May 1, 2008

CD Review: Sevendust - Chapter VII: Hope and Sorrow

It was just a year ago that I was writing about the last Sevendust album, Alpha. That album was an eye opener as it brought about the next step in the band's evolution. It still had that distinctive Sevendust sound, but it was undoubtedly heavier than anything they had released in their career. That was surely the influence of ex-Snot guitarist Sonny Mayo, who had joined the band for their prior abum, Next, following Clint Lowery's departure to join Dark New Day. His influence continues to be felt on Chapter VII: Hope and Sorrow, although it seems to be a bit more subdued, almost as if the return of Lowery was felt on the horizon (he rejoined the group, displacing Mayo just prior to this album's release). It is not that it is a bad thing, but this album does seem to be courting a bit more of a mainstream audience.

Now, it may sound as if this is heading down a negative path. Please do not get that impression. This is far from a bad album, but it does not build that much off of Alpha. It is feels more like they went back to the seeds formed by Next and used just a little but of Alpha-based fertilizer and created some sort of amalgam of the two. The result is an album that plays with some radio-friendly tunes, the presence of guest stars, and an increased use of track opening ambience and introductions.

Even with this apparently different approach, there is one word that can be used to describe Sevendust, that word is "consistent." Over the course of ten years, seven studio albums (along with assorted others), Sevendust has consistently turned out strong metal/hard rock albums that combine emotion and aggression in a supremely catchy package. It is a wonder that they have not gotten more notoriety than they have. They certainly have a dedicated core fanbase, but their quality of music definitely deserves a wider audience. It is this lack of mainstream fans that make me wonder if the presence of guests and more radio-friendly cuts on Chapter VII is a calculated attempt to break through to the mainstream. If it is, I hope it works for them; however, if does not, I hope this does not stunt them from a continued path of growth.

The first guest pops up on the third track, "Hope." The song opens with a solo piano intro that runs 50 seconds before Lajon Witherspoon's voice comes in. The song is not terribly special, but then Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti makes his appearance, contributing a guitar solo in the latter portion of the song as the energy kicks up towards the finish. It is not one of the better songs, but the solo is pretty nice.

Another member of Alter Bridge makes an appearance, with Miles Kennedy performing a duet with Lajon. The vocals contain plenty of emotional heft, although I cannot say that it left much of a mark. It does strike me as a song that could play well on the radio.

The third guested song is easily the strongest of the bunch. It is a ballad featuring Lajon trading lyrics with former American Idol contestant Chris Daughtry. Their voices play well together over the acoustic guitar driven bed. Now, if any song was perfectly set up to get some radio play, this is it.

Among the rest of the tunes there are some standouts. "Inside" gets the album started strong with a nice and brutal riff following 90 seconds of industrial noises before settling in on the signature heavy/melodic dynamic that has been their bred and butter. "Scapegoat" is a good example of a mixture of what was seen on Alpha and Next, while being a strong tune in its own right. Then there is "Prodigal" which has a great groove with a crunchy guitar presence.

There is definitely something to be said about consistency. This album may not be the best entry in their canon, but it still has its share of rocking tracks that will be sure to please any fan of hard rock and melodic metal. Lajon Witherspoon has a fantastic voice, few can match his combination of emotion and aggression (Howard Jones of Killswitch Engage comes to mind as another with this magical combo).

Bottomline. If you are a Sevendust fan, you will want to get our hands on this one. If you are interested in the band, I would recommend starting with Home from 1999, although I am a bit partial to Alpha. Anyway, with the possible exception of "Hope," Chapter VII is yet another winning album from these heavy music stalwarts.


Track list:
01. Inside 4:36
02. Enough 4:34
03. Hope 4:42
04. Scapegoat 3:55
05. Fear 5:06
06. The Past 3:53
07. Prodigal Son 3:33
08. Lifeless 4:34
09. Sorrow 4:49
10. Contradiction 3:24
11. Walk Away 6:34


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