Avenged Sevenfold - Nightmare
Warner Bros. Records
Hard Rock/Heavy Metal
11 songs (66:47)
Release year: 2010
Warner Bros. Records
Reviewed by Tyler
Album of the year

About a year ago, the notion that I would one day be writing a positive review for an Avenged Sevenfold album would have seemed ludicrous to me. Without being even remotely hyperbolic, I can honestly say that I HATED this band. In my mild ignorance, I perceived the band to be the very quintessence of everything that was wrong with the metal scene (which I wasn’t even that familiar with yet, at the time of course). Oddly enough, I hadn’t even listened to that much of the band’s music; instead, I wrote of anything that they had ever released as Hot Topic brand nonsense. This can probably be attributed to the fact that I saw the band before I heard them. Looking at pictures from early in the band’s career, it isn’t difficult to see why my youthful skepticism and misplaced hatred found an easy target with A7X. Seeing strippers dancing on-stage in videos of their live shows put what seemed like the final nails in the coffin for the band. I was still in the weaning stages of my blossoming love for metal, and as such, I still had those naïve purist sensibilities that comes with only really knowing “the greats” that helped to turn me on to the genre.

Over time, however, my hatred for the band diminished. As I started embracing more and more types of metal and becoming knowledgeable about how today’s bands are influenced by the bands of yesteryear. Over time, as I started recognizing elements of beloved bands such as Guns N Roses and Iron Maiden in A7X’s sound, my attitude towards them softened somewhat. I still wasn’t thrilled about the band members’ look, or their cheesy stage names, or their increasingly commercial sound. But, from the little I had heard, they had some pretty cool Maiden-esque harmonies and some exciting drumming, among other such redeeming qualities. I still wasn’t a fan, and I still occasionally took the role of group asshole in conversations with my friends (many of whom are A7X fans) by bashing the band relentlessly.

It seems odd to me (and a little morbid) that it takes a major event such as a death (Type O Negative) or a horrific injury (Deftones) of a band member to galvanize me enough to give that band an honest listen. Unfortunately, it was the extremely unfortunate and untimely death of James Owen Sullivan (aka The Rev), the Avenged Sevenfold’s phenomenal drummer, that was the catalyst for my dramatic change of opinion regarding the band. Following The Rev’s passing, I couldn’t help but to give A7X an honest effort; I started borrowing CD’s from my friends and watching internet videos of the band. Slowly but surely, the band went from a mediocre band to a pretty damn good band in my mind, a change that I hid safely from my friends who I used to bash the band in front of. When the band recruited Dream Theater drum master Mike Portnoy to fill in for The Rev on their new album, I found myself genuinely intrigued to hear what the new album would sound like.

So there I was, buying a copy of Nightmare on the day after its release, much to the amusement of the aforementioned friends who had endured my insults regarding the band. “I’m only buying it because I need to review it”, I justified, but I knew better, and I believe they did as well. And after listening to the album constantly for about a week, I have come to a conclusion that I truly never expected: this album is good. Hell, at moments, this album is freaking awesome. After loosing a dear friend, the boys from Orange County have indeed become men. Gone are half-assed attempts at balladry and the foolish endeavors into country and alternative rock; Nightmare is an honest-to-goodness Heavy Metal album, full of sincere emotion and intensity. Leave your preconceived notions about the band at the door, for this is Avenged Sevenfold at their darkest and most mature, and in some respects, best.

The album opens with a creepy keyboard/cello intro that introduces the title track/first single with an appropriately dark mood. The band enters with a truly explosive double bass assault accompanied by a trademark A7X dual guitar harmony. As the grooving, palm-muted march of the first verse begins, frontman Matthew Sanders (M Shadows) sings lyrics about being dragged into hell (perhaps metaphorically). Luckily, Shadows’ voice has improved dramatically since his half-choking performance on the band’s 2005 effort City of Evil. He roars and sneers with strength and conviction, and his vocals effectively pay homage to some of his biggest influences (namely Axl Rose and James Hetfield) while retaining enough individuality to justify his spot amongst the top class of today’s metal frontmen. The song has enough hooks, gang shouting, and piano playing to justify the comparisons of the bands to 80s hair metal, but unlike many of those band, and even some of A7X’sprevious work, the hooks are a little less immediate, allowing listeners to take a little more out of each succeeding spin of Nightmare (and that goes for both the song and the album as a whole).

The album’s next track, Welcome to the Family, keeps up the momentum while showing off the band’s eclectic approach to metal. After a quick drum intro, a groove-heavy riff leads into a sleazy, almost GNR-like hard rock stomp. The song veers into a SoCal punk style chorus, and veers right back into a pure metal breakdown, followed then by some impressive trade-off shredding from guitarists Brian Haner Jr. (Synyster Gates) and Zachary Baker (Zacky Vengeance). Despite the band’s varied influences, at their best, they manage to make said influences flow nicely together into a sound that is uniquely A7X. This has never been more true than on Nightmare, as the band has finally experimented enough to mature musically into something that is unique and true.

It goes without saying that after the tragic loss of a loved one, those left behind will have a massive buildup of emotions including from grief, confusion, and certainly not least of all, anger. As a result, Nightmare sees the band at an all time high in terms of heaviness and rage in the songs Natural Born Killer and God Hates Us. Between these two, the band welcomes back long-forsaken trademarks such as screamed vocals and blast beats, albeit with much more strength and conviction than previously. In particular, God Hate Us is a surprisingly remarkable number, as Shadows returns to harsh vocals, something he hasn’t done since Waking the Fallen, though his vocals are now more of a vicious roar than the strained screech of the band’s early career. In both of these songs, the band is a heavy (or heavier) than they have ever been in their career, yet in both, manage to stay anthemic and occasionally melodic, something the band does exceptionally well in their better material.

Unfortunately, the songs of Nightmare tend to alternate between thrasher and ballad in an almost bi-polar way, making the album flow in an occasionally awkward manner. Luckily, while the ballads So Far Away, Victim, and Tonight the World Dies are the album’s weakest links, they feature some incredible guitar playing and some even more remarkable vocal performances that keep them from being “skip-this” caliber tracks. Without a doubt, however, the album’s strongest points are when the band employs their heavy/melodic eclecticism such as in Buried Alive. At nearly 7 minutes, the song begins with a quiet, Zeppelin-like guitar piece followed by an enchanting guitar harmony that rates among the band’s best guitar performances to date. The song curves between the eerily melodic to the chugging heaviness that sounds somewhat reminiscent to Black Album-era Metallica.

The album reaches an emotional climax on its tenth song, Fiction. As the last song that Jimmy Sullivan (The Rev) ever wrote and recorded, one can’t help but to read into the song’s lyrics as a foreshadowing to his death. Written three days before his death, I get the feeling that with lyrics like, “I hope its worth it out on the highway, I hope you find your own way when I’m not with you tonight”, The Rev knew that his time on this Earth was coming to a close while writing this. Not only is it is the final song he wrote, he also laid down piano, drum, and vocal tracks for the song that were suitable for the final recording. Hearing The Rev’s voice for the final time is heartbreaking enough, but hearing it in duet with his long-time friend Matt Sanders (Shadows), it is nearly unbearable. It is probably too early too say at the moment, but given the breathtaking beauty and gravity of the song and its lyrics, I would go as far as to say that Fiction is the most important rock song of 2010.

So there you have it, I submit; I absolutely love Nightmare. Never mind hype or circumstance, I feel that I have become acquainted enough with this album to say that is an honestly, thoroughly good album that can stand on its own. Even the album’s slower tracks have more than enough moments of sincere emotion and intense musicality to make them worth listening to again and again, meaning that this is an album that can be enjoyed in its entirety, front to back. There is nothing forced or fake about this album, and in its closing moments, as Shadows croons, “Tonight we all die young”, and Mike Portnoy gives his kit one last beating, it becomes obvious that Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan’s last vision has truly been realized. I was originally going to give this album a score somewhere in the range of 70-80, but after a week’s worth of time with the album, I have decided that this album, for everything that it represents, is one of my Album’s of the Year, so I will allow it a score of 90, the minimum for said honor. Jimmy truly was a special musician and artist, and as such, this album, the last thing that he will ever give to his fans, deserves no less of an honor. RIP my friend; I truly hope you would approve of this review.

Killing Songs :
Nightmare, Welcome to the Family, Buried Alive, Natural Born Killer, God Hates Us, Fiction, Save Me
Tyler quoted 90 / 100
Other albums by Avenged Sevenfold that we have reviewed:
Avenged Sevenfold - City of Evil reviewed by Aaron and quoted 70 / 100
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