Triumph and Tragedy, an Avenged Sevenfold Review
By Eric Stuckart
It may have took the loss of brother, friend and drummer Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan, but Avenged Sevenfold have managed to push through the grief and loss by creating one of the most solid and impressive releases of their careers.
Sure, the album still stretches beyond a number of genres, and some work better than others, but their anything goes attitude and mix of G’n’R’s snarl, Metallica’s heft and a bunch of other more disparate influences culminates in a great rock record.
Nightmare, their fifth full length and third on Warner Bros, opens with the self-titled track and some tinkling ivories, a nod to their flair for the theatrical, and the band clearly just go for broke this time around. Some of their past trademarks have returned from the dead; M. Shadow’s screaming, for one, is a welcome return, and should finally quiet the rumors that he wasn’t able to do it anymore.
When the band announced that Sullivan had passed away late last year, they had followed it up saying that they felt it necessary to honor Sullivan and complete the album that he had put so much into. They found a friend in virtuoso drummer Mike Portnoy, of Dream Theater, who stepped behind the drumkit, and the fit is so well that it almost sounds like The Rev never went away. Portnoy wisely plays to his fill-heavy strengths without going too overboard, fitting Sullivan’s style quite well, but his intro mini-solo at the start of “Natural Born Killer” is one hell of a jaw dropper.
This album also shows the band stretching out in some newer directions. The last two minutes of “Buried Alive” wouldn’t sound out of place on a Megadeth album, and the opening to the aforementioned “Natural Born Killer” is likely one of the heaviest songs the band has ever recorded, while “God Hates Us” mashes the sound of their pre-major label days with a heavy dose of Pantera’s stomp and groove, with some of Shadows’ fiercest vocals since Waking the Fallen.
While much of the band’s material has always touched on death and loss, it truly carries a whole new meaning on Nightmare; Sullivan co-wrote all of the songs with the band, and considering his death, much of the lyrical content almost serves eerily as foreshadowing. That heavy atmosphere hangs over the entire album, and it obviously affected their songwriting. Gone are the senseless odes to partying and living dangerously, replaced with odes to loss, regret and death.
“Fiction”, featuring his last recorded vocals, is the kind of song that will make the hairs stand up on your neck, because knowing that he died three days after he completed writing it just really hits home. The song’s first line is him singing “now I think I understand how this world can overcome a man,” and it reads like his last will and testament.
Album closer “Save Me” follows in the band’s tradition of having one epic length song on each of their albums, and this one is no exception. Clocking in a little past the ten minute mark, it’s probably the band’s most accomplished attempt at this yet. Compositionally, the song flows particularly well from one segment to the next without sounding like a hodgepodge of parts. Perhaps it’s due to Mike Portnoy’s experience in these matters with main band Dream Theater, but the song just seems more together than “Strength of the World” or “Little Piece of Heaven”, their last two stabs at overlong songs.
Synyster Gates also has truly come into his own as lead guitarist on this album. His playing has slowly over the past few albums evolved from all flash to actual soulful phrasing. That’s not to say he doesn’t shred; his soloing has also improved exponentially, but his playing is just more evocative.
Overall, Nightmare is a pretty sad album, but this is the type of album that would have never existed were it not for the loss of The Rev. Avenged Sevenfold stepped up to the plate and delivered the most mature, developed album of their careers, and while it’s likely not going to sway the detractors, Nightmare definitely serves as fine tribute to a fallen friend.
Front page image from facebook.com.