Amid all the hyperbolic hatred towards 2013’s Hail to the King
, everyone seemed to forget that Avenged Sevenfold are actually a pretty good band. Despite M. Shadows’ whiny vocals and a few tasteless songwriting decisions (see the self-titled album for details), the band have managed to achieve a fairly impressive output over the years. Sounding the Seventh Trumpet
, Waking the Fallen
, City of Evil
were all rock-solid albums, chock-full of material and yet consistently interesting and varied from start to finish. A7X’s music has never been for purists, of course; they’ve always had mainstream sensibilities, and with that a sort of inherent cheesiness that a lot of people will find unpalatable no matter what they do. But it should be pretty clear to those of us who do embrace their sound that this is a genuinely talented band with four great albums under their belt and little fear in the face of the unknown – something that has kept them interesting after all these years despite their tendencies toward the mainstream.
One thing that The Stage
doesn’t do is change any of this. It shows A7X as the band they always were: great musicians who write some occasionally corny but generally clever pop metal. Every song here has a hook, sometimes even a collection of hooks, which they rely on for their appeal. Riff-laden verses contrast with massive choruses designed for the stadium. If you don’t like the sound of this, then you probably never liked Avenged Sevenfold in the first place (save for maybe Sounding the Seventh Trumpet
). But if you enjoyed City of Evil
or especially Nightmare
, what you’ll immediately appreciate about this album is just how consistent
the whole thing is. Every song sticks in your head, every song features great lead guitar work from Synyster Gates, and every song is structured cleverly, as any great pop album should be; repetitive enough to be memorable but varied enough to be interesting. Perhaps most importantly, this really sounds like an Avenged Sevenfold album; while Hail to the King
was content to steal from bands like Iron Maiden and Pantera in order to succeed, most of this album more closely resembles the better parts of the self-titled, or the heavier parts of Nightmare
: never afraid to rock hard but always catchy and melodic.
That being said, there are two main flaws with The Stage
that prevent me from giving it a 4 like everyone else. Firstly, the vocals really seem weak by A7X’s standards; Shadows’ voice sounds rather tired and strained, and he struggles to hit a lot of his higher notes convincingly. It might be time for him to get some more vocal lessons (maybe from somebody other than Ron Anderson this time), or to just start singing in a lower range. The other big problem with the album is the production. While A7X’s production values have admittedly never been great, this album sounds particularly compressed even by their standards, which is unfortunate given the great dynamics that a lot of these songs could have had. It’s easy to forgive both of these problems, though, when you consider just how consistently great these songs are, and how much of an improvement the album generally is over the extremely derivative and safe songwriting of Hail to the King
. It should be pretty clear to most listeners that this is the album Avenged Sevenfold should have made after Nightmare
, and I think most everyone who ever cared about the band will breathe a sigh of relief when they realize that they really did have that album in them after all.