2016 didn’t start too positively for American metal heavyweights, Avenged Sevenfold. After being sued for trying to leave then-record label Warner Bros. due to personnel changes within the label since the band had signed to them, this restricted the band from the planned release of a DVD featuring live appearances from Download Festival and Rock In Rio.
Rumours of a new record stirred in mid-October as the projection of the band’s deathbat logo started appearing around London along with a couple of cryptic tweets from Fozzy frontman Chris Jericho stating a supposed title, ‘Voltaic Oceans’. The album (entitled ‘The Stage’) was subsequently released shortly after with virtually no PR exposure.
The first record to feature new drummer Brooks Wackerman (ex-Bad Religion), ‘The Stage’ starts with the title-track lead single – an eight and a half minute long epic. A ballsy option considering the low fanfare associated with the arrival of the album, the song opens with a decent guitar solo and soon envelopes into a brooding, emotive chorus full of melody and atmosphere. Another awesome solo from lead guitarist Synyster Gates is delivered through a softer part of the song halfway through, giving the track a slightly different feel before delivering a final run through of that anthemic chorus.
‘Paradigm’ is superbly heavy with a sleazy undertone to vocalist M. Shadows‘ voice and a huge guitar riff linking the bridge between chorus and verse, while ‘Sunny Disposition’ has an almost eerie sound. Despite being extremely catchy throughout, the track includes sections of horns playing in the background which adds an almost comedic element to the track.
A nod to their ‘City Of Evil’ roots is shown on ‘God Damn’, arguably one of the highlights of the album. An intermittent heavy riff starts proceedings before flowing into something that hints at old school A7X, combining a lightning quick pace, gothic undertone, and some snarling vocals. This will leave you humming the numerous amount of hooks for weeks.
Elsewhere on the record, ‘Creating God’ has a silky smooth chorus lifted straight out of Faith No More‘s back catalogue, ‘Simulation’ includes a thrashy chorus set against gentle verses, constantly changing the dynamic of the song, and ‘Fermi Paradox’ somehow manages to cobble together blast beat drumming, twin guitar harmonies, and a masterful vocal performance from Shadows.
Token ballad ‘Roman Sky’ sees the band in reflective mood with a similar aura to previous ballads, ‘Seize The Day’ and ‘So Far Away’. Steeped in melody, emotiveness, and a near-acoustic guitar through the song, Shadows‘ gentle vocals are lifted slightly with the accompaniment of an orchestral element midway through.
Final track ‘Exist’ is largely instrumental in parts, and runs for a full 15 minute and 41 seconds. It seems as though seems as though every idea that the band have thought of during the writing and recording of this record is consolidated into this one body of work, whether it be mesmerising guitar solos, atmospheric rhythm sections, or groove-laden guitar riffs. The spoken word outro from cosmologist and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson adds to the conceptual nature of the album regarding artificial intelligence and space travel, and rounds off the album solidly.
‘The Stage’ is a conceptually and musically heavy record that deserves multiple appraisals. New drummer Wackerman is an incredible influence, with moments of building tension and soaring adrenaline levels complimented by Johnny Christ‘s intricate bass playing. On top of this, they’re clearly doing things on their own terms now, and one can only hope that the addictive nature of what is a highly progressive yet immediate record continues long through their career.
Written by Neil Criddle (@DJCriddz)