ALBUM REVIEW: Life Is But A Dream… – Avenged Sevenfold

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There’s something admirable in the desire to broaden the boundaries of heavy metal. Explore things which other bands may never have dared to. A certain masked band is currently dominating the metal scene for having done that very thing. Though where there are success stories, there are casualties. Hoping they don’t err on the side of the latter, metal heavyweights AVENGED SEVENFOLD encourage us to step through the looking glass of 2016’s The Stage and immerse ourselves in Life Is But A Dream….

There are two ways in which this suite of 11 tracks can be approached; you can attach the AVENGED SEVENFOLD legacy to it, or you can see it as a completely separate entity. Do the first and many will say 2010’s Nightmare was the last “great” AVENGED SEVENFOLD album. Do the latter and face discounting the band’s effort to evolve.

Where The Stage sauntered into progressive metal, Life Is But A Dream… seeks to transcend the arbitrary genre boundaries. Opening Game Over may be a case in favour of having certain boundaries as it becomes an amalgamation of pure noise. The melody of a music box picked out on an acoustic guitar collides with a tsunami of riffs from Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance. It’s here we experience the first instance of M. Shadows’ vocal performance on this record. Having blown his voice out in 2018, the powerhouse baritone certainly sounds different here. A faster, punk-style delivery dominates the verses but it’s the drawn out “is it me” which showcases a slight fry to those vocals.

That aside, there’s a deftness to AVENGED SEVENFOLD’s musicality. They’ve been a successful unit since 1999 and pipped to be a generation’s METALLICA for a reason. The shred on display is undeniable and we aren’t going to dispute that. When set against the contrasting flutes and violins of the mid-section, we hear what the band is trying to do. “I don’t belong here” could refer to the mundanity of life this song surrounds, or AVENGED SEVENFOLD’s standpoint of wanting to transcend genres.

The harrowing “here I swing from my family tree” of Game Over opens up the playing field for Mattel. Named after the toy company which produces Barbie dolls, Mattel is a full frontal assault on the falsehood of society. “My vinyl skin provides protection” follows an intro which could have belonged on aforementioned Nightmare. There’s an off putting nature to the verses’ instrumental distortion. While indicating the proverbial mask slipping, the noise grates the nerves after a while. The droning guitars are a nice touch which flows into single Nobody, but before we get there, we’re treated to what sounds like a keytar solo before being thrust into the metalcore sound we have long missed from AVENGED SEVENFOLD. “It seems we’ve found ourselves in hell” breeds a beautifully gothic movement with strings and guitar blending together to melt the “plastic bones”.

As Nobody bleeds through the speaker with an anxiety inducing ticking, we can’t help but notice Shadows’ vocals sit a touch too high for an imposing track such as this. We’re encouraged to “float like a feather through space and time” yet this proves difficult when there is something unsettling about the track. With this said, while there are horn sections aplenty, Nobody is the most cohesive of the 11 tracks.

More money. More taste. More sex. More pills” commands the capitalistic recent single We Love You. Johnny Christ’s bassline blends perfectly with the drums of Brooks Wackerman to create the chug of the machine. We’re shown Shadows’ vocal prowess once more as his growls are on display. Though what would normally wind up into a chorus becomes nothing. We’re given a morsel of old-school AVENGED SEVENFOLD with the crunch of guitars and the more typical metal delivery which opens the floodgates for Gates’ shredding. Though we’re blue-balled once more when our adrenaline surges towards a slower closing section.

Does this pave the way for ballad Cosmic? Possibly but if it does so, there is a disconnect between the two. Vocals and guitar team up for an ethereal proclamation of “left alone I can’t wait too long”. Eletronica floats through like shooting stars but the lower tones of the vocals pull us from the moment. “Sometimes we got it right” seems to be the epitaph of Life Is But A Dream… in general though surmising will come at the end. Christ’s bassline feels it should reside in a jazz club before Cosmic fades out into a piano ballad. Were it left as “dancing in the wind as roses born again”, we would have had no complaints. Vocals melt into a horn section to create a wonderful epic. Yet the envelope is pushed further with electronic vocals which ruins the moment.

Corresponding Beautiful Morning depicts a soul in crisis. The thick riff beneath Shadows’ voice is wonderfully ominous. Though the layered vocals become disjointed as we’re asked to “let me ascend”. Though the ascension becomes a slow chorus of “you walk on water but the water swallows you”. What could have been a slithering track needlessly speeds up and distorts. By all means push the boundaries of what’s happening but that should never come at the detriment of the material. Christ’s jazz-laden bassline returns after a classical interlude but at this point, our thoughts become overloaded with so much going on at once. Easier opens like a DAFT PUNK track of old – auto-tune reigning supreme as the track blooms with a crispy riff. Again, the track becomes lost within itself as we’re wondering what the band are trying to achieve. A thought which carries further still to the tune of a bright riff and shots of electronics pushing yet another solo soaring to places they shouldn’t be.

Which brings us to the album’s trilogy and a concept within a concept. G, (O)rdinary, and (D)eath are all seemingly written from God’s perspective. A disillusioned deity disgusted with the “cheap imitations by obsessive fans”. G confronts us with something akin to broadway jazz. While we try not to run away with the mental depiction of God wearing a feather boa sprawled across a leather throne, the complaint of “six days of bullshit” pulls us further in. Male and female vocals jar against each other in a moment we try to comprehend but escapes us.

Running into (O)rdinary, titular God has pushed the red button and erased the human race, leaving a solitary robot behind. On a bed of funk guitars this robot begs to become sentient and asks “will you give me my own soul”. This shouldn’t and doesn’t work. Questioning what it means to exist against the bounce and two-step of funk confuses the song and us. Though not more than the ominous swell which opens into (D)eath’s classical violins reminiscent of a Charlie Chaplin movie. Shadows’ attempt at crooning speaks to the mundanity of waking hours against the grandiosity of dreams, either living or on the cusp of death.

At album’s end, we are given the title track. A piano ballad which ushers us toward oblivion and gives us a moment to go over what we have just listened to. While only 53 minutes long, we feel we have been with the album much longer. Not for good reason. Life Is But A Dream… feels disjointed at best, confused at worst. Exploring uncharted waters is always an admirable feat but there are times where we discover they are uncharted for a reason. What the band hoped to build on from The Stage misses the point. There are some wonderful moments of musicianship as we’ve discussed throughout the review, though these moments are not enough to outweigh the sentiment that this suite borders on nightmare fuel for many.

Rating: 6/10

Life Is But A Dream... - Avenged Sevenfold

Life Is But A Dream… is set for release on June 2nd via Warner Music Group.


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