Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 13/3
Written by: PP on 30/12/2016 00:04:23
More than a decade separated from their last great album, "City Of Evil" in 2005, it was a wise move for Avenged Sevenfold to avoid unnecessary hype around their seventh album "The Stage". Announced literally the day before its release with a megalomaniac release event consisting of a 360-degree virtual reality performance streamed globally in 3D, the album took most fans by surprise, and not just because of the unusual release method. Up until now, the career path of Avenged Sevenfold was in a downward trajectory towards essentially a boy band with guitars, culminating in the lackluster and uninspiring arena metal effort "Hail To The King" three years ago.
"The Stage", on the contrary, couldn't be any more different from that record, representing an 180-degree turn in stylistic consideration and a humongous leap forward in terms of songwriting ambition. It is not just the most metallic A7X release since "Waking The Fallen", it also pushes their sound significantly towards progressive metal to an extent it almost sounds like a different band altogether. Most songs extend beyond the five and a half minute mark, with opener "The Stage" claiming eight and a half minutes, and the album finale "Exist" reaching nearly sixteen minutes of playtime. Usually that's a hallmark of a band that's producing guitar wankery for the sake of guitar wankery, but here, A7X perform a remarkably respectable Metallica imitation with high-quality fretwork keeping you interested throughout, largely thanks to the metallic shredding and heavy instrumentation that comes across like a statement that yes, we're definitely a metal band in case you were in doubt.
"Creating God" and "God Damn", in particular, are dramatic and majestic in their composition, approaching the sort of stadium metal comparable to the likes of Metallica and Iron Maiden. The songs are a brilliant balance between easily accessible and progressive behemoth, resulting in blinding fretwork coupled with M. Shadows' best vocal work in recent memory. "Sunny Disposition" is another great example sporting creative vocal patterns with varied tempo and style, and on top of it utilizing horns and trombones for haunting atmospherics before a chilling guitar solo takes the spotlight as one of the best of their career. Or what about "Fermi Paradox"? A reference to the highly improbable likelihood that we're alone in the universe yet the inexplicable lack of any signs of other life out there, the track aligns symphonic orchestral arrangements and technical guitar work together with a sublime performance by Shadows.
Sure, you could argue that for the better part of the record, A7X are chasing their "One", a define all track that would be the crown jewel of their career and cement their rise to megastardom for decades onward - you need to look no further than the tranquil instrumental opening of "Roman Sky" for a blatant example. But you could also argue with almost de facto merit that these are the best songs Avenged Sevenfold has written throughout their career. I may prefer the screamed material on "Sounding The Seventh Trumpet" and "Waking The Fallen" personally, but the awe-inspiring guitars on "The Stage" are both bewildering and able to silence the usual critics of the band by simply delivering a magnificent showcase of riff after riff of progressive metal at its best. In it essence, "The Stage" is a perfect blend of arena metal and progressive metal - with the accessibility of the former and the credibility of the latter. It's difficult to come to terms with that A7X of all bands were able to turn their ship around as successfully as they have done here, but "The Stage" will undoubtedly be considered their career best in the long term.
Download: Creating God, God Damn, Sunny Disposition, Roman Sky, The Stage
For the fans of: Metallica, Bullet For My Valentine, Black Veil Brides, Iron Maiden
Release date 28.10.2016