Those paying close attention to Avenged Sevenfold over the past decade will know by now that guessing their next move is nigh-on impossible. But even the most wildly speculative fan couldn’t possibly have predicted this: almost seven years since the release of the prog-powered existential musings of The Stage, Orange County’s biggest ever metal export have crafted one of the boldest, weirdest and most majestic records the genre has seen in some time.
Expanding on the conceptually loaded whims of its predecessor, Life Is But A Dream… tackles more of life’s big questions, inspired by the work of absurdist French philosopher Albert Camus and, according to frontman M Shadows, fuelled by some band members’ recent dabbles with psychedelics. It’s the latter influence that feels most immediately apt, because make no mistake about it, this album is a trip.
Opening with Game Over, a demented metal banger which sounds like Avenged channelling System Of A Down via Danny Elfman, things don’t fly too far off the handle at first: sprinkled around the noise are some delicate acoustic flourishes, a light bit of orchestral mischief, some nice crooning from Shadows to break up the mayhem. Mattel, lead-off single Nobody and We Love You also at least flirt with familiar territory, lurching from driving groove metal to droning doom to spiky thrash, layered with lush strings, tinkly piano, woozy sci-fi effects, ominous horns and subversive choir calls.
Then things get really weird. Whether it’s the shimmering space opera of Cosmic and its dalliances with everything from Pink Floyd to Elton John, Beautiful Morning’s hazy, psychedelic pop crashing into grinding, Dimebag-esque riffs, or Easier channelling Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, Kanye West and, er, Space Invaders in less than four minutes, this is the sound of Avenged not just casting off their own shackles but also the shackles of modern metal itself. Best of all is that it all works magnificently.
If you want jazzy, noodling prog rock, then G is here for you. Fancy an inverted take on Daft Punk’s Get Lucky? Have a bit of (O)rdinary. By the time you’re sat listening to (D)eath laying out what a Sinatra ballad might sound like if Ol’ Blue Eyes fell into hell at the end, you’re as shell-shocked as you are delighted.
With Life Is But A Dream… Avenged Sevenfold haven’t just transcended their metal peers for good, they’ve also created their definitive artistic statement. And it’s bloody fantastic.