A &E

A Return to Greatness

Often times when a band releases an album that absolutely tanks, drives fans away, and is widely considered their worst work of all time, it takes excessive effort and quite a lot of time to come back to the spotlight. The exact opposite is true of Avenged Sevenfold, a heavy metal quintet who has been making music since the early 2000s. Their previous release, titled “Hail to the King,” left much to be desired, and while it was a decent homage to Thrash Metal, it was nowhere near the level of quality the band had in its previous efforts. However, their newest album, “The Stage,” shows that the band have come back with a vengeance.

The album opens up with an eight minute long track, which was also the only single released before the album dropped. The song shows right out of the gate that the band has simultaneously gone back to their older sound, and begun experimenting with some more progressive stylings. The vocals are consistent as ever, as vocalist M. Shadows belts out verses and choruses with aggressive vigor. The drumming, courtesy of Brooks Wackerman, is the best it has been since the passing of the band’s original drummer. The guitar work in the song isn’t the most complex that the band has ever had, but the two guitarists play off of each other wonderfully, and build the song into the melodic wave of heavy metal that it is.

After the title track comes “Paradigm,” which clearly shows that this album has serious progressive influences. The drumming in particular shines, as the first minute of the song is completely driven by various complex beats, with quiet guitar riffs behind them. Shadows’ vocals are more muted during the song’s verses, but he belts with the best of them on the choruses. He even returns to his use of harsh vocals in a few segments of the song, something that the band has only really toyed with since their 2003 album “Waking the Fallen”.

“Sunny Disposition” comes next. The song features brass instruments behind slow riffing, and Shadows singing very muted vocals. The song itself is quite odd, and marks a strange shift in tone from the previous two songs, which were both faster and heavier. It ends with soft acoustic guitar, coming to a very mellow close.

This soft tone leads into an odd intro, as the next song, “God Damn”, has soft guitar picking behind heavily distorted riffs. The song itself is quite heavy, with drumming and riffing equally intense throughout. Shadows’ vocals are not at their best in this particular track, with him relying a little too heavily on the more nasal parts of his range, making it one of the less impressive tracks on the album.

“Creating God” is one of the more upbeat tracks on the album, and is one of the best. The drumming drives an otherwise melodic track, with harmonized guitars and Shadows’ best attempt at crooning. The vocals even return to the layered harmonies that the band used all the time back in the mid 2000s. The capstone of it all is a fantastic guitar solo in the middle of the song that manages to be both heavy and incredibly mellow at the same time.

“Angels” is the second most melodic song on the album, and also one of the more underwhelming. It is little more than a slightly heavier version of a ballad, and the only redeeming factor being that Shadows’ vocals are at some of their most emotional on the album.

The melodic tone of “Angels” leads into “Simulation,” which starts of very similarly. Thankfully, the song transitions into a much heavier tone about 40 seconds in, and that portion of the song is substantially better. It continues to alternate between the two tones for the rest of the track, but in a way that works pretty well. The guitar work is fantastic in this particular track, and Shadows’ once again shows the emotion in his voice. The track nears the end with chaotic white noise, shrieks, and one of the best solos on the album, making it a memorably heavy portion of the record.

“Higher” is the closest the album comes to the traditional Avenged Sevenfold sounds, focusing on Shadows’ yelled vocals, chugging guitars harmonized with soaring finger picking, and pounding drums in the background. The song even uses the same vocal harmonies that the band used to feature prominently before their drummer’s passing.

“Roman Sky” is the softest song on the album, but where “Angels” falls short, this song excels. The mellowness shows a softer, more emotional side to the album, and Shadows’ vocals aren’t nearly as cheesy as they are on the other ballad. On top of this, the song features some mild use of strings, which lend it an almost ethereal sound near the end.

Next up is “Fermi Paradox,” which features Shadows’ cleanest singing on the album, showing that he can belt like classic heavy metal vocalists if he wants to. The song itself is pretty heavy, though it can’t stand up to the chugging in other songs on the album. While one of the less memorable tracks on the album, it isn’t that bad.

The album comes to a close with “Exist,” which may just be the best song the band has ever released. The track clocks in at almost sixteen minutes, it a monologue from Neil Degrasse Tyson, and feels like it came straight out of a Dream Theater album. Featuring soaring synthesizers, and truly epic composition, “Exist” is a fitting closer to Avenged Sevenfold’s most progressive album.

Also worth noting is the fact that this is a concept album of sorts, focusing on artificial intelligence and what the future of the human race might hold. This leads to very focused lyrics throughout the album that are far more philosophical than the band’s previous work.

“The Stage” is an exceptional outing, and might just be Avenged Sevenfold’s best album, although that is absolutely up for debate. Regardless, any fan of the band, or heavy metal in general, should absolutely give it a listen.

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