by Tom Dare
No one with even a passing familiarity with rock music can be unaware of the tragic death of Avenged Sevenfold’s drummer Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan late last year. Now the Californians have returned with their fifth album Nightmare, and while not even we are big enough bastards to not have anything other than great sympathy for the band losing their friend, the record must be judged purely on the music.
Those of you waiting for a lengthy diatribe on why Nightmare is shite are going to be disappointed – because it isn’t. The opening title track leads into ‘Welcome To The Family’ to form an opening double hit of proper hard rocking numbers with all the swagger of Guns N’ Roses and the stomp of Metallica’s best mid-tempo moments. Mike Portnoy, the master stick-man of Dream Theater hand-picked to fill in for The Rev, is in his usual storming form. There’s a noticeable reduction in some of the problems that prior Avenged records have been accused of – such as the odd veer from thrashy filth in the verse of ‘Beast And The Harlot’ to a chorus riff of major arpeggios – are absent, and Matt Shadows’ voice has a markedly less nasal quality, to name but two.
On top of this, the shredding and riffing are at times first rate. When combined with some of the hook-laden choruses, Nightmare contains songs of undeniable appeal. There can be little doubt that fans of A7X are going to be delighted with this, in particular the obviously genuine emotion that imbues much of the vocal delivery and lyrical content. However, there are problems that stop this becoming as good a record as the first few tracks suggest it might.
Avenged Sevenfold are – like their obvious inspirations – at their best when they sound full-on hellraising. While a ballad can provide a welcome change of pace, too many mellow numbers can slow things down a tad too much. Much as non-stop rapidity can blur together, a large chunk of Nightmare’s second half contains one or two too many undistinguished slow tracks that meld into one and do not stick in the memory. While the emotion within them is totally believable (Shadows is mourning his mate from childhood. Not even I’m a cynical enough bastard to think he doesn’t mean that) the tracks are, by and large a little too bland to hold the attention. The last two songs – the 10-minute epic closer ‘Save Me’, and the haunting ‘Fiction’ which contains The Rev’s vocals recovered from demos – redeem this somewhat, and do give the album a certain form and structure that takes some skill. However what comes before does stop things reaching heights it otherwise might.
Watch the video to ‘Nightmare’ by Avenged Sevenfold:
Nightmare may not be flawless, but there are plenty of good things going on. Not even some of the more obvious Metallica moments (there’s a strong ‘Ride The Lightning’ twang to some of the riffs in ‘Buried Alive’, to give just one example) detract from the entertainment of Avenged Sevenfold’s hard rock power. It is a touch of a shame, however, that the more metallic side of the band does not make up more of the album. The balance between emotion and balls that fill songs such as the title track has far more impact than the pure tear-jerkers – the juxtaposition of chug and soul is more poignant than soul alone.
Despite its problems, Nightmare is a strong body of work. A number of the (more well thought-out) criticisms levelled at prior efforts cannot be waved at this opus. The thought arises, however, that should Avenged Sevenfold headline a major festival in ten years time, Nightmare may not have the highest number of tracks in the setlist. Be in no doubt though – the highlights are strong enough for a potential future Download headliner.
Sounds like: Metallica, Guns N’ Roses
Top tracks: Nightmare, Welcome To The Family, Buried Alive
Avenged Sevenfold – Nightmare tracklisting:
Welcome To The Family
Natural Born Killer
So Far Away
God Hates Us
Tonight The World Dies