Saturday, 24 July 2010

Avenged Sevenfold - Nightmare [9/10]


28th December, 2009 was Avenged Sevenfold’s darkest day. The death of their beloved best friend and drummer Jimmy Owen Sullivan (better known by his stage name, The Rev) brought to them an overwhelming loss, a hole that can never truly be filled. The fact that Avenged Sevenfold were only weeks away from commencing the recording of this very album only brings more weight to the tragic events that have led up to Nightmare – a fantastic tour de force of metallic riffage, seething emotion and without a doubt the rawest lyrics this band have ever put to paper. It seems almost wrong to be talking about an album so cloaked in sadness in any celebratory fashion, so let’s just get down to business: the songs.

Beginning our journey is, of course, the title track and lead single. Upon hearing the rest of this album, you realise that this is not just the only song A7X could’ve chosen to open this, their magnum opus, but it is the quintessential opening track of their entire career. Built on spine tingling dynamics and the expected twist and turns that any Avenged number brings, the band quickly settle into a fantastically heavy groove and subsequently take you on a rollercoaster of changes in mood and pace. M Shadows’ ever distinctive growl gives way to a chorus the size of continents, and in a matter of 6 and a half minutes, ‘Nightmare’ becomes the call to arms for the rest of the album. You are called to join them on their expansive journey, but brace yourself: not everything is as it would seem. Read on.
‘Welcome To The Family’ continues in a similar vein. A punky verse peppered with their signature attitude attached onto another classic Sevenfold chorus, with vocal harmonies galore, '...Family' offers a welcome return to the A7X sound of yore, a perfect blend of the ferocity found in Waking The Fallen and the pop sensibilities so easily attributed to City Of Evil. ‘Danger Line’ continues this approach once again, at least until the aforementioned twists and turns make another appearance and we’re dropped into a bleak landscape created by an ethereal piano breakdown (which features a particularly emotional delivery from M Shadows). ‘Buried Alive’ comes out as a cross between ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and Ride The Lightning-era Metallica, in that order. ‘Natural Born Killer’ and ‘God Hates Us’ practically scream out of the speakers from the off, serving as thrashy and deliciously groovy bookends to ‘So Far Away’, a forlorn ballad in tribute to their departed brother penned musically and lyrically by Synyster Gates. If you don’t get shivers up your spine the first time you hear M Shadows sing “How do I live without the ones I love?” you have no soul. It’s from here that this record takes a complete change in mood, the last half of the album seeming almost like a funeral dirge. ‘Victim’ is a 7 minute long epic detailing the confusion and anger the band has felt in Jimmy’s wake, and in light of the depressive overtones, it not only proves that Nightmare is by far M Shadows’ best vocal performance to date, it absolutely solidifies that he is one of the best, if not the best, singers in contemporary metal. The underlining darkness and sheer grit continues and spills all throughout ‘Tonight The World Dies’, but it’s on ‘Fiction’ that it all reaches somewhat of a peak. Utilising some of The Rev’s vocals lifted from the demo recording, M Shadows sings in tandem with his late best friend, turning this sombre ballad into a haunting, almost operatic and certainly very real piece of art. The closing section will have you in tears if you have a shred of emotion in your body. It’d be typical of Avenged Sevenfold to end here, but we have one last hurrah: the spectacularly progressive ‘Save Me’, clocking in at just under 11 minutes. Impossible to take in all at once, it explores the darkest of avenues of their collective musical psyche, chock full of unconventional chord progressions and even the occasional sprinkle of odd time signatures, all tied in with some of their most technical guitar work to date and the immortal and poignant closing lyric “Tonight, we all die young.”

What Avenged Sevenfold have done here is really quite baffling in some regards. How is it that an album can be so exciting when it’s shrouded in tragedy? It’s simple. Jimmy’s death has brought an insurmountable amount of soul to their performances. You can feel the overpowering sense of loss in every note and every melody. This isn’t a by the numbers effort; every last member of this band bleeds themselves into the music and the end result is nothing short of stunning. This isn’t their Master Of Puppets, this is their The Dark Knight. The fact that Avenged Sevenfold have even found it within themselves to complete this record deserves an endless amount of respect. It is a true testament to the human spirit. You will feel genuinely speechless upon first listen, fan or otherwise – the heartbreak shared by a family mourning their loss is just too evident to ignore. There is no possible way you can’t be affected by this. This isn’t a record. This is art.