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)
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)
#10: Next (2005)
#9: Black Out the Sun (2013)
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)
#7: Time Travelers and Bonfires (2014)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
To this day, it still rates as probably the best acoustic or unplugged record that I’ve heard.
#1: Home (1999)
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.
Thursday, March 3, 2016
Rewind 30 years to March 1986. Metallica has just released Master of Puppets. Megadeth are recording Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? in between trips to their drug dealers. Anthrax, on the back of breakthrough album Spreading the Disease are about to record their seminal classic Among the Living.
Would anyone, back in little old 1986, have guessed that some 30 years later, Metallica would be the biggest live metal ticket on the planet? That Megadeth would still sound distinctly pissed off about the state of the world, despite Dave Mustaine making peace with Metallica, and Dave Ellefson becoming a pastor? That Anthrax would produce great albums with two distinctly different singers?
Most importantly, would anyone back in 1986 have guessed that so many of those classic thrash metal acts – not just the Big 4, but also the likes of Overkill, Exodus, Death Angel, and Testament – would still be producing great, contemporary metal music in the year 2016?
I’m guessing not.
I mean, I can’t really figure it out either and, aside from Megadeth and Metallica, I’ve really only discovered most of those bands in the past 5 years or so. The best guess I have is that these acts care first and foremost about producing kickass metal music, and somewhat less about popularity, image and all that sort of hype. All those bands have survived multiple line-up changes, health scares, personal tragedies, and massive industry change. While all that could easily make one pretty jaded, the one constant that all of these bands have hung on to through those times is the desire to make great metal music.
In Anthrax’s case, that desire is arguably stronger than ever right now. Revitalised by the release of 2011’s excellent Worship Music, the hugely popular Big 4 tour, and the support of a label that isn’t broke or a pain in the ass, there’s a sense of confidence and optimism about the band at the moment.
The result is their most assured-sounding record since 1987’s Among the Living. While the tone is relatively dark and somewhat bereft of the traditional Anthrax humour (even Worship Music had a song about fighting zombies) – For All Kings is a top-shelf effort worth every minute of the 5-year wait since their last album.
Musically, the band sound insanely tight. I mean, they were pretty damned good on Worship Music – the schizophrenic Earth on Hell being a particularly fine example – but For All Kings takes it up a notch. Sure, it helps that the songs were written with singer Joey Belladonna in mind this time around – and he does an outstanding job – but you can almost visualise drummer Charlie Benante, rhythm guitarist Scott Ian and bassist Frank Bello huddled together grinning at each other during the breakdown of Evil Twin.
This is not to say that there’s no risks taken. Breathing Lightning is uplifting, melodic with a catchy almost-pop chorus, whilst Blood Eagle Wings starts out with the sort of mid-tempo hard rock groove more typical of Anthrax’s John Bush-era albums in the 1990’s.
At first listen, it seems like there’s some clear standout tracks – opener You Gotta Believe elicited more than one ‘holy shit!’ from me the first time I heard it, and the savage intensity of closing track Zero Tolerance is matched only by its biting lyrics.
But the real test of this is repeat listens, and the more I play For All Kings, the more it becomes an end-to-end listen, thanks partly to some very well-layered tracks on the album’s second half that reward a keen ear. As much as I know Zero Tolerance is going to be awesome when I get to it, I just got really hooked on this drum line in All of Them Thieves that I hadn’t really noticed before. You get the idea.
As much as there are highlights throughout the album, it’s hard to pick a better moment than the chorus of This Battle Chose Us – the lyrics undoubtedly a reflection on Anthrax’s at-times tumultuous 35 years:
"Hell this ain't no warning
You give them hell because you must
It's a long hard road we're walking
Because this battle chose us"
For Anthrax to be putting out records of this calibre 35 years into their career… well you’d have to say they’re winning. And if you were to go back in time to 1986 and tell the band that they’d put out one of 2016’s best albums – well I think they’d certainly call that a huge win. There’s still a lot of potentially excellent music to come this year but I have no doubt I’ll still be listening to For All Kings a lot by the end of the year – and beyond.
Actually, now there’s an idea… a concept album whereby Anthrax go back in time and meet the younger versions of themselves…