The connection between a diehard fan and his musical deities of choice is one of the most powerful things on Earth. Without missing an ounce of detail, I can recall EXACTLY where I was, what I was doing, and how I was feeling the first time I heard Avenged Sevenfold’s self-titled album. I can recall EXACTLY where I was, what I was doing, and how I was feeling the first time I heard Nightmare. And I can even tell you what I ate for breakfast, lunch, AND dinner the day Hail to the King dropped (a Bacon, Egg and Cheese from Dunkin’ Donuts, a peanut butter sandwich, and a cobb salad from Route 99 in southeast Massachusetts, respectively, as if you somehow gave a shit).
Since I was a young and mischievous little preteen shithole, it has been nothing short of a MAJOR EVENT every time Avenged Sevenfold has released a new album. And the band’s yet-to-be-announced seventh album is gearing up to be another massive happening in Rock and Metal, especially after 2013’s divisive Hail to the King which was, to use a lazy comparison, A7X’s “Black Album” (look, setting aside the “Sad But True” issue, the analogy does hold up. Hail to the King found the band dialing back their usual ambitious complexity and gunning for a sound meant to fill up stadiums. The Black Album did something very similar.)
And today, the world got a small taste of the madness to come: the first new Avenged Sevenfold track in over three years, entitled “The Stage”.
A7X fans have been trained to expect sharp stylistic left turns with every new record, but “The Stage” isn’t a total 180 from Hail to the King. The song’s simple, four-on-the-floor verse groove would’ve fit snuggly into Hail’s track list, as would its booming chorus.
Elsewhere, however, “The Stage” is dominated by Synyster Gates’ guitar playing, which is definitely a change of pace. This fucking track is LITTERED with Syn’s leads, some of them harmonized, some of them not, some of them measured and melodic and some of them chaotic and shred-tastic. It’s thrilling to hear lead guitars carrying an Avenged song on their shoulders again. It’s a cornerstone of the band’s appeal to have prominent lead guitar sections woven into a song’s structure (something that’s very Maiden-esque), and it’s an element that was sorely absent in parts of Hail to the King. If I had to pinpoint one thing that Avenged diehards will be most stoked about with “The Stage”, it’s gotta be the lead guitars returning front-and-center. In particular, that harmonized solo that waltzes in around 7:10 is CLASSIC fucking Avenged. As for Synyster’s solo from 4:40 to 5:25, that’s arguably the climax of this song.
Directing our attention over to M. Shadows, his vocal approach hasn’t changed too much. He’s still as raspy, tough, and forceful as ever, and he continues to throw himself in the running for “best Axl Rose impersonator” with his sassy cadences at the tail end of the second verse.
These eight-and-a-half minutes also mark our official recorded introduction to new drummer Brooks Wackerman. Wackerman’s role in the Avenged world will likely reveal itself with the release of more material, but in the first 90 seconds of “The Stage”, his drums are more involved than Arin Ilejay’s were on the entirety of Hail to the King.
“The Stage” is nothing revolutionary . It’s not about to silence all the non-believers and change the landscape of Rock music forever. It’s not about to pit entire fanbases against each other with its wild adventurousness. But there’s more than enough here to plant the seed of optimism for long time fans. And we’re waiting with bated breath for what comes next.