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Avenged Sevenfold “Nightmare” Review

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To say that a lot has happened since the release of Avenged Sevenfold‘s self-titled 2007 album would be doing the band a great disservice. On the shoulders of the album’s five singles, Avenged Sevenfold went gold and was later honored as the “Album of the Year” by Kerrang! magazine. In 2008 the band hit the road as one of the headlining acts on the Taste of Chaos tour alongside such acts as Atreyu and Bullet For My Valentine. The following year vocalist Matthew “M. Shadows” Sanders joined Slash in recording vocals for a track that would be featured on the legendary guitarist’s 2010 solo debut, and the band collected themselves and began the process of writing songs for what would later become Nightmare. But none of this would impact the band relative to the life-shattering tragedy that would come later that year, as on December 28 drummer James “The Rev” Sullivan would be found dead in his home. In a statement released in days following Sullivan’s death, the band expressed their utter devastation, “…Jimmy was not only one of the world’s best drummers, but more importantly he was our best friend and brother… Jimmy you are forever in our hearts. We love you.” In the coming months the band’s remaining members were faced with a number of decisions: should they continue as a band… do they continue under the same name… do they continue with the album that Sullivan had such a heavy hand in writing? In short, the answer to all of the above was yes. But the issue remained, could the band move ahead and retain the same level of craftsmanship as displayed on their past albums despite losing not only a key songwriter and one of the world’s most acclaimed drummers, but a brother. Moments into Nightmare‘s title track, which subsequently leads the album, that question is also answered with an emphatic response. Yes.

After a menacing guitar introduction, “Nightmare” summons the heavy metal gods with a brooding riff, a scorching solo, and M. Shadows’ fist-pumping call and response chant. Shadows recently explained in an interview with Las Vegas’ X107.5 how the song wasn’t originally meant to make the album, but to honor how much The Rev loved the song’s lyrics, the band went ahead with it. “Welcome to the Family” follows, opening with a rhythmic bounce before returning to an aggressive pace while Shadows’ lyrics lean heavy on the feeling of defeat, “We all have emptiness in side, we all have answers to find, but you can’t win this fight.” “Danger Line” introduces a wartime narrative, following a soldier’s thoughts as he embarks on battle, “My 16, locked and loaded/All fear has been avoided/You say the words and my weapon is drawn.” A rumbling guitar line breaks restraint for the chorus, but the song fails to lose focus on the theme, eventually finding the soldier desperate and on his deathbed, “Now I find myself in my own blood/The damage done is far beyond repair/I never put my faith in up above/But now I’m hoping someone’s there.” A drum beat and trumpet offer a salute as a blazing solo takes over in the later stages of the track, only to fade out with the faint cry of Shadows whistling.

The quiet lead-in of “Buried Alive,” combining a stadium-sized beat with a solo, sounds too familiar to that of classic Metallica to not make the comparison; later the similarities continue through the song’s chugging guitar line and another solo. As with the rest of the album though, the band’s energy overpowers any comparisons: the result being a comfortable blend between the past and present. “Natural Born Killer” continues with guitars and a double kick-drum blazing at a hellish speed. Not to discredit any songs to this point, but with this track it becomes quite clear as to how difficult it was to replace The Rev, and furthermore how important it was to find someone as talented as Dream Theater‘s Mike Portnoy to stand in on the album. Even with good intentions in mind, without someone of Portnoy’s caliber filling in, Nightmare would be an entirely lesser album.

An acoustic guitar introduces “So Far Away,” before Shadows’ poignant lyrics hit: “How do I live without the ones I love/Time still turns the pages of the book it’s burned/Place and time always on my mind/I have so much to say but you’re so far away.” Brian “Synyster Gates” Haner takes the lead in the later stages of the song, further lending his skills to the solo-rich album. Described by Shadows as being a Far Beyond Driven-era Pantera-sounding track, “God Hates Us” continues as the most confrontational song on Nightmare. As with the previous two tracks, “Victim” follows by opening with soft guitar. This time, however, a soulful wail floats over the instruments before the song returns to a similarly morose theme as “So Far Away.” While the statement of “We’re all just victims of a crime” is repeated throughout, in following “God Hates Us” the lyrics almost suggest that the band feels as though they’ve played victim to crimes committed by God; regardless of the intention, the songs following one another is an interesting juxtaposition. Returning to the voice that opened the track, “Victim” eerily fades away with Shadows repeating “I’m Missing You.”

The acoustics return for “Tonight the World Dies” before the album sinks into the rolling piano of “Fiction,” a track originally called “Death” when written by The Rev. The title was changed to honor the band’s fallen brother and to reflect his belief that his life was like a book of fiction; it would be the final song he ever wrote. The album closes with “Save Me” which finds Shadows adding a lyrical exclamation point to the 11 minute track by singing “Tonight we all die young” as the album comes to a close.

While performing for his most recent DVD, Stark Raving Black, comedian Lewis Black explained how he’d been tapped to perform at an animal rescue benefit, where he was to follow a performance by country musician Vince Gill. Through his long-winded anecdote about how mesmerized both he and the audience became by Gill’s set, he explained, “And then, Vince began to talk about his father. His dead father.” Black continued, “As his father got sicker and sicker, he pulled Vince aside and told him that he had an idea for a song that he always wanted Vince to write. And Vince couldn’t get it written before his father died, but after he died he found the inspiration to write that song. And now, he was going to sing it.” Standing in defeat, Black slumped and continued, “Who’s not going to like that song?” Admittedly, there’s something similar going on here. If you take the time to listen to the band reflect on their love for James Sullivan, how much he meant to them, and how difficult it was to even approach creating music again: who’s not going to like this album? Concluding the story, Lewis Black explained, “And it was a great song: it was sad, and—son of a bitch—it was funny. It was really funny.” That’s what made the difference between that song being something special and being spectacular, and that’s what makes the difference here. If Nightmare ended up being a hot mess of emotion that failed to stand up to the musical pedigree exhibited by the band on past releases, Avenged Sevenfold would still deserve props for making an effort to honor Sullivan’s legacy. But as with Lewis Black’s story, what puts the album over the top is that it was not only created with heart-wrenching purpose, but that it’s good. And when you combine those factors, a good album and purpose, you’ve got a recipe for something that will touch the hearts of fans and non-fans alike; and something that is ultimately going to define how people remember the band for years, if not decades, to come.