Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Music Review: Avenged Sevenfold - Life Is But a Dream...

Avenged Sevenfold's long-awaited eighth album is a fearlessly wacky roller coaster of musical and artistic influences centered around themes of life, death, and the meaning of it all.  Bewilderingly fast-paced and full of abrupt time and tempo changes, Life Is But a Dream... is dizzying, thought-provoking, often beautiful, and at times confounding.  It's hard to know exactly what to make of it.

The album starts right off with a curveball, as strains of delicate chamber music ease the listener in (similar to how we ease into life, according to singer M. Shadows) before heavy guitars come roaring.  The song is called "Game Over" and it's a brutally frank, truncated account of a man going through various stages of life before deciding to exit this seemingly meaningless existence - "And here I swing from my family tree/Say goodnight."  Like several songs on this album it's very well-written but feels short and perhaps under-explored.  This sets the trend of each track being part of a larger whole rather than a proper standalone piece of music.
The second song "Mattel" is a bit more fleshed out and probably the most traditionally A7X-sounding on the record, minus the sparse, saccharin chorus backed up by synth organ.  The two singles, "Nobody" and "We Love You" are next, the former a midtempo dirge driven by a knifing guitar/synth riff, the latter a Mr. Bungle-esque whirlwind of sounds and moods. 

The longest track is "Cosmic," whose non-traditional structure actually makes it fly by, starting with a verse section, followed by a long guitar solo, followed by a bittersweet chorus of sorts that repeats with numerous iterations (the second half using a vocoder).  This is one of the album's strongest pieces.

Next is the Alice In Chains-y "Beautiful Morning," another more straightforward rocker that makes use of an old Rev melody in the bridge, followed by "Easier," a hauntingly pretty pop-metal song with more vocoder effects.

The album closes with four rapid-fire suite movements, three of them explicitly connected by title, all four exploring different genres.  "G" is a Frank Zappa-esque bit of satire from the point of view of God, lamenting his earthly creation.  My favorite line is "On the seventh day I thought about world peace, but I decided just to take it off."  This song transitions into "(O)rdinary," a dance-pop number reminiscent of Daft Punk (whom Shadows cites as a specific influence on this album), and from there to "(D)eath," a lounge singer-type swan song describing the freedom that comes with the end.  And as if to twist the knife one last time, the closer is a four-and-a-half minute classical piano solo by Synyster Gates, the album's title track.  So yeah, that happened.

Taken as a contiguous piece of music Life Is But a Dream... is a bold new step from a band never afraid to wear their influences on their sleeve or to push boundaries.  Structurally it reminds me of 70s prog and avant-garde rock, a journey comprised of various small patchwork pieces that mostly only work in succession with each other.  I think I'd find it more effective overall if more of the ideas were given time to breathe; the gear changes are in such quick succession one barely has time to get used to them.  I think on some level that was the band's desired result, but I'd just like to have spent more time with "Game Over, "Easier" and the connected piece (Very Abbey Road-ish, that one).  At 53 minutes and change, this album had plenty of room to stretch some of those running times and sit with some of its ideas a little.  

Thematically though, it's contemplative and thoughtful, asking the big questions about life and death in a way that's relatable to everyone.  The everyday worries and stresses we all deal with vanish when we leave this human construct, and what's really important is that we get enjoyment and some kind of deeper meaning while we're here.  When we're gone everything we were dissipates, like a dream.

I feel like the album is too good for ***1/2 but not quite ****.  I'll split the difference and give the album ***3/4 out of *****.


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