If you’re anything like me, you have probably avoided Avenged Sevenfold for a long time after hearing their older work, which was so firmly planted in the land of metalcore it didn’t seem like they would climb out of it at any point. Though they did display some growth on their work past City of Evil, they continued to be a turn-off with juvenile lyrics that tried far too hard to be edgy. So if you’re anything like me, you might be skeptical when I say The Stage is a great progressive metal album. Yet here we are, and I’m as surprised as you are.

The Stage is a fully matured concept album, dealing with such heady material as mankind creating the AI that replaces us and our subsequent salvation through space exploration, a big step up from their prior teenage schlock. Not only does this show a band eager to continue growing and developing themselves, challenging their song- and lyric-writing skills as they go, but it’s what gives the length and scope of the album a sense of weight rather than encumbrance. The songs wind their way through several hypotheses before the formidable closer is wrapped up with a monologue by Neil DeGrasse Tyson about the cosmic perspective. It’s such a big change it almost seems like an entirely different band.

But despite the changes, two things still make it recognizably Avenged Sevenfold: vocalist M. Shadows and lead guitarist Synyster Gates. The latter’s command of his instrument is exceptional and he once again proves to be the main reason metalheads cut A7X the slack they deny other ‘mainstream’ metal bands. His bountiful solos are fluid, graceful and catchy, and his riffwork is impeccable. Meanwhile Shadows is probably the most recognizable asset of the band with his frayed and nasal voice. His expressiveness grounds the heavy subject matter and gives it emotional weight, preventing the philosophical themes from feeling detached and impersonal. The other musicians receive less focus but are no less capable, especially Brooks Wackerman’s (Bad Religion) tight and versatile work on the skins.

The diversity in the songwriting is the biggest selling point of The Stage, though. The sardonic heavy metal of the opener, the ominous use of horns in ”Sunny Disposition,” the quiet despair of “Angels,” the theatricality of “Simulation,” the quasi-black metal tremolo of “Fermi Paradox,” the lengthy coiling journey of “Exist,” no two songs sound like duplicates or feel uninspired. Although a track or two could have been dropped without much issue (“Creating God”) none feel like they’re dead weight or too long. This is what we mean by an album justifying its length.

A7X always managed to turn me off whenever I sampled them, whether it was the vocals, the lyrics or the music, but on The Stage everything comes together to form a truly spectacular album. And to think I would have skipped it without a glance back, had I not heard about its ample progressive merits! Now you have heard too. Act accordingly.

Tracks to Check Out: “The Stage,” “God Damn,” “Angels” and “Exist”

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  • André Snyde Lopes

    This is strange. Usually TYMHM has a bunch of underground, not very publicized bands which deserve more attention that what they get. This year, we’ve had Gojira, Sum41 and now Avenged Sevenfold…

    Either someone’s not doing their job (HR?) or something else is afoot. Or ahoof…

    • razerwolf

      Probably just the most high profile bands who didn’t send promos. No promo, no review.

      • This guy knows the deal.

      • André Snyde Lopes

        Yeah, I figured. It’s less about the how and more about the why. I mean, I’m not sure you would have missed Gojira or A7X seeing as they’re all over the place. It’s not as if they need the extra exposure.

        • GardensTale

          Gojira, I agree, but swaths of our audience would dismiss A7X out of hand. I’ve already seen several in the comments saying they would otherwise not have tried this out. That’s why.

    • RuySan

      I hope they cover at least Subrosa latest album. It’s such an amazing band and its style seems to be right on some of this site’s critics alley.

      And they are on Profound Lore, so I don’t know why the lack of review.

      • GardensTale

        As always, no promo no review. Don’t know whether anyone is doing a TYMHM on it though. Sometimes things slip through the cracks…

      • André Snyde Lopes

        I know, right? If they don’t cover SubRosa it will be criminal. One of my top 10 this year.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Some of these “Things YOU May Have Missed” should be titled “Things WE May Have Missed” instead. ;)

  • Casey Mahaffey

    So surprised to see a positive review of The Stage on AMG.
    I’m actually going over my favourites of this year and I just finished listening to it again. Great stuff, especially when compared to their last ”effort” Hail to the King.

    The Stage is truly diverse, the concept is thought provoking and executed in an attractive and captivating way. Don’t know how it measures up to other release from this year, but it’s definitely A7X’s most daring and interesting release.

  • razerwolf

    2016 has been such a topsy turvy year. I’m a long time Dream Theater fanboy and I can’t believe that this year A7X managed to release a better prog metal album. Maybe that time with Portnoy rubbed off on them.

  • Dr. Wvrm

    Good review, man. It reads like an accurate assessment of a band I too would dismiss off-hand. I’ll have to give this a shot.

  • Jason

    I keep trying A7X, but I just can’t get into them. I think it’s the dude’s voice.

    • GardensTale

      I agree he’s the most love or hate element of the band. I just happen to generally like distinctive voices. My love for That Handsome Devil and Man Man are testament to that.

  • Jo-Wan Kenobi

    Fantastic review! Loved your unbiased approach to a much-hated band. I mean, it’s easy to pick flaws if you are motivated enough.
    Here’s my two cents: I was very dismissive of the band, even hated them to some degree. That is until I’ve heard their music. As a huge Helloween fan, “City of Evil” was a huge surprise to me and their albums kept getting better, until Hail to the King. It’s not that they plagiarized a whole bunch of tunes, somehow they made that work. It was the fact that the band had imposed a self-restraint from the technical style that was among their most recognizable traits. Fortunately with “The Stage” that element is back and stronger than ever. However, The Stage still falls short of CoE or the self-titled album simply because they managed to be technical and full of hits at the same time on those releases. That balance is not there on the new album. And while I’m all for a complex album, I think that as far as the mainstream audience and their wider fanbase are concerned, The Stage is probably just a step in the right direction and not their magnum opus, which may easily prove to be the case as years pass.

    • GardensTale

      Thanks for the kind words! It’s funny, I don’t even consider it to be all that technically complex, just really well written and diverse, and not always adhering to standard song structures. I think if there’s any ground to be won, it’ll be in focus across the album, which is the only point where I think The Stage tends to waver sometimes. Very curious to see where the next one takes them. For a change I’ll be first in line!

  • I like the growth the band has done in this album, especially since “Hail To The King” was basically filled with lame covers. There might be a future for The Rev-less A7X after all

  • DrChocolate

    Alright…I’ve been very negative on this bands tunes and their faux-goth-Hot-Topic-disaffected-suburban-youth-this-sounds-like-it-will-to-piss-off-dad-and-make-my-teachers-worry-about-me image and fanbase. (Funny how just a fan base can turn me off to some bands). This write-up was fair and even though … enough to give this album a fair shot. Congratulations, you succeeded.

    • Reese Burns

      A7X’s general fanbase makes me cringe, so I know what you mean.

  • Reese Burns

    I don’t think this one tops Nightmare, but it’s definitely my favourite album this year. I’m really glad you liked it!

    • GardensTale

      Then I heard The Stage, now I’m a believer, without a trace, of doubt in my mind…

  • SlapDatAss

    svm 41 and now dis… 3 kvlt 4 u

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Svm 41 is really kvlt.

  • Dethjesta

    I like some of A7X earlier stuff but had noticed a distinct downward trend culminating with 2013s Hail to the King – which was really poor and frankly dull and unimaginative.

    But I’ve got to say that this record is really good. Took me completely by surprise.

  • Shrümpelstiltskin

    Avenged Sevenfold? Sum 41? Where am I? Angsty Metal Guy? Jokes aside, I actually like Avenged Sevenfold. They get a lot of hate, but they’re a fun band. The Stage is pretty cool too. Definitely a step in the right direction. It will be interesting to see what their next record is like.

    • Reese Burns

      Hopefully Brooks is given some more control over the writing next time. The drumming is a joy on this one.

      • Shrümpelstiltskin

        Yeah I think he will continue to really help the band out.

  • The Nerd.

    Sum 41 and Avenged Sevenfold on the same day, I’m really starting to think AMG himself isn’t in charge anymore!

    The Stage is in my top 5 this year and was a huge step up from Hail to the King.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Sum 41 and Avenged Sevenfold on the same day made me double-check the date. Yup, it’s Decemeber 19th, we’re nowhere near April’s Fools Day.

      • Thatguy

        It’s December fools day.

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          Actually, in Venezuela (and most of Latin America, if I’m not mistaken) Fools Day is on December 28th. But today is the 19th, so it’s a bit early.

          • Thatguy

            Excellent bit of obscure – and for me here in Australia useless – information.

            Thank you!

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            I’m pretty sure you can find a use for it. Even if it’s only being the smartass that tells other people “Did you know that in most of Latin America Fools Day is on December 28th?”

          • Thatguy

            That’s what I’m talking about!

          • Bas

            Dec. 28… thats my birthday.. fuck… why?

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            To try and make you feel better… Fools’ Day isn’t called Fools’ Day in Latin America. It is called Innocents’ Day. It takes place to commemorate the Massacre of the Innocents (the massacre of every child under two years of age ordered by King Herod The Great in order to kill the newborn Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew).
            It is common to play pranks on this day and reveal the prank with the saying “you fell for it because you are innocent!”. So your birthday is actually Innocents’ Day.

          • Bas

            thanks i feel better now ;-)
            thanks for the info !

  • Zach Ward

    I’m still unable to get into this at all. Avenged Sevenfold were once my favorite band, back when extreme Metal to me was awful, but now, I don’t see how I could get back into em. Hail to the King tainted all of what I enjoyed from them, I don’t know how but I just cant listen to em anymore. I can’t say the album is bad, but I get nothing out of it. It’s just bland.

  • El_Cuervo

    I’m with the Madam. This is the least memorable album since their debut.

    • There’s nothing on this album I want to hear again… In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s probably one of my biggest disappointments this year. I had high hopes for it.

      • Vicente Urrutia

        Matter of taste… personally I never gave a dam about Avenged… found them too cringy and previous releases never caught me. I just gave them a try with this record for all the positive comments… Not disappointed :) Sounds different than they were, I like that.

  • Also probably the best sounding metal release of the year to boot.

    • GardensTale

      I agree that it sounds really good. Better than Witherscape though…?

      • Ask me after Dave and I wrestle over our best of lists.

    • Levly

      I agree, this is actually the record’s main strength for me. The music is surprisingly enjoyable and progressive, and some tracks are real keeper, but it not sure I would have kept it on rotation if the production and mastering had not been so superb.

  • Patrick W. Dunne

    They’re prog now? Guess I’ll give the new album a listen even though I haven’t listened to them in years.

  • eloli

    “juvenile lyrics that tried far too hard to be edgy”

    Since when this is a bad thing?
    That phrase describes the lyrics on about 95% of our much beloved genre’s milestones and classic albums, and I’m being generous here.
    Personally, I’ll take a Cannibal Corpse lyric over Deathspell Omega any day, at least the former are self aware and have a sense of humor.
    Maybe extreme metal’s decade long obsession over heaviness, technique and transgression for their own sake and songwriting deprivation has made a lot of people forget that good lyrics have less to do with what they say and much more to do with how they sound with the music… the fact that we love and worship a plethora of musical expressions with truly unintelligible lyrics makes that particular critique laughable, regardless of who we’re talking about. :D
    Great review, though, I’ll check this album out.

    • GardensTale

      It really differs from band to band how much the lyrics impact the music. Most bands that don’t use any clean vocals can get away with anything, but a7x have a very upfront, intelligible and distinctive vocalist, and that means the lyrics get more important too. Now, I like humour in my lyrics sure, cheesiness usually gets a pass as well, but it’s the really edgy “I’m 13 and this is cool” type lyrics that make me roll my eyes so hard they unscrew from their sockets, and it severely impacts my enjoyment of the music much as I try to ignore it.

      • eloli

        IMO, bands that try to be “all deep and philosophical ‘n stuff” are much, much worse.
        I mean, I can’t read Deathspell Omega’s (or any atmospheric, metaphysical, black metal band) lyrics without laughing out loud, these guys sound like a 19 year old stoned philosophy student that read Nietchze for the first time. :D

        • Anthony Rintala

          I love both of these comments… So true.

        • basenjibrian

          I see your point and yes, I can laugh at them (and myself). (The Cartoon Satanism which peeks through on some of the tracts in Si Monumentum are a little cringey) But I think latter Deathspell Omega lyrics are not as easily dismissed. Maybe because I basically agree with the misotheistic/Gnostic sentiments (Yahweh as the Demiurge). Maybe because I remain a little boy in an aging bureaucrat’s body, but I LIKE these lyrics from Drought. Especially given that they are not native English speakers:

          …I had a salowe vision
          wherein were fiery serpents and scorpions and drought
          …sand, in an abrasive swirling murk,
          covered the crackled book of life…

          A testimony
          from the dimension of regret.
          This voice comes
          from the second right after the disaster
          when all there is left to say
          in a distressed whisper is
          It is too late.
          The irreparable has been carved in stone
          and those made accountable for it are you.
          Standing, shivering in cold dim light
          waiting for the sentence of the Holy Dead
          like Adam and Eve at the end of time.

          One may argue that it was flawed
          since the beginning
          that the dice were loaded
          that God had it all within
          that He is the Source.
          O heavenly Father!
          pathogenic agent of contamination.
          harbringer of catastrophe,
          icon of the impending Fall:
          but what difference does it make?
          Altitudines Satana
          the vertigo of Liberty
          tipped the scales.
          A shadow of horror is risen.

          This will not be redeemed
          no matter how sincere the genuflection
          and ardent the confession.

          • eloli

            Even if I own DSO’s whole catalog on CD and love the band, I still haven’t found a lyric that doesn’t sound like something a stoned college in between munchies would come up with.
            I mean, try to recite that in a public poetry reading without making everybody cringe… the only way to make that work outside a DSO recording is by making William Shatner reading it. :D

            Wanna really good lyric about the meaning of existence?

            Here’s Motorhead’s Sex & Death:

            “Here we are still fighting
            fighting for our lives!
            Danger in the trenches
            but we still survive!

            We know who we are!
            We know who we are!
            We remember every move
            (We still bear the scars!)

            Don’t look for maturity-
            don’t you even dare!
            We are our own security,
            and we don’t even care!

            We know what we do!
            We know what we do!
            We do what we must
            (and we admire our attitude!)

            Be damned, if you can’t handle it,
            (We) hope you break your neck-
            Sex and Death!

            Show ’em your guitar!
            [guitar solo]

            Here we are in trouble,
            comin’ every day
            Slaughter in the alley?
            (that would) make our bleedin’ day!

            We know all the rules!
            We know all the rules!
            We know more than you would like-
            (cuz) we ain’t in your school!

            We are tired of you now-
            we are sick and tired!
            We are tired of hearing you
            say we should be quiet!

            You ain’t worth our time!
            You ain’t worth our time!
            You ain’t worth a nickel, babe-
            you ain’t worth a dime!

            We ain’t gonna give it up
            as long as we got breath:
            Sex and Death!!

            The answer to life’s mystery
            is simple and direct:
            Sex and Death!

            Runnin’ down the highway
            and we ain’t tired yet:
            Sex and Death!

            Sex and Death!!!”

            And, unlike DSO’s, this are well expressed thoughts that speak about life’s meaning without needing to be complex, pretentious or pedantic, thorugh lyrics you can bang your head, shake your fist, dance and shout to that still sound great to the music.

            That’s true musical art that can pluck my heart’s, my soul’s and my body’s strings at the same time, the DSO lyric you posted sounds lazy and uninspired by comparison IMO.

          • basenjibrian

            Fair enough.
            Never saw the appeal of Motorhead myself (heresy, I know). The lyrics are cute. I guess I just don’t see them as particularly…profound. For your dismissal of “stoned college students” I will respond with the metaphor of an angry Trump voter unhappy that his kid is gay and his factory just shut down and he just got a DUI. :)
            But maybe the problem is looking for “profound” lyrics?
            But just like people can enjoy lit-er-a-churr AND comic books…
            I think the phrasing and structure of the DSO lyrics I quoted are quite nice. And I like the theology. Sure, there may have been profound philosophers who phrased it better, but…they didn’t write the Drought EP.
            Some people may find more beauty in “We gonna fight for the right to par-tay.”
            No right answers. Only what you like!

          • eloli

            “For your dismissal of “stoned college students” I will respond with the metaphor of an angry Trump voter unhappy that his kid is gay and his factory just shut down and he just got a DUI.”

            Or, it can be an overachieving advertising professional that just got ignored on a big promotion, a struggling musician who just got dumped by his sweetheart, a concerned son who has to take care of his incapacitated mother for years, a new father that has to take an extra job to pay for his premature daughters’ unexpected emergency treatments, or a lonely twenty something coming to term with his grandmother’s death.

            Those guys never give up, and I know that from experience, since I’ve been them at different moments in my life, and that kind of music spoke to me, and made me feel a lot better with my life much more than most supposed “deep” artists did, it’s not about stupid anger as you so imprecisely portrayed there. On the other hand, when it comes to “philo-metaphysical” metal, my stoned 19 year old analogy is spot on. So there. :D

            “No right answers. Only what you like!”

            Yup, that’s a sentiment we can all agree about. :)

            “Some people may find more beauty in “We gonna fight for the right to par-tay.” ”

            I’m definitively in that camp.
            True, I might enjoy brainy lyrics every now and then, but to me, metal’s way more dyonisiac than apollonian (1), and the musical format isn’t that conductive to meditative reflection, is much more about physicality… what I’m trying to say in a very pedantic pedantic way is that heavy metal’s nature is low brow, and trying to make it high brow’s kind of futile.
            I do enjoy reading and studying about theology, religion, semiotics, mythology and symbology, but I prefer to get my kicks there with books, the kick I get with music, and, especially heavy metal is visceral.
            That said, even the supposedly dumbest music out there can be brilliant in its inherent simplicity, while featuring stories we can all relate to.
            I’ve always found AC/DC dumb, chock full of sexist and basic double entendres rock pretty brilliant in it’s own way… making such simple music that million of people love worldwide is really, really hard. Also, I’ve always found the band’s lyrics kind of funny and relatable, since some of the stories they tell happen to me, like Whole Lotta Rosie and You Shook Me All Night Long. :D

            (1) Nietzche reference for ya’ll, bitch! :P

          • basenjibrian

            LOL. Great comments, all. We can agree to both agree AND disagree! Cheers!

  • Eli Valcik

    I like A7X’s older albums like City of Evil and Nightmare but this one didn’t really cut it for me, I am a fan of the band and I hope that they will be able to produce more content in the future that I find attractive.

  • sir_c

    I tried the embedded track and I liked this a7x better than their older stuff.

    Regarding 2016 prog metal, I am much more digging that new Khonsu release, The Xun Protectorate. Essential listen.

    • GardensTale

      Thanks for the head’s up, I’ll give it a go!

  • Dibmann

    Excellent review! Funny thing is that I always enjoyed A7X. I even like their s/t!
    I would like to know your opinion about the album production. I found it to be kind of bad and too loud sometimes…
    Congratulations and please AMG, keep on reviewing stuff like that as well!

    • GardensTale

      Thanks so much! Regarding the production though, I thought it was rather well-produced actually, quite clear and with some punch. Alex of Metal-Fi agreed as well.

  • Colin Stuart

    Was into Avenged Sevenfold when I was younger and just dipping my toes into the metal pool, but haven’t been into them in a long time. This album is really good.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    I got this on a sweet playlist with Sum 41, Stomp 442, Chinese Democracy and Sheryl Crowe’s greatest hits.

    • Ronnie James Dio Linnane

      read your comment on the sum 41 thread, then on this…i genuinely laughed out loud

  • The Unicorn
    • Thatguy

      Unicorn, your talent knows no limits.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      The guy with the stripped shirt is also a unicorn!

  • Christopher

    I might reluctantly check out the album based on the review, but the embedded track doesn’t sound far off from their usual schlock. The only noticeable improvement are the guitars. They seem to have abandoned their signature sloppy fretwork sound.

    • Christopher

      Yeah. I’ve listened front to back three times. It’s better than Hail to the King, but not any more impressive than City of Evil or Nightmare.

      I actually really dig the drumming on the album, though. It’s the only thing that keeps me interested when listening. I wouldn’t call this “prog metal”. It’s just a hard rock album that noodles more than it should.

  • Oscar Albretsen

    Great article. This album was probably the biggest surprise of the year for me.

  • The album cover reminds me of those one-eyed bat-winged monsters from FF… but I still don’t like them, somehow the music just doesn’t grab me at all, even though this theme is right up my alley.

  • herrschobel

    what ? is ? happening ? here ? this is really cool …

  • william bell

    They are an amazing band, very articulate in there profession!! This from a megadeth is the only band in the world person!! They have a very unique and definitive sound which all great bands have I would love to see Shadows and Mustaine perform together!!

    • Reese Burns

      That’d be a cool combo, two really distinct voices.

  • hah, before this piece, I read a glowing review of them over at MetalFi, this is apparently a very dynamic rekkid on top of the glowing praise I see here. I never really listened to this band but like that they do sweet guitar work.

  • The title track must convince even the worst haters.
    This calm middle section leading to the beautiful solo and finally to one of the strongest climaxes I’ve heard – maybe – ever (around 6:00), is just a masterpiece of composition.
    Plus, the poppies blossoming on the battlefield touched some string in my Polish soul.
    *feels*

  • Here’s Johnny

    Oh fuck AMG has gone from snobbery, to selling out. This album is absolutely terrible, just like everything else they have ever done.

    I’m just gonna pretend this and the SUM 41 review, never happened.

  • Óðinn

    Nope.

  • Requiem

    A7X just straight-up leapt from a 3.0 to a 4.0 in my book.

  • Sean TheMeh Carter

    It’s almost blasphemous-sounding for me to say that A7X spearheaded what would be my growing love for metal. But, they really were. Didn’t really get to the genres I listen to now within metal through them, but they were basically where I started, and I almost feel like it would have been conjecture to not still at least follow them.

    Suffice to say, A7X has definitely not been in my line of sight since Hail to the King, where, needless to say, it was like a cover album without actual covers and wasn’t so enjoyable past the first song (…not that Requiem was bad, though – I think I have a special love for that song). Though, seeing that The Stage came out as it did – kudos to them for not telling anyone it’s out, jeez – I felt I should give it a whirl. Not a surprise that it’s one of my favorites this time around. Songs like “Sunny Disposition”, “Paradigm” and “Creating God” feel both creative and just plain fun to listen to, while I get massive Dream Theater vibes from “Roman Sky”. The album’s honestly a surprise from A7X, and a good one at that…