The New Avenged Sevenfold Drummer is…

Avenged Sevenfold, often shortened to simply A7X, announced last week on their website that the band were parting ways with drummer Arin Ilejay due to creative differences. Ilejay had been part of the band for four years, acting as a permanent replacement for Jimmy ‘The Rev’ Sullivan, after his death in 2009. Ilejay was also the replacement for then-Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy, who Avenged Sevenfold had enlisted the help of as a session and touring musician during the recording process of 2010’s record, Nightmare.

During Ilejay’s four years with Californian metal band, they only released one record: 2013’s Hail to the King. This record marked a distinct change in musical direction for the band, as they dropped the longer, complex arrangements, in favour of a classical metal inspired sound. Whilst the record achieved its goal of bringing Avenged Sevenfold to the masses (it secured them a headlining role at Download 2014), the band had lost their identity; producing vapid and uninspired music.

From live performances of past Avenged Sevenfold material it was clear to see Arin Ilejay’s talent. He almost effortlessly reproduced The Rev’s flair, proving he had both the skill set and the confidence to tackle a very distinctive drum diction. However, the band asked Ilejay to tame down his normal style for the Hail to the King record, opting for simpler beats, with an emphasis on groove, rather than technical ability. By no means am I suggesting he should have been given free reign on their musical project, but to actively subdue an accomplished musician to such an extent is very disappointing, especially because all it achieved was the album’s pretentious and bland sound.

The reason I am blogging about this split is that I read a lot into the announcement. They cite ‘creative differences’ as the cause, which in my mind suggests that Ilejay was once again having his creativity stifled by a band who are more interested in pursuing a mainstream metal career. I predict that their seventh album will once again feature a stripped back sound, imitating the pioneering thrash metal acts of the eighties, in which the drums play a simplified role, forgoing the technical aspect that probably drew Ilejay towards the band in the first place, such as that championed on City Of Evil, parts of their self-titled effort and Nightmare.

The question remains though of who will replace Ilejay. I have seen a few potential replacement lists appearing on the internet, but I feel they will choose another relatively unheard of name, like Arin Ilejay was. They aren’t going to, for example, choose Mike Portnoy or Nick Menza, because they wont adapt themselves into what Avenged Sevenfold are looking for. The band seem unwilling to share creative control, so whoever fills in will have to be a blank canvas that can Avenged Sevenfold can mold into their vision. Equally a ‘big name’ won’t want a role like this on a permanent basis, with little to no creative input, as the famous names are more than just drummers, they are musicians!

Here’s hoping the new appointment, whoever that may end up being, can inspire Avenged Sevenfold to produce music with a little more identity in the future, as the band are too talented to be making Metallica tribute records.

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James

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Atreyu Are Back

Atreyu are an American metalcore band that were part of the generation that helped push the genre (which at its simplest is a fusion between metal and hardcore) to the mainstream in the early 2000s. One of the reasons they became so popular amongst the metalcore community was because of their unique vocal set-up; the screamed vocals present in the verses were provided by lead vocalist Alex Varkatzas, whilst the clean chorus vocals were sung by their drummer Brandon Saller.

Their debut album, Suicide Notes and Butterfly Kisses, was a raw metalcore album, with several successful tracks, but was missing some of the polish that seasoned bands achieve. The same style was then developed upon for their sophomore effort, The Curse, which helped promote the band into the mainstream with singles Bleeding Mascara and Right Side of the Bed. They followed this up with A Death-Grip on Yesterday in 2006, which was once again a refinement of their sound, with more distinct riffs, a greater contrast between melodic and heavy sections, and an improved flow to the record.

After fulfilling their contractual obligations to Victory Records by releasing a Best Of record, they signed to Hollywood Records to produce Lead Sails Paper Anchor, which marked a distinct change to the band’s sound. Many of the raw screams and metalcore elements had disappeared, replaced instead with melodic vocals and a hard rock feel. Whilst it was a very well-written record, it failed to impress a large proportion of the fan base and they quickly amalgamated this style with their metalcore roots for their fifth album, Congregation of the Damned, in 2009.

Atreyu then decided to go on a hiatus and now almost five years later the first new music from the band has surfaced. So far three tracks have been premiered, So Others May Live, When the Day is Done and Long Live, which all point towards the band fully returning to their metalcore roots. So Others May Live features extremely raw screamed vocals in the verses, juxtaposed with catchy melodic choruses, in addition to plenty of opportunities to headbang.

When the Day is Done fits perfectly into Atreyu’s back catalogue; there are galloping drum beats, breakdown riffs, bellowed group vocals, prominent lead guitar and a good mix between vocal styles. The same can be said with Long Live, which focusses on the heavier end of the band’s sound, confirming that their detour away from metalcore has finished.

The three tracks are from Atreyu’s upcoming sixth studio album, entitled Long Live, which is due September 18th. So far the record sounds closest to the style present on A Death-Grip On Yesterday, which in my opinion, is their most complete album to date. Although I did enjoy the post-Victory Records music, it is good to see a band successfully returning to their roots. It seems the hiatus was an inspired decision after all!

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James

The future of Coheed and Cambria

Ever since I first heard the single The Running Free, I have been hooked on Coheed and Cambria, to the point where I would call them my favourite band. One of the reasons I adore their music so much, is the sci-fi story that the band tell through their records; each new album pieces together the events of a fictional galaxy called Heaven’s Fence. The storyline, known as the Amory Wars, was wrapped up after album number five, but via a peculiar side project and their last (double) album, The Afterman, the stories of two other characters (aside from Coheed, Cambria and their son, Claudio) have been told.

However, with album number eight the band have opted to ditch their sprawling concept and release a ‘normal’ record, probably due to the lack of major plotlines to detail with a new music. I always wondered if this day would come and sadly, for a slightly-too-invested fan like me, it leaves me with a bizarre sense of worry and dread, especially as lead song, You Got Spirit, Kid, reminds a little too much of Fall Out Boy for my liking.

In an attempt to re-assure myself that losing their biggest USP will not have an impact in the quality of the music, I have been thinking about other examples of bands that have ditched the concept albums that they were known for.

My first example is often compared to Coheed and Cambria, mainly because their vocalist can reach the same high notes that Coheed’s Claudio Sanchez regularly employs. The band in question are Protest the Hero, who also occupy that strange space belonging to the quasi-genre of nu-prog, which is home to bands that seem to contain too much pop to be called metal, too many oddities to be called mainstream and not enough runaway musical passages to be called prog.

Protest the Hero began their career with two concept albums, the first detailing an execution of a woman from three points of view and the second a more loose concept dealing with the themes of faith and goddess worship. However, the band’s following two albums, Scurrilous and Volition, do not have any concepts to tie the lyrical matter together, and although there is the odd bizarre lyric that can make you cringe, the superb musicality of the previous albums was still in place and the band’s focus did not subside.

The same cannot be said about my next example however. Mastodon began their career with a series of four albums that were each related to one of the classical Greek elements. Remission was vaguely related to fire, but the following three albums Leviathan, Blood Mountain and Crack the Skye told tumultuous stories relating to the elements of water, earth and air respectively. With each album their place in the progressive metal scene grew exponentially, and it seemed the band could do no wrong. Then came the concept-less The Hunter, which after the highly focused music of previous albums seemed to be lacking in creativity and cohesiveness. There were some individual standout tracks, but as an album it felt uninspired – a million miles away from its predecessor that topped album poll after album poll.

My final example completes the set quite nicely. The Dear Hunter is a progressive project led by Casey Crescenzo, which originally began with a series of three concept albums, entitled Acts, based around the story of a central character called the Dear Hunter. For the project’s fourth and fifth albums, Crescenzo chose to suspend the six-part album series and experiment with different sounds. The Color Spectrum was a collection of nine EPs, that each focused on a different genre or style, ranging from industrial rock to acoustic. It was a true testament to his song writing ability and is a glorious (triple) album to listen to, if you have the time! The break from his indulgent concept series and traditional sound proved to be an inspired decision and hopefully when he returns with Act IV later this year, his musical explorations will have a positive effect and rejuvenate the project. Lead track, A Night On The Town, seems positive.

Only time will tell which path Coheed and Cambria will follow with their new record. It all depends on whether they can retain their focus without a concept to tie the music together. However, there is one thing that I can say for sure: it’ll certainly take some getting used to!

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James

VII: Sturm und Drang – Album Preview

VII: Sturm und Drang, which translates from German as ‘Storm and Stress’, is Lamb of God’s seventh studio album* and marks a new chapter for the metal band from Virginia. It is the first new music from the band since vocalist Randy Blythe’s manslaughter court case, which investigated the death of fan Daniel Nosek after he was pushed offstage at a gig in the Czech Republic in 2010. His experiences have heavily influenced the lyrical content of the record, in addition to providing the theme of negative psychological effects that is referred to in the album’s subtitle.

So far three tracks have been released from Sturm und Drang, due July 24th, which I want to review today to give a first impression on the much anticipated record.

Still Echoes

Still Echoes begins in monolithic fashion and doesn’t relent. It makes reference to the history of the prison in which Blythe was held, which was known for its guillotine where hundreds of people were sentenced to death by the Nazis. It’s a heavy subject matter that is mirrored in the track’s heaviness; filled with Mark Morton’s signature single-string riffing and Chris Adler’s almost-robotic drumming that passes by at an incredible rate of knots. Sound-wise Still Echoes doesn’t make any departures from that adopted on Wrath and Resolution, but with such strong song writing, it doesn’t need too.

512

Unlike Still Echoes, 512 does begin to shake up the Lamb of God blueprint, by introducing croaked spoken word passages and a haunting distorted arpeggio riff. However, beyond that, the typical Lamb of God brutality is maintained and is accompanied by a blistering guitar solo to savour. 512 is an impressive track and rewards Lamb of God for trying to weave new ideas into their now tried-and-tested formula.

Overlord

The final track to be released from the record early achieves its heaviness in an entirely different manner, although it represents a giant risk from the band, as it is their first track to feature Blythe’s clean vocals. His voice sounds surprisingly like Layne Staley’s, with grungy tones and subtle melodies; quite a departure from the cookie-monster screams that listeners are used to. Eventually his screams return towards the end of the song, but it is the first half of the song that really does all the hard work. The intro features a lovely blues lick, before a loose verse rolls in and gives way to a chorus that is powerful, yet restrained. Lamb of God have never written anything this mature and have managed to amalgamate both styles into one song that remains focused and cohesive.

512 and Overlord have shown that Lamb of God are embracing a wider range of influences on Sturm und Drang and if the rest of the record proves to be as successful as the tracks already showcased, then you may just be looking at the best metal album of 2015.

*Not including their debut effort released under the band name Burn the Priest.

Join the RockAtlantic mailing list by clicking on follow and, as always, press like if you enjoyed this blog and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

James