Tuesday, July 3, 2012

album review: 'avenged sevenfold' by avenged sevenfold (RETRO REVIEW)

Short version: it's a retro review that finally gives me the chance to vent on a genre I haven't talked much about. Suffice to say, the album left me with a lot to say, and I can't guarantee it's all pleasant. But then again, considering how much Avenged Sevenfold is a butt of bad jokes on the internet, you can't really be surprised about that. 

There are some bands, particularly when viewed in retrospect, have had their music and reputations change somewhat. Viewing them outside of the trends they were riding, one can appreciate them with fresh perspective, find nuances and influences outside of their sphere, and perhaps grant them more respect.

And then there's Avenged Sevenfold.

It's a cheap shot, I know that, but outside of the sphere of people who listen to bands like Avenged Sevenfold and Incubus and Killswitch Engage and Three Days Grace and Breaking Benjamin, most tend to view that particular crop of heavy metal bands with universal derision. Most metalheads view the music as far too weak to be considered true thrash like Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth, and Metallica, and most critics tend to dismiss the genre by drafting it with the rest of the nu-metal remnants from the early 2000s, blending with those too stupid to say anything of substance in punk (which is saying something) and the general shittiness of the post-grunge era.

And really, it's hard to blame them for that assumption, because most of this music sucks. I admit, this is where my own prejudices shine through, but between the general haphazard range of skill in instrumentation, the often terribly grating vocals, and the completely stupid lyrics, I have often been one to universally dismiss this genre. Now, granted, I never grew up with this music - as I mentioned in my Rock of Ages review, I jumped from pop and hip-hop straight over all of this music into power and symphonic metal, so I completely missed this subsector of metal as I was growing up. Furthermore, given my early general distaste for dirty vocals (which I've mostly gotten over), Eminem sounding far more threatening and dangerous than any of these guys, and the fact that I never actually had an 'angry white boy' phase (I mean, everyone try to imagine me as an angry white boy for a second - isn't it fucking hilarious?) meant I completely missed bands like Avenged Sevenfold. It wasn't that I couldn't find them - I wasn't even looking. 

And around 2007, at least in the mainstream, most of these bands weren't relevant. I'm not saying they weren't getting airplay, but between the post-grunge bands and the explosion of emo pop-rock at the hands of MCR and Fall Out Boy and Jimmy Eat World and Panic! At The Disco and Billy Talent, there wasn't much space for bands like Avenged Sevenfold to stand out. That didn't, however, stop them from trying, and in 2007, they released their self-titled fourth album (and it always fucking bugs me when bands do this, by the way, releasing  a self-titled album late in career). And since I'm apparently a masochist who needs to prove his 'musical acuity', I'm going to provide a retrospective review of the album. 

Keep in mind this is my first Avenged Sevenfold album - I listened to a few of their older singles before it, and for the most part, outside of the decent guitar work, I wasn't particularly impressed. Unlike metal I tend to like, early Avenged Sevenfold isn't epic in the slightest, and the male vocalist who calls himself M. Shadows (really? I mean, seriously?) has a terribly nasal quality in his voice that doesn't lend anything to the songs, and certainly doesn't make them sound darker or more intimidating. And he certainly doesn't help lend power or importance to the lyrics - namely because the lyrics are beyond help

This is a problem of both early Avenged Sevenfold and their newest album, so I'm going to get this out of the way right now, namely that there are certain ways to make metal lyrics awesome. The first is to make them sweeping and epic, and then have a vocalist who can match it (that would be bands like Nightwish or Blind Guardian). The second is to make them darker and grim and morose and augment them with appropriate delivery (that would be most of your death metal bands with growling or your prog metal bands like late Porcupine Tree and Poets of the Fall). But even without these two methods, even terrible lyrics can sound awesome if they're delivered properly - hell, it's how Dragonforce gets by.

But Avenged Sevenfold, particularly on this album, seems to be alternating from stealing bad lyrics from My Chemical Romance and Kid Rock. Their particular brand of verse is either completely dissonant with the song (I'll come back to this), isn't sung well enough to be considered epic, or are completely fucking stupid. It's clear Avenged Sevenfold aren't going for a parody thing and are playing everything straight, but with that, most of the lyrics seemed cribbed from a wimpy, whining white teenager who grew up on bad nu-metal and who might be disaffected enough for MCR, but dismisses the general emo/scene fad under delusions of masculinity (in other words, he calls it 'gay'). It's only a shame he didn't steal some of the smart wordplay from MCR and Panic! At The Disco, instead opting for the same emo themes, but delivering them post-grunge severity with a disappointing lack of flair. 

But even if we're trying to take Avenged Sevenfold seriously (and believe me, that's not easy), it soon becomes impossible to ignore that M. Shadows just can't deliver his songs with any gravitas. Don't get me wrong, the guy is trying, but while MCR and Panic! At The Disco at least played some of the music with a winking, vaudeville schtick that suggested some intelligence, M. Shadows is just screaming his lungs out because he buys all the terrible lyrics he's selling. It's so obvious he's bought into his image of being the dark brooding emo punktard where everything is PAIN and ANGER and PAIN and DARKNESS and OH SO MUCH PAIN that it really makes me want to smack him with Disintegration by The Cure and tell him to get over himself.  But, of course, he doesn't, and there are points on some tracks (like the opener 'Great Acclaim') which become so overblown that they become incredibly funny.

It also doesn't help matters that there are actually a number of love songs on Avenged Sevenfold by Avenged Sevenfold, and here's where the dissonance I spoke of earlier really kicks in. The third track, 'Scream', is a song about sex and how M. Shadows is going to make some girl scream with orgasm - yeah, no. Having just listened to an entire album where Usher wrote songs about sex, I can't buy that Mr. M. Shadows would be worth shit in bed, because if you're going to write a song about sex, unless you're playing it as a joke, you need to make it sound sexy, and I'm sorry, but M. Shadows is not sexy. But on songs like 'Afterlife' and 'Gunslinger' and 'Dear God', which have some thematic ties to relationships and love, the lyrics are either way too self-absorbed ('Afterlife' in particular) or just completely lack any presence, namely because the instrumentation never supports it. Sure, the guitarist is good, but the minor keys and the general dour unpleasantness of the melodies just doesn't fit any sentiments of love or attachment. It also doesn't help matters that no matter how hard I try, I can't imagine women or even teenage girls listening to Avenged Sevenfold.

Now, to be completely fair, I think at some point Avenged Sevenfold realized some of these problems, and they decided to try and add additional importance and gravitas to their songs through production. The problem here is that their method is overdubbing, which I don't have a problem with if it's executed well - and here it's not. The overdubs don't add as much gravitas as they do expose the painfully shallow and adolescent lyrics. The overdubbing on instrumentation is better, but not by much.

And I won't lie and say there aren't any decent tracks, because there are. Some of the songs like 'Great Acclaim' are good simply because M. Shadows is singing stupid with such committment and drive and passion that it becomes funny, but I'll give credit to the two legitimately good songs on the album. The first is 'Unbound', which despite some metaphors and lyrical choices that don't work, does have a great piano at the back of the track driving the song, and it's one of the few places where lyrics work a bit. The female lyricist at the end of the track is pretty and does add some poignancy. 

The best track by far, however, is 'A Little Piece of Heaven'. It's probably the only song where it sounds like anyone's having fun, and the vaudeville style of the song is catchy and fun and experimental in an interesting way, telling a particularly gruesome story filled with perversion. The only problem is that the only thing the song reminded me of was MCR's 2006 album The Black Parade, and since this was the biggest experimental jaunt for Avenged Sevenfold, I can conclude that it's telling the only way Avenged Sevenfold can experiment is duplicating the style of better bands. 

And that allows me to sum up my big opinion on Avenged Sevenfold's Avenged Sevenfold - namely that while it's not good, it's not bad enough to hate with the same fervour that I reserve for Korn or Slipknot or Three Days Grace. It's mediocre, it's not particularly smart, and it's shallow as all hell. Most of us grow out of our teenage angst and bitching when we encounter reality, but it's clear Avenged Sevenfold never did, and the immaturity shows (and I didn't even spend half the time I could have laughing at their idiotic monikers for themselves). But while bands like MCR and Jimmy Eat World and Green Day were able to elevate their teenage angst into catchy hooks or witty lyrics or great melodies or even profound statements about teenage life in the modern era, Avenged Sevenfold wallows in bloated adolescent discontentment, without the humour of The Offspring, the melodies of Incubus, or the talent of The Cure. The guitarist might be good, but there are plenty of metal bands with amazing guitarists and better music.

I did hear that the band did grow up a bit more on their 2010 album Nightmare, after their drummer sadly passed away. It's kind of depressing that it requires that sort of real thing to make a band change for the better, but call me back if the band ever gets remotely interesting.

Actually, don't. I really don't care.

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