Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Sevendust - the albums, ranked!

This Friday, Sevendust play their first ever headline gig in Auckland. While I’ve seen the band live once – they played a brutal six-song set at Soundwave a few years ago – I’m super-excited for this show, having never seen a Sevendust headline gig. Even more, given that the band are on record in multiple interviews saying this will be a one-of-a-kind setlist, over two hours and probably also incorporating some of the acoustic material since they never toured Time Travellers and Bonfires down here.

In honour of that, this week will be a Sevendust marathon honouring the consistency and longevity of this very under-rated band. I’ll listen to each and every one of the band’s 12 albums, some probably more than once. And here, I’m going to rank those albums. It probably speaks volumes of the consistency and quality of the band’s catalogue that, in the course of writing this list, I shuffled and reshuffled it probably at least 15 times.

#12: Chapter VII: Hope and Sorrow (2008)

Some good moments, but this album lacks the consistency of most of their records. There are some decent highlights, like Inside, Scapegoat, and the savage Contradiction – but in places it gets just a bit too overtly broody for my liking. In some ways, a change of direction was probably unavoidable as there was simply no way 7D could out-heavy Alpha, their previous album. However, one of the greatest strengths of 7D has always been that they manage to convey intense moods in such accessible ways, whereas Chapter VII just gets a little bit too self-absorbed.

There are guest spots from Mark Tremonti, Myles Kennedy and Chris Daughtry… and unexpectedly Daughtry’s contribution on The Past upstages the two Alter Bridge representatives.

#11: Sevendust (1997)

For any given band, there will always be a group of fans who tell you that they are truly old-school and still think the band’s first album is far and away their best, and since then they’ve gotten soft/sold out/gone weird/whatever. In many cases, Sevendust included, they are wrong. The self-titled album fires a brilliantly brutal opening quartet of Black, Bitch, Terminator and Too Close to Hate and after that, it’s kind of a mixed bag – some hits (like Prayer) and some misses.

#10: Next (2005)

The first album following guitarist Clint Lowery’s departure, Next was released on Winedark Records, which promptly went bust, causing the band financial headaches that took years to resolve. Possibly as a response to the perceived commercial feel of its predecessor Seasons, the band took this album in an entirely different direction – dialling back the melody and dialling the crunch up to 11. Pieces, in particular, remains as possibly the heaviest track the band has written and is still a staple of their live set – and The Last Song is almost as heavy. I was always a huge fan of Desertion too, a near-perfect blend of Sevendust’s riff and melody-writing abilities, and great use of both Lajon Witherspoon and Morgan Rose’s vocals.

#9: Black Out the Sun (2013)

Black Out the Sun has some absolutely huge tracks. Faithless is a stunning opener featuring one of the most scorching riffs Sevendust have written. Mountain has a fantastic rolling groove, and some typically sly touches from drummer Morgan Rose. Decay has an ominous, industrial vibe, Got A Feeling is a rare and excellent quieter moment, whilst closing track Murder Bar perpetuates the admirable Sevendust habit of finishing albums with a bang.

The rest of the album is pretty solid too, but occasional it can be a little sparse and just doesn’t always hit the huge highs of the tracks above.

#8: Animosity (2001)

Sevendust always had a strong sense of melody to go with their arsenal of riffs; Animosity is the album that really brought that melody to the fore. Tracks like Angel’s Son, Follow, and Xmas Day were a new sound for Sevendust but quickly gained the respect they unquestionably deserved – and they also showed just how good a singer Lajon Witherspoon is. Meanwhile, the likes of T.O.A.B., Dead Set and Crucified showed the band had lost none of their edge – and then you have two of the most brilliant songs Sevendust have ever written in the form of Praise, Trust and Beautiful. The former is a masterful example of weaving great dynamics around a simple, insanely catch main riff; the latter two both showing a great combination of old-school Sevendust crunch with new-school Sevendust melody.

#7: Time Travelers and Bonfires (2014)

The fact that this acoustic album was successfully crowdfunded in less than three days speaks volumes to (a) the commitment of Sevendust’s fans and (b) the regard in which those fans hold the 2004 live acoustic record Southside Double Wide.

Time Travelers and Bonfires is a record of two halves – the first being new acoustic tracks, the second being acoustic performances of older Sevendust tracks (in a similar vein to Southside Double Wide). The new material is just quality through and through; the older material repeats a little from Southside but is still excellent and takes some good risks too, like a radically stripped-down version of Denial. However, one of the few disappointments of this record is that it doesn’t take a punt on any heavy numbers like Southside did so brilliantly well with Too Close to Hate and Rumble Fish. Hearing the band lob in a full-blooded acoustic take on a track like Terminator, Disease or Face to Face would’ve really put this one over the edge.

#6: Cold Day Memory (2010)

Cold Day Memory marked the return of Clint Lowery following a three album absence. But for that absence, the band have maintained the same line-up since their beginning in 2004, which is a pretty remarkable feat. And coming as it did on the heels of Chapter VII, it’s impossible to describe Cold Day Memory as anything other than ‘back with a vengeance’.

The differences are immediately obvious - a palpable increase in urgency right from the start, with the opening one-two of Splinter and Forever, a more outward-looking perspective and a lot less introspection, and more intricate song arrangements. At the time, CDM was a very strong reminder that Sevendust still had a lot to offer, and it remains a fine record.

The now-obligatory excellent closing track this time around was Strong Arm Broken.

#5: Alpha (2007)

Just when you thought Next might’ve marked the zenith of Sevendust heaviness… they produced Alpha. From the frantic opening attack of Deathstar, you got the immediate sense that Alpha was probably going to take things up a notch again from its predecessor – and it does. This is Sevendust in full beast mode – due in no small part to Morgan Rose having a tough few years and consequently letting rip on this album, big-time. Instead of being a secondary vocalist providing a harsher contrast to Lajon’s soulful leads, Alpha is almost a dual-lead effort between the two of them.

There’s pretty much no respite on the whole record, aside from the quieter sections of 9-minute epic Burn, still Sevendust’s longest song by a considerable margin. It’s somewhat fitting that the assault ends with probably the fastest and most bruising song the band has written to date – the title track, Alpha.

#4: Seasons (2003)

This was really the album that got me into Sevendust; I’d been introduced to Home a few years earlier but it never really grabbed me at the time. Seasons, however, I can vividly remember blasting in my car, via a discman and one of those cassette adaptors (!) back in 2003 – it’s certainly one of their strongest records from start to finish. I couldn’t get enough of it back then and it still holds up extremely well now.

I was genuinely staggered to discover that the band (or at least Morgan Rose) was disappointed with this record as being too commercial. While it’s definitely well-produced, there’s a heavy sense of darkness around the album and it blends some of Sevendust’s heaviest tracks (Disease, Enemy, Face to Face) with some excellent mellower tracks (Skeleton Song).

As a side note, the cover of Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues that was included as a bonus track on some versions is well worth tracking down.

#3: Kill the Flaw (2015)

If there’s a word to describe Sevendust’s most recent album, it’s ‘cohesive’. That might sound odd; one of Sevendust’s trademarks has always been the way they seem to lock drums, bass and guitar together in a way that amplifies their already-potent riffs. But there’s a tightness, a density about this album that immediately distinguishes it from its predecessor, Black Out the Sun. The level of detail, interplay and complexity on Kill the Flaw is unparalleled across Sevendust’s extensive catalogue. The clever use of rhythm and syncopation by Morgan Rose and Vinnie Hornsby that got hinted at on Mountain gets stepped up a notch on Not Today, Silly Beast and Chop. Guitarists John Connolly and Clint Lowery layer sounds in such a manner that, while you know there’s two different guitar lines being played, it’s sometimes pretty hard to individually pick them out. Lajon Witherspoon is stunning throughout. And yes, there’s the usual beastly closing track – this time around it’s Torched (or bonus track Slave the Prey, depending on your version).

Because there’s so much happening, Kill the Flaw isn’t necessarily Sevendust’s most accessible album, but it’s certainly one of their best and most rewarding to listen to.

#2: Southside Double-Wide: Acoustic Live (2004)

At the time (2004) this was totally left-field; one of the heaviest bands I knew putting out an acoustic record? But I was hooked from the first listen. Some of the obvious candidates for an acoustic performance, like Beautiful, Skeleton Song and Angel’s Son, translated every bit as well as you would expect them to. But the real highlight was the band charging unreservedly into heavy tracks like Too Close to Hate, Rumble Fish, Black and Bitch – somehow the extra texture and space (and exceptional playing from Rose and Lowery in particular) took these tracks to an entirely new level.

To this day, it still rates as probably the best acoustic or unplugged record that I’ve heard.

#1: Home (1999)

It still amazes me that this album never really grabbed me when I first heard it back in 1999. Since I rediscovered it, sometime around 2005, it’s been nothing short of an all-time favourite, go-to record for me – always ready, always there, always rewarding.

Sevendust clearly hit a rich vein of form on this album, and managed to distil it perfectly into 41 minutes par-excellence of what guitarist John Connolly describes as "some kind of heavy and some kind of rock and some kind of metal". From the stoic, raw crunch of the opening riff of the title track, there really isn’t a wasted minute on this album. The raucous headbanging of Denial, the ‘get up, get up, get up’ call to arms of Rumble Fish, the teeth-gritting defiance of Waffle… it’s all glorious.

Guest spots were very much in vogue at the time but were a notoriously hit-or-miss affair; the two here are absolute killers. Skin from Skunk Anansie (remember them?!) appears on Licking Cream, and the Deftones’ Chino Moreno contributes vocals to closing track Bender.

My personal favourites? They’ve changed over time, but at the moment it’s Headtrip and Bender. The way guitar, bass and drums syncopate and weave around each other on these two tracks is awesome – and Morgan Rose in particular shows a great deal of subtlety and guile with some particularly deft touches on the drums.

1 comment:

essayontime writing service said...

i love reading album ranks and its fun to know how much our choices and preferences have changed over the years. thank you for being kind enough :) lots of love.