When your last two albums (2013s Hail To The King and 2010s Nightmare) debut at Number 1 on the Billboard album chart, you know you’ve got a pretty good fan base and that you’d probably be able to pull off releasing a “surprise” album. Surprise in that we were all expecting something in December. Voltaic Oceans to be exact. A title/release that Fozzy frontman, WWE Superstar and close friend of the band Chris Jericho “leaked” (that’s it Chris, you’ve made the list!).
So what do we have here then? An 11 track concept album that clocks in at 73 minutes and 40 seconds, making this the longest studio album that Avenged Sevenfold has ever released. The theme is Artificial Intelligence inspired by the works of Elon Musk and Carl Sagan and also features a spoken word piece written and performed by astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson. It is also the first to feature drummer Brooks Wackerman (ex-Bad Religion) who replaced previous incumbent Arin Ilejay in November 2015.
This ambitious album opens with the title track “The Stage,” which, aptly enough, sets “the stage” for what is to come throughout. M. Shadows sings in a higher register as he channels his inner Axl Rose whilst Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance showcase their six-string skills as they are given a lot of room to play with thanks to the extended length. A theme prevalent throughout the course of the record.
“Paradigm” and “Sunny Disposition” are next and Brooks Wackerman shows why his place in the band is fully deserved. Some brilliant work on display here. Actually, brilliant work on every song to be fair. “Sunny Disposition” features orchestral elements as well as a horn section, which was a nice surprise. Upon hearing this for the first time I got a Specials vibe when the brass kicked in.
“God Damn” is the shortest song on the record. The most straight forward of them all. I can see it going over well with fans and along with “Paradigm” they showcase the flash that the rest of the album has, but without the length or pomp. They are much more concise in their approach. Something that a few other songs could’ve done with being in my opinion.
More fantastic guitar on display on “Angels” and “Simulation” from Gates and Vengeance. This is the albums turning point in terms of aggression. Whilst the twists and turns still come, it is, as I say, a slightly less aggressive half in comparison to the first.
Jason Freese’s keyboards kick off “Higher” resembling something from John Frusciante (think The Empyrean album) before choral sections come in and the track takes on a different life. It definitely takes you on a journey, much like many of the songs on the album do.
Another ballad in “Roman Sky” featuring strings and a film-score atmosphere as well as another great outro solo and is a good example of the band implementing those progressive touches. “Fermi Paradox” and “Exist” close out the record. The former has tremolo-picking and blastbeats that are almost black metalish whilst the latter finds Avenged Sevenfold at their most Pink Floydish. At 15:41 it is an opus that switches from thrash to ambient to metalcore to power ballad to rock and features the aforementioned Neil deGrasse Tysons spoken word piece. This is the band at their most experimental/epic.
Lyrically this is probably the best album they’ve done. Compositionally the album is fantastic. This is most definitely the Synyster Gates/Zacky Vengeance show. Their duelling guitar work throughout is incredible. Unfortunately though, good instrumentation doesn’t necessarily equate to good songwriting.
I’m sure The Stage will polarize listeners. Some will love it, others will hate it. I am in the middle. I think by emulating Dream Theater and other prog bands some of the songs get bogged down by the extravagance and grandiosity of it all. Style over substance. Not that I have issues with long songs, far from it. It’s just that some fat could’ve been trimmed in certain areas.
I would recommend this album if you are a fan of Dream Theater, Between The Buried And Me etc. I commend Avenged Sevenfold for stretching their creative muscles and creating an ambitious album and one wonders if this is the path they wish to take on future releases.