It was fifteen years ago I first heard Avenged Sevenfold, abbreviated as "A7X", the Californian rockers burst onto the scene amidst the storm of Metalcore's commercial arrival. I remember it fondly, a wild sound, slightly unhinged, with bursts of melody and harmony between a screechy onslaught of groovy goodness and boundless energetic drumming. Their following releases steered away from the heavy aspects of their sound and I lost interest. Over the years Avenged have become a huge name in Metal, Rock and Alternative music, much of it passing me by but the opening song, the title track and single caught my attention. How glad I am that I decided to tune in, "The Stage" may be one of the years best records, an epic, lengthy concept record that delivers a continual level of class across its seventy three minutes, concluding with the fifteen minute epic "Exist" featuring none other than Neil deGrasse Tyson.
So the record takes on the common theme of mankind's potential self annihilation through a plethora of lyrics that unsurprisingly amount to little for me, given my more musically oriented mind most the words are in one ear and out the other. M Shadow's clean voice doesn't particularly resonate with me and he is no annoyance through this record but there were only a handful of moments where his presence helped elevate the music, "Everyone lives on borrowed time". Fortunately the instrumental aspect of the record is so strong it does little to tarnish the theme and direction of the music.
"The Stage" is a metallic treat that stretches its might into a few unexpected crevasses, "Fermi Paradox" showcasing a brief Black Metal blast beat and shadowy riff. For the most part its a generally Progressive Metal record with moments of Thrash Metal intensity, rhythmic moments of Groove Metal with Hard Rock and Heavy Metal antics. Its pulled together with luminous guitar leads that flex melodies and energetic guitar solos seamlessly in the transitional moments. The songs don't just hammer down on the heavy, with gorgeous, bold and slightly metallic acoustic tones the instrumentation comes together flexing its muscles between intensities as songs organically move through the motions. Calming a storm in one moment and blowing up the next.
Each track makes its distinction and on some with the help of additional instruments that sneakily drift into the music, disarming us of their presence. Keyboards, strings, trumpets and the like crop up throughout the record, often to participate in just singular moments of a songs journey. "Sunny Disposition"s chorus has M Shadow softly singing over a Mexican sounding horn section, its astounding catchy. If not an additional instrument, the core music is always exciting with quality riffs and song structures that come together with a lot of fire and energy. It plays through like a true epic.
The albums conclusion "Exist" is an almighty one, starting off with gritty thrash beat downs that are brought to life by fast, colorful sweeping guitar leads, then it bursts into an unsettling tone with looming organs. Once again the gears shift and grooving riffs rhythmically slam before light horns lead the way back to the organs. It plays back and forth a charm, steadily culminating into a storm before the song blows out its steam and calms to an acoustic tone before steadily building towards its grand finale, a stunning, inspiring and deeply meaningful speech from Neil deGrasse Tyson that plays through the music and with each words takes more of the focus.
Whatever Avenged were up to before this record I think it would be a fair assumption to say they have out done themselves. "The Stage" is lengthy, yet without filler. Its production is modern, crisp, clean and balanced for it to never be a concern. The inclusion or rich instrumentation and the general ambition of the record speaks volumes in the quality of each of these tracks, there is never a dull moment.
Favorite Tracks: Paradigm, Creating God, Fermi Paradox, Exist