Review of The Stage Album by Avenged Sevenfold

Avenged Sevenfold's new release The Stage is by no means a complete shift in direction, but rather introduces prog-rock elements and tightens of many of the things we loved in Nightmare and Hail to the King.

Avenged Sevenfold The Stage Album

A7X has always been a strong bridge between two sound worlds.  One is the caustic, rusted-iron sound that dominates bands like Lamb of God and Gojira, and the other is the melodic thrash-like scene (such as the Dream Theater releases near the end of Mike Portnoy's tenure).  This album pushes these styles to their extremes, resulting in a variety of brutal, wistful, lush, and lyrical colors.

A concept album that explores various cosmological and scientific topics, from artificial intelligence, simulation theory, silencing of scientific thought, nuclear war, and the concept of God, it becomes increasingly progressive as its end approaches.  The closing track, an epic reminiscent of Dream Theater and Symphony X, brings this album full circle.

The title track that begins the album is their strongest on the release.  Its introduction is measured skillfully; sparsely textured and long enough for us to be drawn into its sound world.  At the same time, it increases one's blood pressure as the percussive rhythmicism escalates.  This is an apt opening to the first chunk of the album: a very dark, rhythmic, metal-sounding span that makes way for lighter sonorities.

The middle tracks Angels and Simulation are prime foci of the sound dichotomy.  Angels is a subtle, mournful ballad with curved edges and cleaner tone, but Simulation juxtaposes these solemn, sobered moments with pure fury.  Here A7X feature a buildup to each frantic chorus, through processed voices implying that the subject is either insane or completely correct in thinking our entire reality is a simulation.  These crescendi make one excited for the prestissimo choruses, whose shredding is chaotic and blurred.

Where Paradigm and Sunny Disposition failed in capturing fresh lyricism, Higher delivers.  Balanced as A7X are at their best, this track features a near-power-metal chorus that is beautiful, elegant, and not hackneyed.  It is contrasted with experiments in drum set techniques and timbres, reverb on the vocals, and chords reminiscent of Yngwie Malmsteen's Seventh Sign.  It is chilling, bone-rattling, and melodically silvery, but most strikingly: catchy.  One can imagine fans singing along to it at a show.

Fermi Paradox imbues the aggression of Jeff Loomis with the environment of Symphony X's Iconoclast and, to a lesser extent, Paradise Lost.  This track also displays elements that sound like a more refreshing and lush Sacrament (Lamb of God).  Mystical and pulsating, this track lives up to the concept of its title-an epic scale of questioning that could upend our worldview if we knew its answer.  The main underpinnings of successful tracks like Fermi Paradox are their strong voice leading, adherence to some classical progressions, and melismatic vocal approach.  Fermi truly sings with all band members' counterpoint, down to the use of drum set melodic patterns.  It is truly much more like an opera aria than a typical rock ballad-but only in the best of ways.

Drawing on their approach to quiet parts that mirror Metallica's Unforgiven series, A7X add color and orchestration.  Strings, percussion, and timpani accompany Roman Sky, in a way that is unlike the cliché Hans-Zimmer-film-score approach.

In typical form, even in the most chaotic moments such as the track God Damn and the solo in Simulation, there is balance and nuance.  There is never smoothness for smoothness' sake, nor is there shredding for shredding's sake.  Every aspect, from the drumming, to the acid-like bite of the rhythm guitar playing, to the soloing, is melodic and artistic.

The final track borrows from progressive metal synth pads and large gestures that would make Mike Portnoy (their sit-in drummer for Nightmare and now-ex-Dream-Theater-powerhouse-gosh that is a mouthful) proud.  It clearly emulates Octavarium and certain tracks of Circus Maximus, while the soloing and backgrounds are clearly inspired by Michael Romeo, Metallica, and the master himself of all things neo-classical, Mr. Malmsteen.  Still, this track is hard-hitting and makes one want to keep headbanging in many parts, despite the prog-like interruptions in the thrash-inspired textures.

The closing message is beautiful, delivered frankly through the processed voice of Neil deGrasse Tyson.  It poignantly opines that human ego fuels our prejudices and endless warring.  It further argues that we are not as virtuous as we project ourselves to be, nor are our enemies really the demons we believe they are.

Avenged Sevenfold thus implores us to search for our place in the cosmos.  They close their work in a message of unity, humility, and openness.  Given the recent developments in politics, culture, and war, this message is jarringly real and artistically salient.

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