Avenged Sevenfold have never been afraid to push in different directions, with each album having a noticeably different approach to the one that preceded it. To those who weren’t fans of the emo/metalcore phase at the beginning of their career however, the reinventions are too little too late, and the band members’ monikers are ever-present reminders of this era. Their last few albums were decidedly non-emo/metalcore and may have helped to sway the nonconverted slightly more in their direction, and this new album is even further still from that scene.
From the first riff in the opening track (‘Shepherd of Fire’) it’s evident that the band has pushed in a more ‘classic rock’ direction with this album. The tempos across the album are relatively slow in comparison with their earliest albums, the guitars have more mid-range ‘crunch’ to them and rely more on straightout riffs than lead work, and M. Shadows’ vocal performance features a more traditional approach than before. In particular, the track ‘Doing Time’ sounds like what can only be described as ‘driving music’. Of course, no review of this album can avoid mentioning that this is Avenged Sevenfold’s first album with absolutely no input from fondly remembered drummer, Jimmy Sullivan aka The Rev. The Rev’s untimely passing put the band on hold for a while before they recorded 2010’s Nightmare (with Mike Portnoy filling in on drums). Though The Rev did not play on the album, parts that he wrote were accurately reproduced and some vocal parts recorded before his death were used.
The band themselves have described The Rev as being a creative force, so getting used to writing without him must have been a difficult task. In spite of this, the band’s songwriting (in this writer’s opinion) has never been better. The songs are brilliantly arranged and utilise a nice amount of outside instrumentation (horn section, choirs). What’s more impressive is that they’ve managed to keep from getting creatively stale, yet still sound like themselves. There can be no doubt when listening that this is definitely still Avenged Sevenfold but, without being too cliché, it is a much more mature approach than previous albums.
To conclude: this album might be the album that converts you to Avenged Sevenfold, or it may confirm to you that they’re ‘sell outs’ (the album is #1 on the UK chart at time of writing). If you’re already a fan, it might be a breath of fresh air or totally alienate you from their music. As before, Sevenfold will continue to divide opinion.