Avenged Sevenfold’s most recent effort is precisely what it advertises itself as – a “Nightmare” for older fans. In the band’s defense, they have been continually changing their sound since their third album, and more power to them for evolving as musicians. Nightmare lacks the edge that the Huntington Beach, California 5-piece achieved with 2003’s Waking the Fallen and 2005’s City of Evil. As individual musicians, Avenged Sevenfold has persistently improved since it’s incarnation. However, as Nightmare will demonstrate, their songwriting prowess hasn’t increased as much. It’s a fitting tribute to their fallen drummer The Rev, in that it truly shows how vital he was to the band.
Nightmare’s greatest pitfall is its attempts to sound like different bands on each song. I applaud the boys for trying to branch out, but between the country-esque “So Far Away” and the panic chord laden “God Hates Us,” there is no room for consistency. The title track’s half-assed guitar-chugging nearly turned me away from the album entirely – its only saving grace being its chorus, characterized by its epic harmonies.
The major appeal of Nightmare is the return to more ambitious metal songs à la City of Evil, while abandoning the pop-rock sensibilities of their self-titled record. “Danger Line” is reminiscent of older tracks like “Burn It Down,” complete with Synyster Gates’ calling-card sweeps. The band tries to pull out their metalcore roots with “God Hates Us.” M. Shadows uses this song to showcase his first real recorded screams since 2004, and features an actual breakdown, but is otherwise boring. It repeats the lines “Liar, rape, kill/ Love, hate, fear” in a style evocative of Waking the Fallen in an attempt to win back their old fanbase, but doesn’t follow through in keeping that edge throughout the album.
Jimmy Sullivan, better known as The Reverend Tholomew Plague was lost to the band and the world on December 28, 2009 – a reminder of what can happen when good people get mixed up with bad habits. There was some question of whether the band could carry on without the distinctive playing style and vocals that The Rev contributed, and if so, whether they could find someone to fill his rather big shoes. Mike Portnoy was the answer. Technically, he is more than competent enough to play the parts Sullivan had already written. On top of that, Portnoy was one of The Rev’s drum heroes, so it was only fitting that he carry out the task of filling in for him. Still, Portnoy’s presence could not make up the gap Jimmy Sullivan left in Avenged Sevenfold. The most promising aspect of the band post-Avenged Sevenfold was the inclusion of songs penned by Sullivan, and the use of his extremely idiosyncratic vocals. It’s a monumental shame that he didn’t have the time to add more of his own touch to the record – the most interesting songs on Nightmare are “Fiction” and “Save Me,” both written by The Rev.
As individuals, the guys in Avenged Sevenfold have progressed greatly. Syn’s technical skill always impresses, but his phrasing really shines in his solos on Nightmare. For the first time, Gates’ solos sound well thought out, instead of just bursts of mindless noodling. The “Buried Alive” solo gives me goosebumps, and I’m not afraid to say it. It can only be assumed that Johnny Christ’s bass playing has improved, because there are numerous instances throughout the record where you can actually hear him. Zacky Vengeance seems to have picked up a few new tricks too – his playing holds down songs like “Natural Born Killer” while adding impressive rhythmic nuances. Shadows may have found his sweet spot with Nightmare, featuring clean vocals without sacrificing any grit. In a perfect world, this album would be a sign of Shadows reintegrating some screams into songs, but don’t hold your breath.
Nightmare isn’t a bad album. It’s actually a step in the right direction. The problem is that it fails to deliver the masterwork that many fans expected. It has its silver lining (“Fiction” is one of the most beautiful songs in the A7X catalogue), but as a whole, it’s nothing to get excited about. Still, Nightmare will appeal to fans who liked Avenged Sevenfold, and it stands as a proper tribute to their brother.