Avenged Sevenfold - Nightmare Review
Posted by Aaron Titan on 07.27.2010
Avenged Sevenfold returns with their new album Nightmare, but how does it stack up? 411's Aaron Titan checks in with his full review!
I felt a little intimidated writing this review, more so than I did with my review for Eminem’s Recovery. That piece was probably the most read thing I’d ever written in my 11 months of tenure here at 411Mania, and I knew people were going to really look at what I had to say and either agree or knock me down a few pegs with their own opinions on what was arguably one of the most anticipated releases of 2010.
However, with Avenged Sevenfold’s Nightmare, it really isn’t just enough to say that it ROCKED or that it SUCKED. There’s a ton of meaning and emotion at work on this disc, and it is without a doubt the most heartfelt album I’ve heard in 2010 (and even the years preceding).
For those of you who weren’t aware or maybe don’t follow the music headlines that closely, Avenged Sevenfold’s drummer since day one, Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan, was found dead in his home on December 28, 2009, at the age of 28. The cause of his death was eventually determined as an “acute polydrug intoxication due to combined effects of Oxycodone, Oxymorphone, Diazepam/Nordiazepam and ethanol” according to Orange County Deputy Coroner Mitchell Sigal.
Following The Rev’s death, the band contemplated breaking up. "We were all ready to quit for the first week after [The Rev's death]," said guitarist Synyster Gates. "There was no way we could imagine being in a band anymore. But, quickly, that went away because your logic comes back to you. You start to realize that, had it been you, you would have shuddered at the thought of the rest of the guys not continuing.”
So, the band enlisted Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy (The Rev’s “all-time favorite drummer” according to his bandmates) to come into the studio with them and carry out the drumming duties on Nightmare (as well as fill in on their scheduled 2010 tour dates). The Rev wrote and arranged many of the drum parts on the album prior to his death and Portnoy revealed that he worked hard to keep Sullivan’s spirit alive on the album.
"I am treating my participation on this album with the utmost respect for Jimmy's memory and am remaining as true as possible to the drum parts that he wrote for the songs and the record he wanted to make,” said Portnoy.
And fast-forward to today and we have the much-awaited release of Avenged Sevenfold’s Nightmare, an album they dedicated to the memory of the late Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan:
M. Shadows – Lead vocals
Synyster Gates – Lead guitar, backing vocals
Zacky Vengeance – Rhythm guitar, backing vocals
Johnny Christ – Bass, backing vocals
Mike Portnoy (of Dream Theater)– Drums
2. “Welcome to the Family”
3. “Danger Line”
4. “Buried Alive”
5. “Natural Born Killer”
6. “So Far Away”
7. “God Hates Us”
9. “Tonight the World Dies”
11. “Save Me”
”Nightmare” Music Video
Mike Portnoy’s First Live Performance with A7X in Montreal, Canada, on July 26, 2010 (“Buried Alive”)
This album is great. This album is epic. This album is a true, fitting tribute to one of the greatest drummers I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing perform live (Ozzfest 2006, 2008 headlining tour). I think their 2007 self-titled album was a fun experimental piece and Nightmare - for me as an A7X fan – serves as a nice counter-balance of serious Avenged and a beautiful reaction statement to what they’ve been through in the last year. Let me tell you why...
Nightmare kicks off with the lead single/title track and I couldn’t help but get chills – the first of many times I did so while listening to this album – with the plunking, childlike keys that introduce this scorching six-minute rocker.
It’s a very good album-opening song and features all the accoutrements that you want when you put in an Avenged Sevenfold album: lightning guitar solos, rhythm and melody changes, sick-as-fuck drumming, and something a little longer than your everyday metal song. I also like the piano incorporation at the outro bridge of the song. Incorporating outside instrumentation is something this band has gotten increasingly better at on each album and piano, strings, and backing vocals serve this album well without becoming overbearing.
M. Shadows & Johnny Christ on “Welcome to the Family”
“Welcome to the Family” is definitely a fun song and is one of the lighter songs on the album. I think the vocal work is really well done and for how hard M. Shadows sings in the studio and onstage, he’s managed to preserve his gift and what he does so well in this band over the years for the most part. Technically, he may not be the greatest voice in metal, but I think his unique sound is very much a distinct part of what makes Avenged so great to begin with.
Also, I think that the hopeful, unifying message and feel to this song serve the entire listening experience well in that a lot of what’s on Nightmare is incredibly dark and personal. A7X use this album to acknowledge a tragic situation, but still find the strength and courage to extend hope amongst themselves and their fans. While taking the negative route through and through on this disc would’ve been easier, I feel that including sprinkling some optimism in there was a noteworthy accomplishment.
“Danger Line” is a very haunting song about the experience of dying alone in a pool of one’s own blood. It has this really cool war general’s sendoff and while the song is a little tongue-in-cheek, it’s still really heavy in terms of the vibe and lyrical content as well as the riffing in the verses. The whistling tune that accompanies the death march, snare drum rhythm and pounding piano at the end is strangely reminiscent of the end of Guns N’ Roses’ “Civil War” for me.
M. Shadows & Johnny Christ on “Buried Alive”
Hey now, be careful with the “Stairway” claims!
But in all seriousness, "Buried Alive" is a pretty cool song and I think this was one of the tracks that’s been circulating on YouTube and elsewhere online for some time now. M. Shadows is right in that this song is kind of two songs melded together to form one super alloy of a song. They could’ve really gone the ballad route and had this be an interlude-like break from the heaviness that dominates a good chunk of Nightmare, but the second half really takes the song to a new level. I think the first time I heard this song, I compared it to Metallica’s “One.” You’ve got the jaunty, slower front half stacked against the heavy, solo-laden, aggressive vocal break part you find yourself patiently waiting for on the second half, almost like it’s the payoff. The band would do well to make this a new staple of their live set like Metallica has done with "One."
M. Shadows & Johnny Christ on “So Far Away”
All I’ll say about this one is that I will earnestly work at learning the lyrics and melodies to it as soon as humanly possible so that when A7X comes to town, I’ll be able to croon this one along with M. Shadows. Great, heartfelt, introspective song with touching lyrics written by guitarist Synyster Gates to the best friend he lost too soon! I especially like the chorus lyrics:
How do I live without the ones I love?
Time still turns the pages of the book it's burned.
Place and time always on my mind.
I have so much to say but you're so far away.
I imagine the next song, “God Hates Us All,” was written in response to the immediate shock of The Rev’s passing. It’s this really intense song that I’m sure even the most religious person could find a way to relate to when you reach your lowest of lows and wonder how such evil and pain could exist in the world if God is indeed up there. I think that heavy metal detractors will look at these lyrics and just cast them aside as degrading, irreverent, stock metal songwriting; however, if you really stack this up in perspective to the pain being expressed on Nightmare and even this song’s proposed dichotomy of emotion against more positive, hopeful songs like “Welcome to the Family” or even “Dear God” from their self-titled album, it’s way more impactful.
“Victim” is definitely one of my favorite cuts on the album. It’s got the soulful female singing reminiscent of stuff like Pink Floyd in the intro, ballad guitar wailing, and it serves as the mournful dirge of The Rev’s passing. The lyrics are about as emotional and heartbreaking as anything the band’s released, and really, you can apply a lot of this to tragedies that aren’t death-related if you really wanted to - I know I did with where I'm at in my life right now. That universality is the mark of a well-written song that has lasting power and timelessness:
”Nothing is harder
than to wake up all alone.
Realize it’s not okay;
it’s the end of all you know.
Time keeps passing by
but it seems I’m frozen still.
Scars are left behind
but some too deep to feel.”
“Tonight the World Dies,” to me, kind of feels like the dreaded ‘next day’ after the events and emotions expressed in “God Hates Us All” and the emotional trauma of “Victim.” Above all, the kind of 1-2-3 punch of those three songs is indicative of the true substance of Nightmare. The album is best listened to in its entirety and these three songs, while great in isolated form, work so tremendously together in the context of the collective piece of music – the opus if you will.
The biggest goosebump-inducing track on Nightmare is “Fiction.” This song was penned by Sullivan just three days before he died and was originally called “Death.” The band changed the title to “Fiction,” which, from what I read online, was another nickname Sullivan had. The song is a duet and features Sullivan himself on vocals.
M. Shadows explains of the lyrics to “Fiction,” "They're kind of like a goodbye. It just happens that he sang 'em in key, he sang the words very clearly, and there was no bleed in the mics or anything, and so we used 'em on the record. So Jimmy actually sings on the record. All of his drum fills are intact, it feels like Jimmy playing. So it feels like our last record with Jimmy, pretty much."
The coolest part about this song is that it doesn’t feature any guitars at all. It’s just beautiful interwoven piano playing, string backing, drums, and wonderful vocal work that The Rev and M. Shadows seemed to have been destined to put to tape together.
From that, we get the album’s closing track, “Save Me,” which clocks in just shy of 11 minutes. It starts out with this plugging bass and a funereal, yet uplifting guitar solo and just weaves in and out as one could anticipate an 11-minute Avenged Sevenfold epic doing. The song lets you know that the band still isn’t OK with the horrific loss they suffered and probably never will be, but they have resolved themselves with the fact that Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan’s spirit will live on through them. As cliché as that may sound, you just can’t deny that it’s true upon listening to Nightmare from start to finish. This lyric in particular was very powerful for me:
Crystal blue skies,
they say that all beauty must die.
I say it just moves on.
The 411: If you’re a fan of Avenged Sevenfold, Nightmare is a must-have for you, and immediately! If you didn’t like this band before, this one MAY change your mind, but you’ve gotta’ come into the listening experience with an open opinion about A7X. As a fan of this band, I loved this album and feel it is their best work to date. If Avenged Sevenfold can continue to heal and find a permanent drummer sometime down the line – Mike Portnoy is a great choice if that stars can align for that to happen – I see them becoming one of the elite hard rock/metal (what’s in a label anyways?) acts of this era. This album is incredibly moving and is better than any tribute to the late Rev I could have possibly imagined. I gave this album a very high rating because of how moved I was by its content, songwriting, and just the truly amazing performances of everyone in the band. I will hold this album dear to my heart for a long time and think many other fans will as well.