Review Summary: Avenged Sevenfold’s most progressive release sees the band having fun once again while returning to their hyper melodic, instrumentally driven roots.
For a mainstream metal band, Avenged Sevenfold deserves credit for continuously pushing themselves into foreign territory. Sometimes their experimentation works (‘Strength of the World’), other times not so much (‘Dear God’), but their desire to push boundaries in the mainstream realm evokes admiration if nothing else. At least this was the case until the streamlined and dour Hail to the King
, which stripped away creativity in favor of nestling into a comfort zone. Thankfully, The Stage
sounds like a proper return to form for Avenged Sevenfold. The impressive guitar work is back in spades, catchy hooks are littered in almost every track, and the introduction of drummer Brooks Wackerman proves to be an invaluable asset to the group dynamic.
Plenty of moments on The Stage
are reminiscent of the band’s glory days. Namely, the acoustic passage in ‘God Damn’ harkens back to City of Evil
while the soothing harmonies in ‘Fermi Paradox’ and ‘Angel’ mirror successful ballads they’ve written in the past. The bookends hit surprisingly hard as well – the eponymous opener sets the stage, if you will, for the rest of the record with its power chord driven progressions and shredding guitar solos, and closer ‘Exist’, the band’s longest and proggiest song to date (at almost 16 minutes), combines arpeggiating synths with thrashy grooves and Neil deGrasse Tyson speaking of the cosmos, cooling down the listening experience in a suitably grandiose fashion. The instrumentality in general is largely excellent. Nothing is particularly innovative, but going into a new Avenged Sevenfold album expecting innovation is a surefire way to set yourself up for disappointment.
The problems with The Stage
stem from two major sources, the first being vocalist M. Shadows. Now, I’ve never been one to criticize his vocal technique because it has worked for the band in the past. Certain songs on City of Evil
and Avenged Sevenfold
thrive on their ingenious hooks (relative to the genre) that can only be attributed to Shadows’ signature style, and he does provide quality songwriting input from time to time. Here though, his vocals sound shot; anything out of range for him comes across as strained and forced. The man still knows how to write an effective chorus, but it’s obvious that he isn’t the powerhouse frontman he used to be. The second issue plaguing The Stage
is its length. At an hour and fourteen minutes, the album overstays its welcome more than a few times. In fact, most tracks would benefit from a trim, as a majority of them push the five or six-minute mark when they could have functioned perfectly well as three-minute long bangers.
Still, The Stage
has successfully rekindled my interest in Avenged Sevenfold, which is something I didn’t think was possible in this day and age. It’s over-the-top while easily digestible, technical yet consistently fun, and although it might be a second-rate City of Evil
at heart, it’s a welcome resurgence of the band after the abominably mediocre Hail to the King
. Fans will undoubtedly find enjoyment here and casual listeners can likely salvage a few tracks for temporary amusement. Many signs point to the band running out of gas, but The Stage
shows that Avenged Sevenfold can still kick ass when they want to, and inspires a modicum of hope that they may have a couple more worthwhile records in them before finally throwing in the towel.