Published Oct 28, 2016Avenged Sevenfold have a sweet spot tempo-wise, and it's the one their latest drummer, Brooks Wackerman, has been playing for the majority of his career. In appropriate fashion (and a nod to their Warped Tour past), the band are at their best when the ex-Bad Religion skinsman rocks at a peppy punk pace — albeit with more double-bass.
When they slow things down too much, as they do on The Stage's "Angels," "Roman Sky" and the softer side of the manic "Simulation," they miss even the head-bobbing mark, much less head-banging. However, speeding things up too much causes problems with the production — there are no samples on the drums here — to shine through. The blast beats on "Sunny Disposition," "Exist" and "Fermi Paradox" are too soft to make the cacophonous crash they should, particularly on the latter, where they're paired with Deafheaven-lite, happy-sounding tremolo riffing.
They don't call it a sweet spot for nothing, though, and there are plenty of tasty parts here. The title track manages to reach the eight-and-a-half-minute mark without feeling bloated, while the album's shortest tracks — "Paradigm" and "God Damn" — are also its heaviest, proving that putting boundaries on exploration only leads to a more complete picture. The band "show" in these moments, but there are plenty of "growers," too: the brass in "Sunny Disposition" is less circus-like than "A Little Piece of Heaven" and, after a few listens, it's hard to imagine the song without it, while the mid-paced stomp of "Creating God" feels like an expansion on their last album's rock focus, with the simple and oddly off-time fills elevating it.
The bloated closer, "Exist," splits the difference, with every minute of fun meeting its mediocre match for a nearly-16-minute marathon of jumping around and ups and downs. Some might call it progressive, but it's closer to unfocused — and frustratingly so.
Though Hail to the King failed to live up to the royal expectations of its titular disguise, The Stage's grandiosity smells of overcompensation; Avenged Sevenfold's crown lies somewhere in between. Hopefully they'll reclaim their City of Evil with the next album. (Capitol)