Monday, December 24, 2018

SEVENDUST "All I See Is War"

(c) 2018 Rise Records

  1. Dirty
  2. God Bites His Tongue
  3. Medicated
  4. Unforgiven
  5. Sickness
  6. Cheers
  7. Risen
  8. Moments
  9. Not Original
  10. Descend
  11. Life Deceives You
  12. The Truth
Lajon Witherspoon--Lead Vocals
Clint Lowry--Lead Guitars, Backing Vocals
John Connolly--Rhythm Guitars, Backing Vocals
Vince Hornsby--Bass, Backing Vocals
Morgan Rose--Drums, Backing Vocals

It is crazy for me to think that Sevendust has been around for almost 25 years now, because I remember buying their debut album when it came out, and it seems like it was just a few years ago.  But, believe it or not, 2019 will be the 25th anniversary for the band, and for all but a brief four year hiatus from Lowry, the entire band has been together for the duration, which makes Sevendust an even more rare creature in the metal world.  And, pretty much like clockwork, one can expect a new Sevendust record every couple of years, and 2018 was no exception, as All I See Is War is the band's 12th studio effort.

All I See Is War starts off in typical Sevendust fashion, as the bone-crushing lead single, "Dirty", comes roaring to life, all down-tuned guitars, thundering drums, and the ultra-smooth clean vocals from one-of-a-kind Witherspoon, counter-balanced by the harsh screams of the album title, "all I see is war!!".  A killer Lowry solo is dropped in for good measure, and all seems perfectly right in the Sevendust universe, and for longtime fans, this is exactly what you love and worship about this band: you know what you are going to get, and love it any way.  And, for the band that brought you "Black", "Denial" and "Too Close To Hate", "Dirty" shows that they still have the chops and the songwriting ability to deliver a crushing blow to the side of your head...and make you like it, even though you know its coming! 

But almost immediately the record stumbles a bit, as "God Bites His Tongue" is one of the weaker moments on the record for me, as it feels a bit mailed in, especially with the riff that sounds  like one that Sevendust has used a hundred times on a hundred songs.  Yeah, there's a decent groove, and you can just feel Witherspoon doing what he can to save the track, and he nearly succeeds, but with repeated listens, I just can't shake the feeling that the band had something better in mind than what they put on the disc.  Reportedly the band came to the recording sessions for this album with more than 50 songs, and I find myself wondering if maybe one of those wouldn't have been a better choice than this one.

"Medicated" picks things up a little, again feeling pretty "I've heard this before", but a nice piano section on the bridge, and the combination of Witherspoon and the backing vocals salvage the track, despite a rather monotonous rhythm guitar riff and atypically uninspired drums.  To me, "Medicated" sounds like a deliberate stab at airplay on Octane and similar-minded terrestrial rock stations, which isn't necessarily a bad's just not an overly creative thing from a band that is not afraid to color outside of the lines.  This just feels a bit too predictable and tame.

"Unforgiven", "Sickness" and "Cheers", all up the ante a bit, bringing more life to the overall feel of the record.  "Unforgiven" has a feel very similar to what the band delivered on Animosity, which is one of my two or three favorite albums from the band, and the harsher, more guttural backing vocals offer up a nice contradiction to the powerful, smooth vocals Witherspoon typically delivers.  "Sickness" stays more middle of the road in terms of pace and delivery, but it is more musical, with more diversity to the guitars and drum fills than "Medicated" could muster.  "Cheers", with its chunky, stop-start rhythm and "I want something better than nothing" backing shouts, is a catchy, enticing breath of fresh air for the band.  Still heavy, still rumbling along the bottom edges, "Cheers" shows a band pushing their typical sound into atypical territory, and whether you are listening to the odd-cadence drums that Rose uses, or the snakey guitar line that Lowry weaves around those drum thumps, there is just something about "Cheers" that makes me hit repeat a couple of times whenever it comes up.

"Risen" is another track that hearkens back to Animosity, and it is easily one of my two or three favorite tracks here.  Witherspoons vocals punch their way through the verse sections by hammering across the top of the chugga-chugga-chugga guitar and drum riffing, and the breakdown is thunderously heavy, backed up by a short, but searing solo from Lowry.

"Moments" is led in by a piano line that runs throughout the track, but which is also lost in several spots due to the crushing heft of the song's rhythm lines.  A definite change-up from the typical Sevendust style, "Moments" is at times beautiful and at times raw and nasty.  Lowry delivers one of his most inspired solos on the record here, and Lajon runs the gamut vocally, as he alternates from buttery-smooth to sandpaper ragged, with those aggro backing drop-ins providing even further vocal depth. 

Just when you think things are unusual enough coming out of "Moment", Sevendust drops a sonic bomb on the listener with "Not Original".  The song, which is said to be inspired by the Netflix series, Stranger Things, drifts in on a New Wave synth that is eerily reminiscent of the show's intro.  Rose's drums soon join the track, as do the guitars and bass, but this song'ssuccess or failure hinges on the delivery of Witherspoon, who absolutely nails it.  Avoiding the temptation to become saccharine, Witherspoon is spot-on smooth, with emotion dripping from each verse of this song about searching out inspiration when "the well is dead and dry" and a person is seeking "the perfect way to say I give up".  The piano drop-in is a great touch, seemingly falling into the slot normally filled by a jagged guitar solo, and the overall feel here is one of a band that knows what they are capable of, so they stretch to see what else they can do.  Of all the slower material Sevendust has attempted over the years...which, granted, isn't a lot...this is easily my favorite "ballad" by the band.

"Descend" and "Life Deceives You" are both bold, fresh sounding rockers that again serve to take the Sevendust sound and push at the edges, expanding the band's creative boundaries without forgetting who they are.  Granted, when you have a singer with a voice as completely unmistakable as Witherspoon's, it is easier to remind people of who you are, even when you are in tinkering mode.

The band bookends "Dirty" with the equally punishing, "The Truth", which closes out the record.  Angry, aggressive, and heavy, "The Truth" throws an old-school Sevendust bone to the fans who stuck around for the ride on All I See Is War, and there is plenty of meat to chew on with this bone.  A chunky breakdown and the harsh snarl of Witherspoon imploring you to "say my name!", build to the rapid fire cadence and swirling guitar build before some keys enter the fray to tie all the strings together and outro the song.

Probably a couple of songs too long, but still another solid, quality release from Sevendust, with a couple of curveballs thrown in to keep the listener from becoming complacent, as it is obvious the band has not. 

The packaging on this record is outstanding, with a 16 page booklet with photos, credits, lyrics, etc., and the work of Michael Baskette is excellent.  Perhaps there is a bit more shine to the production on ...War than on previous efforts from the band, but the ferocity of the heavy-hitters is not hampered in any way, and the the surprise emotion behind "Not Original", is likely only enhanced by Baskette's work.

If this is your introduction to the band, I'd encourage you to go back and seek out their self-titled debut, Animosity, and the Alpha, to really get a feel for how this band has evolved their sound while still remaining unquestionably Sevendust.  From the bitter angst of the debut, to the more musical...perhaps even progressive....sound of Animosity, to the flat out heaviness of Alpha, to the mixture of all their past that is found on All I See Is War, Sevendust is a band that not only demands your attention, they deserve it.  So, if you're late to the party, where have you been all these years?  You have a lot of catching up to do!

Rating:  Not their best, but still a really good record despite a couple of misses near the front end.  Crank this to 7.5.

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