Well, who saw this coming?
On Wednesday last week the general consensus was that Orange County behemoths Avenged Sevenfold were releasing their seventh album Voltaic Oceans on 9th December this year, with new single ‘The Stage’ being one of the tracks on it; an Instagram picture by WWE star and Fozzy frontman Chris Jericho had supposedly confirmed this information, with the post being removed shortly afterwards. Come Thursday morning however, it transpired from several sources that ‘The Stage’ was also the name of the new A7X record. Oh, and that it was officially out the following day as well. No previews, no build up to an actual date, one day it didn’t physically exist and the next it was about to. The only thing more surprising would have been a candidate for U.S President that was entirely above board – but I digress. Their first release with Capitol Records following their well-publicised dispute with Warner Bros, The Stage is also the first Avenged Sevenfold album to feature new drummer Brooks Wackerman, who joined from Bad Religion following the departure of Hail to the King sticksman Arin Illejay.
Talking of Avenged Sevenfold’s previous record, The Stage does not follow in the footsteps of Hail to the King‘s classic rock feel and instead harks back to the depth and tempo of the band’s earlier work with Waking the Fallen and City of Evil. It’s also not an easy album to listen to; a good few spins will be required to fully appreciate it. Once everything falls into place however, holy cow is this record good. Hail to the King might have been extremely accessible and boasted catchy songs, but the hole left by the progressive epics and multi-layered guitars was extremely noticeable. The Stage fills that wonderfully, with the aforementioned title track clocking in at eight-and-a-half minutes and closing number ‘Exist’ (featuring a spoken word vocal by American astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson) last over a quarter of an hour and far outstripping ‘Save Me’ as the band’s longest ever song, both twisting and turning through changing time signatures and acoustic interludes. Elsewhere, the chorus on ‘Creating God’ is a purpose-built arena sing-a-long and will sound incredible in January should the band pick it for their UK setlist and ‘God Damn’ harks back to the likes of ‘Bat Country’ and ‘God Hates Us’ with its thrashy passages and pounding drums. On the subject of the kitman, Brooks Wackerman is no Jimmy Sullivan but he has certainly slotted seamlessly into the fold and gives a much needed injection of fire and energy into the songs that was certainly lacking last time round. There also needs to be a mention of M Shadows, who gives the vocal performance of his career so far, snarling his way through the chug of ‘Simulation’ and yet moments later softening his pipes and soaring on ‘Roman Sky’, a gorgeous journey incorporating strings and one that looks set to become an instant classic.
When yours truly reviewed Hail to the King three years ago, I mused as to whether it would be the band’s ‘Black Album’ and send them into the heady heights of festival headline slots and big arena tours. That much held true, but this is no ‘Load’ follow up; this is by far an away a better record and one that will see Avenged Sevenfold get even bigger than they are now. A truly wonderful piece of work.
M. Shadows – lead vocals
Synyster Gates – lead guitar, backing vocals
Zacky Vengeance – rhythm guitar, backing vocals
Johnny Christ – bass, backing vocals
Brooks Wackerman – drums