To say that Avenged Sevenfold’s new album, The Stage, came as a surprise to fans would be an understatement. Rumors around the internet had us expecting an album in December (thanks Chris Jericho…), and no one really expected the album when it dropped on October 28, 2016.
According to the band, the record is a concept album, revolving around artificial intelligence and space exploration. M. Shadows, the frontman of the group, said in an interview with The Rolling Stone, that “we wanted to write about artificial intelligence, not really in a sci-fi way, not in a Terminator sort of way, but in more in, like, a scientific way. The album is talking about things are right around the corner that could potentially be changing the world.” He goes on to give an example of a few of the album’s tracks: “The song ‘Paradigm’ talks about nanobots – and how they can potentially be used to cure diseases and help you live forever…Or a song like “Creating God” – computers are getting smarter and smarter, and all of a sudden, they’re becoming your god; they’re so much more intelligent than you, you seem like apes to them, or ants.”
I first listened to the album not having read this interview, and consequently, had many WTF moments along the way. I was expecting, and hoping for, another City of Evil or Nightmare, which are my two favorite A7X albums. The Stage is probably the furthest thing from their typical handbanging, metal sound. However, after reading The Rolling Stone article and then listening to the album again, I adjusted my expectations. I listened to it as its own separate work and was able to understand it for the masterpiece it truly is.
An imposing album with a runtime of approximately 73 minutes, The Stage is the longest album from the band yet. It also features a new drummer in the mix, Brooks Wackerman, former drummer for Bad Religion, and the replacement for Arin IIejay. Listening to the album, I definitely picked up elements of 80’s metal and punk, including the use of synthesizers and breakneck tempos. I have to admit, the 80’s styling of some of the sounds, especially in combination with the progressive theme, is a little disjointed for me, and seems to almost work against the goal of not giving the album a Terminator feel. This 80’s throwback is especially apparent in tracks such as the album’s namesake, “The Stage,” and is also prominent in “Higher.” The very beginning of “The Stage” opens with a synthesizer, but quickly transitions into a song that resembles the band’s edgy style, which is executed perfectly by Gates’ and Vegeance’s superb guitars. “Higher” also has the same ethereal feel at the beginning, but continues to a song with a very Scorpions-esque feel to it, especially in the the way Shadows sings some of the phrases in the bridge. Even though I am a die-hard Scorpions fan, I feel that Shadows strains his voice to achieve those higher notes, which detracts from the song.
On the other hand, there are a few songs that really stand out of me as an example of excellent artistry. For instance, “Paradigm” is a powerful song with a quick tempo and a kickass guitar solo, and channels elements of punk that work well in the song. It is a song with a good balance of originality that is kept solid by strong guitars, excellent drum work and powerhouse vocals. “Sunny Disposition” is a song with great guitars that support an excellent vocal performance by Shadows, and the horns were an interesting addition to the song. They complement the eerie tone of the song, and are a subtle nod to their prior works, such as “A Little Piece of Heaven.” I also enjoyed “God Damn,” the shortest song on the album, for its thrash metal feel. I like how they explore the thrash aspect in this song, an element that has been minimized since their earlier works. “Roman Sky” is truly a beautiful work, and is my favorite track on the album. Shadow’s voice is displayed wonderfully here, and along with the strings, gives the perfect hint of the ethereal. It explores the softer side of the band, and is another demonstration of the diversity they are capable of.
As mentioned before, “Higher” was not a song that worked well for me, and either was “Creating God.” The message of the song is good, but I felt that Shadow’s voice gets swallowed up in the chorus by the guitars, and it is detracting. “Fermi Paradox” and “Simulation” were both good songs, but they did not stand out as particularly unique to me. On a separate note, if you don’t know what the Fermi Paradox is, you should check out an article from the SETI Institute here.
Finally, “Exist” needs a paragraph all by itself. This is the longest track of the album, at a little over 15 minutes, but it is 15 minutes of pure amazing-ness. It is the perfect close for a concept album based on the unknowns of science, and I especially love how Neil Degrasse Tyson narrates the ending part of the song. That is a brilliant move by the artists, and it really feels like it gives their album substance and an extra dose of legitimacy.
Overall, this album is my favorite of 2016. I love its freshness and the concept, and I hope to hear more of this new sound from them in the future.
Final rating: 💀💀💀💀/ 5 skulls