The froth levels were ridiculously high when the recent news dropped that Mudvayne and Coal …
Expectations have been set to high for months for the eighth studio album from American heavyweights Avenged Sevenfold, since word of the new release first emerging via an elaborate online scavenger hunt earlier this year.
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With multiple years between albums, the band’s longest gap in their entire career, initial singles have undeniably hinted at an ambitious new realm for the California bunch – and the end result is a gleeful and fluctuating romp through existential dread and celestial beauty, but perhaps one no one wholly saw coming.
It’s no secret that Avenged Sevenfold love a good ol’ sonic pivot, flexing their prog metal wares on the conceptual 2016 release The Stage after diving head-first into riff city on 2013’s Hail to the King and all but walking away from metalcore on 2005’s City of Evil. But hold onto your hats because 2023 is the year of the sonic kitchen sink, and Avenged Sevenfold grasp heavy metal, classic rock, electronica, theatricality, prog, full-blown classical and beyond in a colourful and occasionally offbeat universe throughout Life is But A Dream…. Opening with glistening acoustic guitar, Game Over kicks off like a maudlin lullaby before oozing into a galloping menace and ultimately building into some lush Queen-esque swoon and operatic swagger. And it’s this constant fluctuation seen on Life Is But A Dream…’s opening number that permeates the overall album, with Mattel next barrelling between drilling guitarwork, swaying sharpness, fiery power metal solos and spacey, crystalline interludes.
An album entirely timeless and existing outside any key genre-sphere or definition, Life Is But A Dream…probes beyond the idyllic nursery rhyme it borrows its namesake from and dares you to journey beyond time and space – but still with enough of metal and brawn to ease your voyage.
From droning industrial hues mixed with electronic flavours and kaleidoscopic prog on Nobody, to the Faith-No-More-meets-Rammstein-at-a-rave wiles on We Love You, the sheer technicality and musicality flung into every corner of A7X’s latest opus is undeniable, as vocalist M Shadows croons and glowers alongside the extremely sharp instrumentals throughout. From 7+ minute opuses (Cosmic) to prowling heavy metal (Beautiful Morning), vocoder solos that melt between droning riffs (Easier), and swaggering rock (G), Life Is But A Dream… never settles too long in any one dominant style. But if you thought what had already been and gone was all that was in store on A7X’s eighth album outing, along comes some glittery funked-up, dare we say, pop on (O)rdinary, which partners directly into the album’s penultimate track: the lush and orchestral (D)eath which starts off as a Rat Pack-ready crooner before closing out with some brass and dramatic instrumentation that would make James Bond proud. And with nothing but a fluttering virtuosic piano, Life Is But A Dream…’s title track brings proceedings to a close in the most unlikely fashion. Compared to previous A7X album closers, or just previous albums in general, you’d be forgiven for wondering if you’ve wandered into the wrong album as Life Is But A Dream… trills to a close – but, as many heavy metal fans continually attest to time and time again, there’s only the briefest of barriers between classic metal and classical music itself, and this unexpected yet searingly executed outro is entirely fitting for the overarching release.
After spending time with Life Is But A Dream…, there’s little wonder why the band have so vehemently stated in their press material that the album is “best served as a whole”. An album designed to transcend you from start to finish, the release was ultimately written and recorded over four years, with production by the esteemed Joe Barresi and the band themselves. Ultimately, Life Is But A Dream… will no doubt confront or confound many long-time or earlier fans of the harder-hitting Avenged Sevenfold sound. But for others who are able to approach this complex and rigorously structured piece of art, there is an abundance of magic lying in wait alongside an unyielding exploration into meaning, purpose and the human experience.
Taking the thematics of the cosmos and morality found on The Stage and manifesting them into actual sonic and instrumental reflections on Life Is But A Dream…, paired with inspiration from French philosopher Albert Camus, it’s largely exhilarating to see a band after all this time throw expectations and caution to the wind and truly embody and proudly flaunt the moniker of “ambitious”. An album entirely timeless and existing outside any key genre-sphere or definition, Life Is But A Dream…probes beyond the idyllic nursery rhyme it borrows its namesake from and dares you to journey beyond time and space – but still with enough of metal and brawn to ease your voyage.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Nobody, We Love You, Beautiful Morning
STICK THIS NEXT TO: Arteyu-meets-classical-via-Queen (and some well-timed philosophy)