Avenged Sevenfold - Avenged Sevenfold

Avenged Sevenfold has always been a band obsessed with retribution, as their name and recorded output show. Peculiarly for a monstrous metal band, the members seem to have no problem turning a reflective eye inward rather than, but occasionally with, a vicious eye pointed at the outside world. Their self-titled fourth album is the band’s perfect mix of the two moods.

Seemingly, “Avenged” is something of a concept album. Though the band has not released any materials sponsoring this notion, a majority of the songs connect in ways that are more than just thematic similarities. The “story line” behind the record appears to concern the evolving fate of an unnamed man as his violent tendencies and lust for adventure distance him from his true love. As he roams, he finds increasing emptiness and loneliness overtaking him, making the protagonist regret his decision and lose himself in self-destructive tendencies. The album ends on a disquietingly ambiguous note as the lead character’s fate is never stated, though it is implied he has found some kind of inner peace.

The sequencing and subject of most of the songs corroborate this theory to some degree: “Almost Easy” and “Scream” detail the singer’s tumultuous relationship with his lover and how the evil in his heart has damaged their otherwise perfect union; “Afterlife” demonstrates how the hero’s burgeoning wanderlust takes him away from his love; “Unbound,” “Brompton Cocktail” and “Lost” all show the debilitating effects the protagonist’s travels have on his mind, body and soul; and “Dear God” finds the hero exhausted as he journeys toward home and, perhaps, salvation.
There are, of course, flaws to this reading. Not only has the band never indicated this is what they had in mind with “Avenged” but some of the tracks interrupt the ersatz story line. “Gunslinger” ostensibly sees the protagonist return home and to his girl by the middle of the record, while “A Little Peace of Heaven” effectively sums up the entire album’s plot in the course of an entire song. Still, the connections among the other tracks are hard to dismiss and any good piece of art should lend itself to multiple interpretations.

And “Avenged” is good art, containing a lot more to recommend it than a dubious story; the album has a number of strengths its predecessors do not contain. The record’s early focus on Avenged’s typically brutish lyrical treatises give way to a much subtler, introspective look at what drives human beings to violence, especially inflicted upon those they love. Album-opener “Critical Acclaim” is a refreshing shot-across-the-bow of critics of the U.S. military’s presence in Iraq, pointing out the self-interest and hypocrisy evidenced by such groups while crafting a “Support Our Troops” message free of the jingoism inherent to so many other patriotic tunes. Thankfully, though, the album does not devolve into, as the band rails against in “Acclaim,” “pointing . . . fingers in every direction.” Indeed, most of the songs place the blame for problems – lost love, loneliness, existential angst – squarely at the feet of the protagonist and his selfish feelings and actions. This elevates “Avenged” beyond chest-thumping into a welcome, unexpected visit to reflection.

The band’s fourth studio outing also finds Avenged exploring a multitude of different styles, representing a continuing maturation of the group’s music that began with their prior album, “City of Evil.” “Gunslinger” and “Dear God” retain the band’s prior forays into acoustic power-chord-rock while exploring a country style of sound. Many other tracks see Avenged venture into Smashing Pumpkins territory with ornate string arrangements and prominent piano figures to supplement the typical metal instrumentation forming the core of the band’s music. The theatrical “A Little Piece of Heaven,” perhaps the band’s most unique composition, is like the demented masterpiece Danny Elfman never wrote, complete with choral arrangements, bizarre cabaret-style instrumentation and a gory gothic story behind the lyrics.

The so-called “first” fans of Avenged insist the band “sold out” by adding elements of melody to “City of Evil,” moving away from their initial emphasis on raging hardcore music; this eponymous album must be a particular disappointment to those fans, as it represents a move into an even more mellifluous style. However, if “Avenged” is any evidence, the group’s enduring melodicism is a change for the better. This album is the high-point of the band’s recorded output. It feels more cohesive than “City” and it is far better than the thrashing scream-o crap the band released on its first two albums. It is only fitting that Avenged’s definitive record is the one the band chose to name after itself.

Reviewer: Adam Rowan


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