It’s about time I review this album. Avenged Sevenfold‘s The Stage was one of the 2016 releases I anticipated the most, even though nothing much about it, including its name or even its release date was correctly known until the very day it was released. This once pure metalcore band left us with a controversial traditional sounding heavy metal album three years ago, so as per usual I was curious to see what direction Avenged Sevenfold would take on this adventure, thinking they have covered everything possible by this point. Then a few weeks before the album was released, the title track came out.
I was skeptical after first hearing the first single. The Stage‘s eight minute length would be bizarre for a normal band to release as a first single, but knowing full and well that Avenged Sevenfold are no strangers to lengthy songs, the song length didn’t faze me. What made me skeptical was the sound. The style had obviously changed to a progressive style that would put their earlier compositions on albums like City of Evil and Nightmare to shame. The opening guitar riff would also end up setting up a common theme throughout the album, as a similar riff, typically played on a keyboard onward, can be heard at least a couple more times throughout the album. But the sound, that’s what bothered me. The production didn’t sound as up to par as past stuff by the band, and M. Shadows‘ vocals at a couple of points just sound off.
There are a couple of other times on the albums where M. Shadows‘ voice seems a little weird. I particularly hear it on the album’s shortest song God Damn, which is one of only two songs that’s under five minutes in length. I also heard it on Higher, and it’s on this track that I notice what’s going on. M. Shadows is hitting pitches he doesn’t typically hit, which is very cool, but that rasp he has in his voice that I love and I know others do as well isn’t present when he sings those high notes. Funny enough, both of these tracks are respectively my least favourite and favourite tracks on The Stage.
God Damn doesn’t really redeem itself away from its vocals. It’s one of the most intense tracks on the album, but there’s not enough there. I do love the ending though, and like all other songs that I didn’t like much at first, this track has in fact grown on me, but I will never consider it on of Avenged Sevenfold‘s greats. On the other hand, Higher makes the most of its over six-minute time frame to create one hell of a progressive masterpiece unlike any song Avenged Sevenfold has made before, though there are a few other songs on The Stage that come close. I particularly love the ending of the song, which is simply the same lyrics and melody repeated over and over for two minutes or so, but I can’t help but think they are two of the best minutes the band has ever recorded.
I think The Stage didn’t sit well with me at first because three of the first four tracks are what I would consider the albums worst. I’ve talked about the title track and God Damn, but there is also Sunny Disposition. This is a track that doesn’t have anything to not like about it, but it doesn’t have anything that hooks me in. It’s over six-and-a-half minutes of solid hard rock that feels like it can be taken to another level but never is. I found some hope in the album upon first listen with Paradigm. The other of the only two songs to be under five minutes is filled with fantastic melodies, both musically and vocally, but it’s highlighted by the drum playing of new guy Brooks Wackerman.
I have to tell you about Brooks on this album, because he proves, not just in this song but on the entire album, that he is in fact the best drummer Avenged Sevenfold has had since the late great The Rev. I don’t mean disrespect to Arin Ilejay, as having seen him perform live with the band twice I can say he is more than capable of emulating the complex drums that The Rev played before him, but unfortunately when it came to recording an album with the band, which ended up being Hail To The King, the band decided to simplify things. Therefore I don’t believe we heard the full extent to Arin’s capability to drum on an Avenged Sevenfold album. Brooks Wackerman was lucky enough to get that opportunity on The Stage and he sure did run with it.
Due to the relatively poor opening tracks to The Stage, I didn’t appreciate the rest of the album as much as I should have. It was later listens in which I realized the magic of songs like Creating God, which has vocal melodies in its verses that actually remind me of classic Alice In Chains. There is also the beautiful yet powerful Angels which shows a new side to Avenged Sevenfold‘s sound. Simulation may be a little weird to some, due to its spoken word moments, but I like it and it really adds to the concept that the band is going for on the album.
Roman Sky and Fermi Paradox are two other songs that see Avenged Sevenfold stepping out of their element ever so slightly. The former of the two is a ballad which heavily features an orchestra – something the band has used in the past – but for the first three minutes of the song, the only other instrument (besides vocals) that accompanies the orchestra is a relatively clean sounding guitar. The song gradually picks up its intensity throughout its five minute time frame so it’s only fitting that by the time it gets to the final two minutes, the full band starts playing their instruments to accompany the guitar and orchestra. Fermi Paradox may be a bit out of Avenged Sevenfold’s element, but it fits perfectly with the direction of The Stage thanks to its progressive nature and multiple change ups.
The most talked about thing about The Stage, and rightfully so, is the closing track Exist. At over fifteen minutes in length it is Avenged Sevenfold‘s longest song. But it’s how they use these fifteen minutes that I think makes the song worth talking about. First there is the epic almost seven minute instrumental intro. That seven minutes alone is longer than the majority of the rest of the album. Only the title track is longer. That isn’t the only significance the intro holds, as it is also perhaps the best written track from an instrumental standpoint that the bad has ever recorded.
Then comes the vocals. Like the rest of The Stage, there is a very dramatic feeling to the vocals on Exist. Also, after such an intense intro, the relatively smooth sounding song that follows in the next few minutes comes as a bit of a surprise. The four minutes that follows the intro is another soft and powerful output, similar to what Avenged Sevenfold did on Angels. Then after four or so minutes of some great melodic hard rock, the singing ends. that’s right, in fifteen minutes there is only about four minutes of vocals. It’s followed by perhaps the most interesting part of the song.
Like the track Higher, which has M. Shadows repeating the same line over and over in a terrific melody that I can never grow tired of, Avenged Sevenfold play the same rhythm for four minutes straight. It’s thanks to the keyboard lick that plays over and over again, as well as Brooks Wackerman‘s changes in his backbeat, that makes the ending hard to grow tired of. Oh, and perhaps the spoken word speech by famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, written specifically for this song, also helps make Exist not only the most memorable track on The Stage, and not only the best album closing track that I can think of in recent years, but also without a doubt the most epic thing Avenged Sevenfold has ever done.
So while my first impression of The Stage left me with a bit of disappointment, my current opinion couldn’t be any more opposite. Sure, I still have a problem with the production, as I think the sound quality and mixing could be a little better, and there are still songs that I think Avenged Sevenfold could have done better on, but the album’s best moments massively outweigh the bad. Most importantly, the band continues to not do the same thing twice. I really don’t know what more they can do that they haven’t before, but they just keep proving that the possibilities don’t stop.
Thanks for reading!
9 (Out of 10)