows is embracing the depth of his true voice by showing off his range and natural vibrato. Avenged Sevenfold’s newest member, Brooks Wackerman, delivers a drum pounding force, which the band was lacking on their last CD Hail to the King. The drumming is a 100% improvement over HTTK and feels more in-line with the earlier Avenged Sevenfold flare that was delivered by the late great Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan. Wackerman possesses the style, the complexity, and the fire that has been missing and is now thankfully burning once again in A7X.
Not everyone is going to like the evolution of Avenged’s sound, but it cannot be denied that the musicality is strong. The songwriting is also back on solid ground and this album, unlike HTTK, it has tempo changes and flow from one song to the next. A7X may no longer be strictly a metalcore band; all flash and pyrotechnics as in the past, but they are still undeniably a talented force. Their musical chemistry is again balanced, so give it a chance and be open to hearing something different from them. Hail to the King, to me, was a transitional point for Avenged Sevenfold and they now seem to have found their post-Rev musical identity, maybe the addition of Brooks helped this metamorphosis, but regardless of how the band got here, I am thankful. Welcome back Avenged Sevenfold.
- The Stage
- Sunny Disposition
- God Damn
- Creating God
- Roman Sky
- Fermi Paradox