The Stage’s haunting synthesised organ intro bends into obscurity as Synyster Gates sweeps into action with a fast, repetitive melody – think Eddie Van Halen’s Eruption. It presents a similar hook to the title track of Avenged Sevenfold’s previous album, Hail to the King, but likenesses to their fan base dividing 2013 outing stop there.
As a near minute long guitar solo melodically scythes its way through the brash, drum fuelled Paradigm, The Stage already courts a solid return to form.
With the aggressive intro of Sunny Disposition, the pace refuses to waver; the track’s quirky lyrics and brass ensemble bear more than a passing resemblance to fan favourite, A Little Piece of Heaven. And yet, whilst the latter made light of its sickeningly bizarre premise, there’s an underlying seriousness as frontman, M Shadows’ cries: “Bought peace through wars that doomed our children to die.”
God Damn presents something of a hellish roller coaster as thrash metal verse and chilling, clean chorus compete alongside an evil synthesised solo, and even a smattering of flamenco guitar. Creating God contains perhaps the catchiest chorus of the entire album, not to mention a fine display of Shadows’ signature vocal swagger. A slower pace ensues with Angels and provides a welcome breather from the aggression of previous tracks – Shadows’ vocals and Gates’ guitar work complement each other particularly well here.
Simulation is a definite high point, a melting pot of ballad, thrash, and fierce guitar/drum frenzy, and whilst Higher might not be an obvious highlight, but it’s a song with the capacity to grow; cryptic lyrics and accompanying piano precede a crunchy guitar-led verse and a satisfyingly melodic chorus. But, it’s the sombre outro that really shines; the intensity of the track softens and the introduction of a backing choir compliments Shadows’ hushed lyric: “Meet you in the stars tonight, there you find me drifting in the ether within the lull.”
The precedent is set for Roman Sky, a classic acoustic ballad, complete with Gates’ own demonic brand of crying guitar solo. It’s not likely to succeed Dear God as the bands lighter-brandishing crowd pleaser, but it’s not nearly as clichéd either. Fermi Paradox marks a return to gain drenched guitar riffs and boasts a slick intro guitar solo. From Shadows’ charismatic fluctuating vocal style and the Gates/Vengeance guitar pairing, this is typical, easy to absorb Sevenfold fare.
The Stage closes with a near 16-minute epic, befitting the space themed album cover. This operatic display of musicianship features a captivating instrumental intro, before Shadows’ utters his first words some seven minutes in: “Our truth is painted across the sky…” But, the closing minutes of Exist and indeed the entire album, are not delivered by the band’s aviator clad frontman, but famed astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, as he delivers a philosophical monologue that appears to question humanity’s interest in settling its quarrels on Earth and altering its focus towards the stars.
Too often albums present clusters of finely crafted tracks alongside minutes of unashamed filler. The Stage, however, is quite possibly the most consistent Avenged Sevenfold release to date. Whether or not it can muster classics the likes of Beast and the Harlot and Bat County remain to be seen, but (like a good book) once you’ve been grabbed by that stellar intro, you’re compelled to experience each track – chronologically – until the end.