May 3, 2007

CD Review: Sevendust - Alpha

It has been ten years since Sevendust first entered the scene with their self-titled debut album, immediately making an impact with their mix of the melodic and the heavy. Now they are releasing their sixth studio album, and in many ways it feels stripped down and pumped full of aggression. This has to be the heaviest I have ever heard them. Granted, I have not heard all of their albums, but I have heard at least a couple songs from each, and their performance here is like a band possessed, an outpouring of emotion and aggression with a backdrop of pure heaviness.

Now this isn't the heaviest album I've ever heard, but it is yet another step in the consistent evolution of the band that is Sevendust. They are a band that always seems to be flying under the radar. They have a great fanbase, and the name can always be found, yet they never seemed to reach the same level of respect as others in the same style. I may be misreading, but that is the impression that I get. Despite that seeming lack of notoriety, they consistenly deliver great music, and are always there with a new album at regular intervals. Six albums, a live album, and a greatest hits collection in a ten year period is nothing to sneeze at.

Alpha seems like the start of a new era for the band, with renewed focus following their label issues, this is the first release on their newly formed label, Sevenbros Records (distributed by Asylum). Following Next, Alpha continues their trend towards a heavy, more raw feeling. I was truly caught off guard by this one. I knew to expect a rocking good album, Sevendust has never failed to deliver the goods, but the unbridled aggression that is barely contained on this album was a real surprise. I mean that in a good way.

The album opens with "Deathstar," a strong track in classic Sevendust fashion, followed by the powerful "Clueless." The third song is their first single, "Driven," a song that does a good job of delivering what you want in the lead single, it's catchy, heavy, and you will want to listen to it again. It opens with a an odd guitar line and clicked drums before exploding in a furious riff with Lajon's voice sailing above all. Other highlights include "Confessions of Hatred," which actually evokes memories of Korn, while remaining right within Sevendust's wheelhouse, and "Beg to Differ," which is fast, clipped and just begs you to bang your head, and then there is "Under" which is destined to be a crowd favorite.

Mixed in among the heavy melodies there is one song that stands out, distinctly different from the rest, the song is called "Burn." It is an experiment in epic songwriting, running the board from heavy to soft, melodic, atmospheric, emotional, it covers a lot of ground in its nine minute runtime. Incorporating piano, rainsticks, and bongos, it is not what I am used to hearing from them, yet feels right in line with what they can do. It is a strong song that expands their versatility and just feels huge in scope.

Lajon Witherspoon is one of the best voices in metal today. He has a voice that bends from soulful emotion to rage filled scream, with every step in between. He continually impresses me with what he can do with his voice. It strikes me that he must have been an influence on Howard Jones of Killswitch Engage, as they strike me as having similar approaches to the use of voice. Behind Lajon is Sonny Mayo, in his second outing with the band (he replaced original aural architect, Clint Lowery, prior to recording Next), and John Connolly deliver on the guitar end with some of the best riffs yet from the band. The rhythm section of Morgan Rose and his double bass mayhem, and Vince Hornsby deliver the rhythm section all the forward motion needed.

Bottomline. Sevendust delivers an excellent album that features a return to the roots of the band while still showing a willingness to experiment. Probably their heaviest album to date, Alpha is an album that you are going to want to listen to, a few times, and then go and see them live. A surprisingly strong release.



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