Review Summary: Alt-Metal Done Right.
For the uninitiated, Sevendust is an alternative metal band from Atlanta, Georgia that integrates elements of soul, funk, industrial, and groove metal into their distinct sound. While there are all sorts of opinions on which Sevendust album is best, an awful lot of people favor “Animosity.” Why exactly? While I wouldn't hail it a classic by any means, the band created a superb blend of heaviness, melody, and groove that many of their peers could only dream of rivaling. Despite being their catchiest and most accessible album at the time, it was also from a compositional standpoint, their most effective. Many cynics have cried that the band would never surpass or equal it particularly without their departed original guitarist/back-up vocalist/main songwriter, Clint Lowery, and up until about now they'd be right. “Next” and “Alpha” were both solid records in their own right, but they sounded more like transitional albums than anything else. With “Hope and Sorrow” such a shift is complete.
One of the aspects of the album that instantly recalls Animosity is its heaviness level. Alpha was one of Sevendust's hardest album's of recent, but at the same time it was also one of the group's most repetitive. The songs almost all seemed to follow the same heavy verse/melodic chorus dynamic. This time around the group doesn't feel the need to prove to every unconvincible doubter that they still know how to write a ballsy tune. If songs call for heaviness as “Inside,” “Contradiction”, and the epic closer “Walk Away,” do, the boys are more than happy to deliver with more Post-Pantera groove riffs, jackhammering double-kicks, and visceral roars than you can shake a very large stick at. However, and this is important, they don't force it this time. Sevendust is and always will be a hard rock band at heart. With Animosity they realized this and they do on Hope and Sorrow as well. As a result melodious hard rockers like “Enough,” “Scapegoat,” “Fear” and “Prodigal Son” are some of their finest. Simply put, the band has never sounded more comfortable in their own skin than on their “Seventh Chapter.”
Another aspect of group's seventh release that bears mention is its experimental vibe. The band described Alpha as being Sevendust at their most stripped down. If this is the case then Hope and Sorrow is the exact opposite. Lush string arrangements, piano, acoustic guitars, programmed beats, and industrial atmospherics can all be heard throughout the album. Sevendust doesn't exactly redefine their sound with these additions but truly refines it. “Scapegoat” sounds like a collaboration between Living Colour and Nine Inch Nails mixing electronic beats, Eastern flavored riffs, and a soul-searing chorus. “Prodigal Son” even ventures into bluesy territory and “Hope” is a ballad and thrash metal song that wrestles beautifully with both extremes. It is also one of three tunes to feature a guest performance, this one being a shred-tastic solo from Alter Bridge's Mark Tremonti. Unfortunately the other two guest spots, American Idol finalist, Chris Daughtry on “The Past” and Alter Bridge vocalist, Miles Kennedy on “Sorrow” are not nearly as memorable. Neither are bad songs, but they are both relatively dull ballads, and considering that Sevendust has written soft songs as terrific as “Angel's Son,” “Skeleton Song,” and “Shadows in Red” these two seem a little below standards. Also as I mentioned most of the tracks on the album open and are linked together by electronic soundscapes which create a very cool dynamic. Anyone who has seen the band live knows that they do this in concert between songs so it adds a special atmosphere to the record.
All the band members on this outing are also on top of their respective games. Lajon still proves himself to be one of the finest vocalists in modern rock with his soul drenched croon, vicious snarl, and surprisingly thoughtful lyrics. Morgan also does a rock solid job on the kit with his hearty grooves and potent double bass runs. If anything I wish he would add in a bit more of the polyrhythmic spice of his earlier days but, he and Vinnie still drive the band nicely. However, it is the guitar work of the album that truly steals the show. Many people complained for the past two albums about Sonny's skill and songwriting capabilities not being on par with Clint's, but this time around, ironically Sonny's last piece with the band, he really proves himself. The riffs are simply fantastic throughout, and “Inside” and “Walk Away” have some of the most bad-***, head-bang worthy, ones to ever grace Sevendust's catalogue. “Fear” also has a brilliant harmonized hook that is different from anything else ever featured in the group's repertoire. While his solos don't exactly outdo Tremonti's aforementioned pyrotechnics, they more than hold up. Most of the tracks feature some kind of guitar driven bridge and “Lifeless” and “Contradiction” in particular display some of the fastest solo work ever featured in Sevendust songs. Sonny has indeed left his imprint on the band, and it is one that I ultimately see as very positive.
Sevendust may not have broken any new ground with Hope and Sorrow but they have still put out a very impressive and enjoyable record all the same. Hardcore fans will not be disappointed with this and even newcomers will find a lot to like in the group's soaring roster of heavy rockers. In light of the recent return of original guitarist, Clint Lowery, and the loss of his excellent replacement, Sonny Mayo, Sevendust's “Hope and Sorrow” couldn't have been given a more appropriate title. As to whether or not Clint can live up to his replacement will have to be seen, but for now Hope and Sorrow needs to be heard.