Avenged Sevenfold’s Life Is But A Dream… is a brilliantly deranged, LSD-soaked psycho-metal musical

Album review: Avenged Sevenfold have made the craziest album you’ll hear this year with Life Is But A Dream…

Avenged Sevenfold: Life Is But A Dream album cover
(Image: © Warner Music)

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What absolute fucking madness is this? Avenged Sevenfold’s last album, 2016’s surprise-dropped The Stage, was a slab of ambitious, prog-tinged modern metal that put clear water between them and their own past, even as it alienated the more dug-in sections of their fanbase.

Many bands would have either thought ‘job done’ and resumed normal service, or bottled it and scurried back to safer musical ground. Not Avenged. Their eighth album goes even further out. It’s a deranged psycho-metal musical with hardcore, hip hop, electronic music and jazz burned into its circuits and liquid LSD running through its veins. Kaleidoscopic, disorientating and fearless, it truly is the sound of a band who have stopped giving a single fuck about what people think of them.

Life Is But A Dream… at least begins like a metal album. Opening track Game Over kicks off with a delicately picked classical guitar intro, before a jagged riff and M. Shadows’s old-school vocal aggro bust the reverie. And so it goes for a couple of minutes, until everything suddenly folds in on itself and the noise gives way to a burst of primary-coloured psychedelia. ‘It strikes me that I don’t belong here anymore,’ sings Shadows, reading the minds of a chunk of people listening to it for the first time.

This is an album that’s defined by just that kind of refusal to conform to predetermined norms. There’s nothing so predictable as verse-chorus-verse here. Second track  Mattel, named for the company behind the Barbie Doll and an arched-eyebrow look at the shallowness of modern life, mixes massive riffs, wailing synths, flailing guitars and a section that sounds like a child’s lullaby. Nobody starts with a noise like a klaxon being wrenched out of a guitar, which continues throughout the song, except for when it stops for a blast of vintage Queen harmonising.

Unlikely reference points come thick and fast. Beautiful Morning might wade in like a great lost Alice In Chains song, but it ends with a Billy Joel-esque piano coda, while the vocodered vocals of Easier are pure Kanye West circa 808s & Heartbreak, albeit with 80s arcade noises and a giant, grinding riff thrown in for good measure.

But the biggest influence of all is drugs, specifically drugs of the psychedelic variety (the fact that Shadows and guitarist Synyster consulted an actual shaman during the writing process is kind of a giveaway). Like any trip, good or bad, Life Is But A Dream… is simultaneously deep and baffling, and nowhere more so than on the three-song mini-suite near the end of the album. Between them, G, (O)rdinary and (D)eath (check those initials) ponder religion, artificial intelligence and the very meaning of life, channelling everyone from System Of A Down and Mr. Bungle to Daft Punk and, in the case of (D)eath’s unexpected detour into lounge jazz territory, even Frank Sinatra in the process.

Yes, Life Is But A Dream… is indulgent. Of course it is. A lot of people won’t want to come along for the ride, and how this stuff is going to fit alongside their older material live is anyone’s guess. But Avenged Sevenfold have scaled the mountain and looked out over all that surrounds them, then plunged headfirst into the void, not knowing where, when or even if they’ll land. What kind of madness is this? The very best kind.

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.