Avenged Sevenfold – ‘Life Is But A Dream’

By Katherine Allvey

Imagine a beach in Algeria. A white man in his thirties pulls out a gun without emotion and shoots an Arabic man dead with a single shot after a long standing disagreement turns to violence at a party. Calmly, he walks over to the body and shoots it another four times. When police arrest him, he can’t explain why he killed the man, only that the sunlight and heat of the beach were annoying him. Later condemned to death, the man sits dispassionately in his prison cell, his isolation only providing proof of ‘the benign indifference of the universe’.

This scene of a senseless murder and the perpetrator’s zen acceptance that no one and nothing in the world cares is from Albert Camus’ ‘The Stranger’ and is iconic to fans of French philosophical literature. It’ll also very shortly become iconic to fans of Avenged Sevenfold, who’ve based ‘Life Is But A Dream…’, their first release in seven years, on Camus’ 1942 novella. It’s an album that’s taken four years to write and record, and is designed to be consumed as a single piece of musical art that you sit down and contemplate as you would a particularly worthy, Oscar-nominated movie rather than as singles or individual songs. Claiming to tackle the big existential questions, this is a release which treads dangerously close to ‘concept album’ or ‘rock opera’ territory, and if you’re one of those folks who’s questioned whether Avenged Sevenfold are ‘Metal’ enough then you’ll find your cynicism vindicated. For those of us coming in without that kind of internal barometer, you’ll find this to be a record equally as dramatic and overblown as the rest of the band’s catalogue, only it operates under it’s own private, surrealist logic. It’s an incredibly compelling, labyrinthine record that is gloriously and utterly bonkers in it’s construction.

The curtains rise for the overture, ‘Game Over’.  Here we have a Metallica-meets-Led-Zep energy that weaves its way between hardcore drumming, dreamy semi-classical guitar, Muse-level crashing piano chords and the kind of dramatic pauses you’d get in a West End show. An effortless flow into ‘Mattel’, a System Of A Down throwback if Serge Tankian scored a metal remake of ‘Alice In Wonderland’. There is an incomprehensible beauty to their insanity, a narrative of grinding guitars and grungey atmospheric triumph on numbers like ‘Nobody’, and a spacey, prog urgency that trips between industrial beats and shredding intensity on ‘We Love You’. M. Shadows’ vocal range is tremendous, giving us everything from grunge wails to guttural growls. Synyster Gates too is on top form, stretching each note on ‘Cosmic’ to it’s absolute breaking point until it separates and drifts into electronic fibres.

’Life Is But A Dream…’ is the musical equivalent of a sci-fi novel which aims to encompass ten thousand years of a civilisation in five hundred words. Instrumentally, each individual layer must be up there as some of Avenged Sevenfold’s finest work in years, but when put together, it’s attempting to tell a story which must be beyond human understanding or convey a philosophical point so deep that only hoodie-wearing spiritual masters can grasp it.

‘It’s easier to just walk away…’ intones the Daft Punk-esque robot voice on ‘Easier’ and, realistically, some of the Avenged Sevenfold faithful might take that android’s advice. But if you take the time to appreciate the majestic amount of effort it took to create this musical grimoire, there’s wonder shining through like tiny flecks of gold dust, even in ‘(O)rdinary’, a funk track that dissolves into racecar noises then turns into a disco ballad.

This is not an album you can dance to, or jump into the pit to, or really do much in response to except nod sagely. There’s a fine line between genius and madness, and Avenged Sevenfold seem to be walking that tightrope gingerly, wobbling between each side with every step. Perhaps, if you listen to it enough times, you’ll discover the meaning of life or an intergalactic truth, but you’ll have to hack your way through a lot of piano vines to get to that point. 

KATE ALLVEY

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