• An intellectual revolution beyond the metal genre - A review of Avenged Sevenfold's ''The Stage''

    Avenged Sevenfold - The Stage (2016)

    There are many things that could be discussed regarding Avenged Sevenfold's seventh studio record The Stage. I might mention that the band released this record without any big announcements and promotions and kept their upcoming release a well-kept secret in times of social media when everyone wants to know everything. I should probably say that the band had gone through a nasty split with its former label Warner Brothers that was focusing on financial exploitation instead of artistic expression according to the band which was soon proven true when the label quickly released a lazy greatest hits compilation to confuse new fans that might confound the new studio album with the new compilation. I could mention that despite lower sales figures due to the unusual release strategy, the record received universal acclaim from critics and fans alike.

    What matters after all is the final product and I can tell you that The Stage is not only by far the greatest album in Avenged Sevenfold's impressive career but one of the best ten records of the decade. The Stage is a thought-provoking conceptual record dealing with the past, present and future of our planet which is actually the stage for all the themes and events presented in the intellectual lyrics. While most bands would fail with such an ambitious and complicated concept, Avenged Sevenfold manages to deal with diversified topics such as artificial intelligence, nuclear warfare and space exploration on a very intellectual yet never overambitious level. Inspired by the writings of cosmologists such as Giordano Bruno, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan, the group delivers lyrics that are easy to understand, educative and entertaining all at once.

    The high quality of the lyrics also has a significant impact on the musicianship of this release. The band almost completely moves away from its metalcore roots and offers progressive metal epics that even surpass what Nightwish, Iron Maiden and Dream Thater had been trying to accomplish with their last respective records. I don't say this lightly since I'm a big fan of all these bands but what Avenged Sevenfold offers here is on a whole new level and at the very least an astonishing progressive metal masterpiece, if not an intellectual revolution for the entire metal scene. Any upcoming progressive metal record has to be compared and measured to this milestone. This album has the same impact as Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon. The emotional and technical guitar work is absolutely incredible since the band pulls off thrash metal riffs, extended melodic guitar solos but also smooth acoustic guitar interludes. The bass guitar is the driving rhythm force supported by superb and complex drum patterns which were splendidly performed by new band member Brooks Wackerman whose style already reaches the technical level of genre legends like Mike Portnoy. Many songs feature additional instrumental performances such as atmospheric keyboard layers, elegant string ensembles and soulful brass band sections but all these diverse influences blend in perfectly with the band's energizing and inspiring metal sound. Additional spoken word performances in certain songs add a theatrical approach on an elevated level that was last witnessed on Queensryche's groundbreaking Operation Mindcrime release. Despite this conceptual approach, the eleven songs on this record work both as a whole and independently.

    It's hard or even unfair to point out particular songs on this release but there are two tracks I personally feel the need to mention. First of all, there is the album opener, title song and first single ''The Stage'' which immediately sets the right tone for the upcoming seventy-three minutes. The song opens with mysterious organ sounds recalling progressive rock bands like Pink Floyd before a melodic guitar solo in the key of Iron Maiden kicks in. The band's own contemporary style becomes obvious when vivid drum beats and powerful riff push the track forward until the vocals start. They offer a balanced mixture between raw energy and memorable melodic vocal lines and lead solidly through an extraordinary song that is crowned by a dramatic and almost operatic chorus that will haunt you forever. Towards the end, the band gradually takes away the intensity but not the creativity since the song ends with enchanting folk-inspired acoustic guitar sounds that give the listener a welcome break at the end of eight and a half stunning minutes that will change progressive metal forever.

    The second song that needs to be pointed out is the larger-than-life album closer ''Exist'' that clocks in at more than fifteen and a half minutes. Moody keyboard passages, vivid instrumental progressive metal passages and melancholic violin melodies evoke the creation of our universe until dreamy and harmonious vocals kick in after half of the track is already over to smoothly lead us beyond the known and towards the unknown. The track ends with a meaningful and extended spoken word passage by Neil deGrasse Tyson while the band plays its collective heart out in the background with powerful drum patterns, bumblebee bass guitar passages and one orgasmic guitar melody after the other. Despite its epic length, the band manages to find the appropriate moment to conclude the song in a concise way inspired by classic heavy metal but with a clever gloomy undertone that grabs the listener one last time before living her or him with a multitude of inspired afterthoughts.

    The Stage is more than just an outstanding album, it's a magificent experience for your ears, emotions and mind that convinces on a technical, intellectual and emotive level. Anybody that cares for creative rock or metal music of any kind, must experience this masterpiece at least once in a lifetime. A self-declared intellectual rock music afficionado who hasn't listened to this record can't be taken serious at all. Do yourself a favor, forget whatever you are doing right now and discover Avenged Sevenfold's The Stage.

    Final rating: 10/10

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