Sound — 8
Could Sevendust be a regular staple on Top 40 radio? Well, maybe not entirely, but it is likely the quintet will become familiar to an entirely new crowd with the new CD Chapter VII: Hope And Sorrow. The album is not completely devoid of the band's metal side, but guest appearances by American Idol finalist Chris Daughtry as well as Alter Bridge's guitarist Mark Tremonti and vocalist Myles Kennedy do indicate that Sevendust might be going for a more accessible sound. But don't get too worried about Sevendust catering to the man -- songs like Prodigal Son and Walk Away are better classified as metal than pop.
Sevendust dabbles in sampling and synth effects on the new record, and they actually could have gone further with that element. Most of the samples/synth are featured in the opening moments of tracks like Inside and Scapegoat, and then eventually fade into nothing. While it's respectable that the band wants to dedicate the rest of the song to a more straightforward rock sound, it then seems unnecessary to have those introductions at all. It's not distracting, but the synth also doesn't really add anything that's necessary to the tracks.
The strongest songs on the CD are Contradiction and Prodigal Son, which emphasize both the aggressive and melodic sides of Sevendust. Contradiction actually starts out with a synth opening, but it quickly changes into one of the most energetic, riff-heavy, and memorable tracks on the album. There are several musical sections to the song, including a really nice touch at the end in which you hear the double bass pedal go wild. The band was wise to release Prodigal Son as the first single because it exemplifies everything that's best about Sevendust, namely impeccable vocals from Lajon Witherspoon and awesome riffs/solos by John Connolly and former guitarist Sonny Mayo (who has since been replaced by Clint Lowery).
The guest musicians do make a pretty big impact on the particular tracks on which they appear, and at times it does seem to sound less and less like Sevendust. With the Chris Daughtry song The Past, it feels more like a platform for the vocals talents of Daughtry more than anything else. The song doesn't pretend to be anything more than a ballad, and to be fair, Daughtry does deliver a powerful vocal performance. It's the same with Myles Kennedy's appearance on Sorrow, which does feature some impressive harmonies between Kennedy and Witherspoon. Mark Tremonti appears on Hope, and you might actually mistake it for an Evanescence track at the start thanks to an ethereal piano intro. Hope does make a complete about turn and reveals a fairly complex arrangement with multiple layers of guitars.
Lyrics — 7
The themes on Sevendust's albums do tend to blend together, and not just because there are so many one-word song titles (Hope, Contradiction, Fear, Scapegoat, etc). A general feeling of disillusion about life does color much of the lyrics, and Prodigal Son provides a good example of the emotional content. Witherspoon sings, Reaching for the piece of life that I can't find; The sun keeps fading away; Searching for the feeling that will never come; The return of the prodigal son. It's fairly predictable territory, but the familiar themes also tend to resonate with anyone who has felt discontent at times.
Overall Impression — 8
Sevendust isn't going too far outside of its comfort zone on Chapter VII: Hope And Sorrow, but the guest musicians (namely Daughtry) are opening up some new doors. There are enough aggressive songs to balance out that transgression (if you want to call it that), and Sevendust do have some impressive moments in their arrangements. While there are still too many moments that Sevendust blends in with a hundred other bands, you do get just as many moments showing a technically sound and creative band.