Surfing in on a freaky, sci-fi-tinged synth intro that sounds like it could have been ripped straight from a ‘70s Doctor Who soundtrack, The Stage kicks off proper with a NWOBHM-esque, fret-tapping intro that recalls many of the ‘80s heroes that Avenged have so often paid tribute to, but grinds back into the kind of stomping, groove-heavy riff that has been the band’s hallmark for some of their biggest moments. So far, so solid.
Suddenly, though, things don’t go so much south as east, west, round, zig zag and just about every other direction in between, and Avenged’s penchant for cramming the kitchen sink into everything they do looms large once again.
“Who is the crowd that peers through the cage, as we perform here upon the stage?” croons Shadows, whose vocals seem to be at a slightly higher pitch than usual, as the song breaks into a mid-tempo, overwrought chorus, before slamming back into that stomping verse and then peeling off into a classic harmonised solo and then slowing right back down into an AOR midsection that births another solo and then running into a final salvo replete with faded outro and then an acoustic outro…
Put short: if they’ve been accused of mixing it up a bit too much in the past, The Stage sees Avenged putting their foot on and off the pedal more often than your nan in a traffic jam on the M1. It certainly doesn’t have the kind of punch you’d normally expect from a lead single (perhaps it isn’t designed to be seen as one?), and it’s hard to see where the big, badass festival singalongs will come from.
That said, this is a track that still does what Avenged, for the most part, have always done: it stitches together as many of their myriad influences as they can manage within a not-inconsiderate timeframe with little subtly, but plenty of earnest, and while it doesn’t have the punch of a Nightmare or an Almost Easy, it does at least suggest that they’ll be revisiting the sounds that took them into the Big Leagues. Assuming there is an album to follow, we can at least say that, as is often the case with Avenged, we can expect the unexpected.