Review Summary: Acoustic Sevendust destroys Nu Metal Sevendust. Seriously.
To anyone that has ever picked up a six string, there are few sounds more captivating and immediately satisfying than the crisp, penetrating tones generated by fresh strings on an acoustic guitar. The appreciation for these stylings is hardly earth shattering; the acoustic guitar has long been an effective weapon for selling records and impressing chicks at bonfire parties (especially if you know a few Dave Matthews songs), its hallowed strings providing a gateway to the finer things in life. Surprisingly, the acoustic guitar has been an oft utilized and successful catalyst in genre’s where it doesn’t seem to fit, namely various forms of metal, punk, and hard rock. The quintessential “acoustic album” has enhanced the record sales and overall legacy of scores of bands, ranging from credible acts like Opeth, Alice in Chains, and Against! Me to more panned groups like Godsmack and Tesla, even heightening the legitimacy of the latter group.
If one were to scour the arguably comical list of popular Alt/Nu Metal acts, a legitimate candidate to effectively transition to an acoustic atmosphere is Sevendust. Although their catalyst to mainstream success was founded on the strength of heavier songs, Sevendust would incorporate a heightened sense of melody to subsequent releases, possessing a greater knack for utilizing its sensibilities than many of their contemporaries. Aside from the growing lean towards melodic flavors on albums like “Seasons” and “Animosity,” Sevendust also held an advantage in the sense vocalist Lajon Witherspoon can actually carry a tune. After four studio albums, and ironically right before essential member Clint Lowery exited the band, Sevendust decided to fully embrace their growing melodic proclivities in 2003, releasing the live, all acoustic “Southside Double-Wide.” As it turns out, whether unexpectedly or not, acoustic Sevendust lays waste to “Nu Metal” Sevendust.
“Southside Double-Wide” is most adequately and simplistically described as gorgeous. Of course there is a natural element of beauty whenever an acoustic instrument is played correctly, but the ringing, melodic guitar tone permeating the record is in another league in terms of its ability to enthrall the listener. This is not to say Sevendust reside in an advanced realm of instrumental ability, but the musicianship is tight throughout, with a full drum kit and highly audible bass supplying the foundation for their robust grooves, all of which tie in perfectly with uniquely bright guitar tones. From a vocal perspective, Lajon is fully on his game, effectively transitioning from strikingly effective clean singing with the requisite growling found in their studio efforts. Perhaps as importantly, Lowery is allowed the spotlight on a few occasions (Xmas Day, Hurt), and harmonizes brilliantly with Lajon on choruses and background vocals.
Perhaps one of the greatest redemptive factors surrounding the legitimacy of “Southside Double-Wide” is Sevendust’s heavier tracks transition well to an acoustic setting. There are several efforts in the group’s catalog that are natural selections for an acoustic set and fit the atmosphere immediately (“Xmas Day,” “Follow,” “Skeleton Song,” “Angel’s Son,”) but normally intense, blistering attacks like “Black,” “Too Close To Hate,” “Rumble Fish,” and “Bitch” all benefit from an acoustic makeover, although the latter is unfortunately and inexplicably cut short. Moreover, Sevendust studio staples that were part melodic, part heavy; “Trust,” “Seasons,” “Beautiful,” and “Disgrace,” are stronger here, fully embracing the melodic sensibilities that were always at the surface but never allowed to fully break free. “Trust” in particular is a standout, rivaling “Angel’s Son” for Lajon’s best vocal performance while riding a gripping wave of melody. Finally, while every Sevendust original is effective, the most memorable entry is the cover of “Hurt,” where Lowery seizes the spotlight and delivers a strikingly chilling vocal performance, perfectly complimented by an even greater sense of melody that is naturally written into the music of the song. On an album where harmonization and melody stand out, “Hurt” is stunning, and encapsulates every essential component of an acoustic performance.
Although Sevendust’s overall credibility is sometimes taken into debate, their acoustic transition is strong enough to vault their legitimacy over most of their contemporaries. Perhaps more impressive, the album is taken from a single show, not benefiting from the standard “live” album’s advantage to pick and choose from hundreds of performances or include elements of studio performances (read: Kiss). Although the production is clean and shiny, the atmosphere of the performance is raw, passionate, and well executed. Sevendust may not reside in the upper echelon of acclaimed musical acts, but performances like this place them in the elite realms of their genre.