Sound — 9
With the surprise release of their newest album "The Stage," Avenged Sevenfold have cast aside the commercial tones of their previous endeavor for a much more ambitious soundscape. Given the unexpected approach in songwriting, this album took a few listens to fully settle in and show its true colors.
The guitar and bass mix opt for a heavy tone much akin to "Planets" from Hail to the King, with a lot of the riffs being darker in tone than the typical Avenged Sevenfold. Jonny Christ's mix in this album plays a particular role in the sound, adding much needed depth to these tracks. "Paradigm" gives you the first taste of the rhythm dynamic this album chases. Synyster takes these riffs to a new height with his leads on this album. While Zacky chuggs along with a hefty chunk in his tone/writing, Synyster glides across lofty, almost space-rock inspired solos (especially in the back half of the album, including the epic, near-16-minute "Exist). Brooks Wackerman seems a good fit in this set-up (and has a particularly interesting drum pattern during Syn's solo in "Creating God"), but the drum mix leaves a few things to be desired. The toms are particularly flat and become a missed opportunity for a more cohesive sound, as well as a questionable snare tone in "Exist."
The biggest contributing factor to this ambitious effort is the heavy utilization of prog elements (atmospheric keys, shifting guitar modes, etc). While the band is no stranger to infusing synths into tracks, this album really takes the idea and runs with it. Tracks such as "Higher," "Fermi Paradox," and "Exist" run with this atmospheric direction. By adding in this factor to an already dark and atonal ensemble, the "space" sound is cemented.
Lyrics — 7
In many ways, Shadows takes a back seat on this album (or at the very least, steps down with the rest of than band rather than being lead). His lyrics are more a complement to the complex song arrangements rather than the focus. He shifts in and out from his typical voice throughout the entire album. Tracks like "The Stage" and "God Damn" will sound familiar, while the back of the album delves into unfamiliar territory. "Creating God" has tinges of Alice in Chains to it's verse structure and melody.
Shadows has a somber tone to a lot of the tracks on this album. Tracks like "Angels" and "Roman Sky" are well placed ballads toe complement the album, and lyrically on par with past efforts. However, there are a few moments where Shadows choice in lyrics and melody leave question marks. "God Damn" is one of the only other tracks on this album that sounds radio friendly, and suffers simplistic lyrics and melody for it.
Overall Impression — 8
Overall, this album feels like Avenged Sevenfold reinvigorated in their songwriting, infusing old sounds and new. There are a few familiar tracks, such as "The Stage," "God Damn," and "Creating God." But the atmospheric sounds of the lead guitar coupled with with various synth tones and atonal passages throughout the other tracks create a new feel. After teasing us with "Save Me" from "Nightmare," this album has Avenged Sevenfold adopting prog and space rock elements into their arsenal.
The album takes inspiration from the past and infuses it with this new genre expansion. "Simluation" hearkens back to "City of Evil," "Sunny Disposition" has shades of self-titled, and "Paradigm" could've passed as a "Hail to the King" B-side. Various riffs throughout can be compared to "Waking the Fallen" and "Nightmare" as well. A solid effort with plenty of ambition, "The Stage" passes as a welcomed follow up to the lackadaisical Hail to the King. It sets out on it's own grandiose path that is both familiar and new, and is definitely worth the ride.