AVENGED SEVENFOLD — The Stage (review)

AVENGED SEVENFOLD — The Stage album cover Album · 2016 · Heavy Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
Necrotica
Progressive. Theatrical. Ambitious. These are the words that immediately come to mind when describing Avenged Sevenfold’s newest release, and they’re the words that make it so unique in their discography. The Stage takes the quintet’s tried-and-true sound and offers a more complex and bombastic take on it, as well as some aggressive thrash passages that keep the intensity going in the meantime. While this isn’t the first time the band have delivered on the technical end - City of Evil and Waking the Fallen had plenty of those moments - it was never delivered with such potency or meaning. What we’re listening to is a full-fledged progressive metal experience revolving around the elements of artificial intelligence, science fiction, and the flaws of society. And when exploring each thought-provoking theme, the band sound revitalized and full of vibrancy; this is especially true when comparing the album to its dull and stripped-down predecessor Hail to the King, which seemed more interested in emulating influences rather than expanding on them. Traces of Dream Theater, Metallica, Nevermore, Rush, and Mastodon can all be detected in The Stage, but the band’s ability to make it an unmistakably Avenged Sevenfold record is what makes it all distinct. Whether it’s the elaborate orchestrations of City of Evil, the aggressive-yet-melodic metalcore stylings of Waking the Fallen, or the traditional metal anthems of Hail to the King, Avenged Sevenfold manage to incorporate these past incarnations into a fresh new synthesis. And, as someone who’s waited since City of Evil for this band to go progressive, I can’t tell you how excited I am that they’ve fully embraced this approach.

It’s not just expressed in terms of complexity or technicality, either. Perhaps the best thing about The Stage is that it provides listeners with an audio-visual approach to music, in which the lyrics and musical atmosphere match up beautifully. For instance, “Higher” is about a failed NASA test. What music accompanies it" An epic neoclassical metal tune with space rock stylings, complete with cosmic synthesizers and an elaborate choir section to top it off at the end. “Creating God” expresses religious conflict and denial, which is symbolized by the combination of major and minor chords clashing throughout the track. But maybe the strongest example is the final track “Exist,” a 16-minute song meant to be an aural representation of The Big Bang. The first section symbolizes the creation of the universe, and the second represents the creation of Earth itself. Overblown" Yes. But there’s no denying the creativity and ambition behind the concept, especially when the band gets Neil DeGrasse Tyson in for a spoken word clip to drive home the explosive finale. And as I stated before, the aggression isn’t lacking either. “God Damn” is a nice little slice of thrash, brutal but controlled in its approach. The title track is another great example, starting with a fantastic melodic buildup before giving us some heavy mid-tempo riffage to chew on throughout the majority of the song. Unfortunately, M. Shadows continues to be Avenged Sevenfold’s greatest weakness; while he doesn’t drag things down as much here as on other efforts by the band (I’m looking at you, City of Evil), I can’t help but think that a better singer could be bringing all these great lyrics to even greater heights. But really, it’s mostly in the more aggressive moments that he suffers from his limitations, as he’s often great in softer settings. His multi-octave approach in the symphonic ballad “Roman Sky” is beautiful to listen to, and it’s hard not to get goosebumps when he emotes so well in the ballad portion of “Exist.” Either way, he’s still brought up by the rest of his bandmates, who manage to do an impeccable job at their respective instruments. Special kudos go to Brooks Wackerman, who I honestly didn’t expect to be such a technical and intricate drummer. More than anything, The Stage is simply an exciting album. It’s an amazing display of what Avenged Sevenfold could eventually become with their collective talents, as well as a triumph in its own right. You did well, boys!
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