sevendustblackoutthesunSevendust

Black Out The Sun

01. Memory
02. Faithless
03. Till Death
04. Mountain
05. Cold As War
06. Black Out The Sun
07. Nobody Wants It
08. Dead Roses
09. Decay
10. Dark AM
11. Picture Perfect
12. Got A Feeling
13. Murder Bar

[03/26/13]
[Asylum Records]

On the back of their 1999 breakthrough sophomore album, Home, and its masterful follow up in 2001’s Animosity, Sevendust established themselves as one of the more important bands to emerge from the much maligned nu metal era, and it is nothing short of a travesty that the influence of their unique blend of aggressive yet groovy syncopated chug-based riffs and soulfully melodic vocals had on the development of djent is not as popularly recognised as is the more heralded and fashionable tones of Meshuggah.

Regardless, with the departure of guitarist Clint Lowery following 2003’s Seasons, the band appeared to lose their way, releasing three at best mediocre albums which lacked the compositional intricacies and rhythmic punch of the band’s earlier discography.  Thankfully, Lowery’s return in 2008 seemed to inspire a return to the band’s musical strengths, and resulted in 2010’s Cold Day Memory, which was to that point their best effort since Animosity.  Now, nearly three years on, and the band has just released Black Out the Sun, an album that by and large marks a continuation of their Lowery-led renaissance, and demonstrates that at their best, Sevendust are still a tour de force of alternative metal.

Even on a first listen to Black Out the Sun, a number of things will become immediately obvious to those familiar with Sevendust’s back catalogue.  Firstly, as foreshadowed by Lowery last year, this album stands out as a darker effort than its immediate predecessors, and is less gratuitously a vessel of praise and worship.  Secondly, this album appears to be more diverse in its stylistic influences, most obviously drawing on the band’s southern roots in tracks like ‘Mountain’, but even employing a My Chemical Romance edged pop-punk chorus to ‘Dead Roses’, and all done in a more subtle way than one might expect from a band that has at times been prone to heavy-handedness.

This more nuanced and sophisticated approach to their songwriting is perhaps most evident in ‘Got A Feeling’, a beautifully poised song which exhibits a restraint rarely seen from Sevendust, especially in the vocal performance from Lajon Witherspoon, and, with its country rock tinges reminiscent of Jon Bon Jovi‘s ‘Blaze of Glory’ and Ugly Kid Joe‘s version of ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’, may even eclipse the celebrated  ‘Angel’s Son’ as the band’s most accomplished ballad to date.

However, irrespective of these developments in the Sevendust sound, the core basis for Black Out the Sun’s success as an album is that from the opening gallop of ‘Faithless’ through to the atmospheric groove of its closing track, ‘Murder Bar’, it is jam packed with pacey and rhythmically intense songs that combine the rawness and riff heaviness of Home with the sonic range and ferocity of Animosity.  Unsurprisingly, the driving force behind this rhythmic rejuvenation is drummer Morgan Rose, ably supported as he is by the thudding bass of Vince Hornsby, but whose bass drum kicks sit right at the front of each beat and quite high in the mix, creating a dynamic sense of urgency within many of the album’s songs.  Oh, and his fills are nothing short of insane!

Perhaps more surprisingly, though, is that the rawness referred to above is enhanced significantly by the vocals, Witherspoon’s famously lush and velvety tone often giving way to a raspyness rarely heard from him before, and the greater prominece of Lowery’s harsh growls, especially in tracks such as ‘Faithless’, ‘Till Death’ and ‘Decay’, adds to the album a palpably authentic air of aggression.  At the same time, the guitars of Lowery and John Connolly work wonderfully in tandem; pitching, soaring and chugging with a renewed sense of purpose, and even indulging in duelling solos the likes of which have not been heard since the days of ‘Dead Set’.   

However, while Black Out the Sun is jam packed with songs that are destined to be remembered as some of their all time very best, as a collection, it unfortunately falls just shy of that mark.  The reason for this is that in ‘Dark AM’ and ‘Picture Perfect’, the band has included two songs that appear to have been based around moderately engaging choruses, but on to which they have merely tacked some quite mundane nu metal riffs, and which also feel quite disjointed in their structure.  The shame in this is that not only do they detract somewhat from what the rest of the album is trying to achieve, but that with ten other tracks on the album, not including the introductory ‘Memory’, there was really no need to include them in the first place.

Despite these flaws, Black Out the Sun is, overall, an excellent return to form for this often underappreciated and misunderstood band, and not only includes all of the hallmarks of what made them great in the first place, but is both their heaviest and their best album since Animosity.  It also proves that while heavy grooves have become almost de riguer for what is now considered by many to be ‘progressive metal’, few bands can actually groove as hard as Sevendust.

Sevendust – Black Out the Sun gets…

4/5

– GS

 

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