At first, I kinda hated this album. Especially after hearing the singles; a lot of the hate it seems to be getting, I agreed and resonated with. By the time I finished the album, I think I’d cried at least twice and was just flat-out in love with it.
In June 2023, just about two months ago, Avenged Sevenfold released “Life is But a Dream”; their long-awaited follow up to 2016’s the stage. People genuinely don’t seem to understand this record, and I get why. I didn’t either at first. This isn’t a normal album and it’s not a normal production. If anything, it’s more of a meditation than anything else. We’ll get back to that, probably.
There are a number of gripes people seem to have with this album, like the production itself, the genre-hopping, the production/vocals, the drugs and death stuff; even the general artistic philosophy behind it.
The very songwriting, arranging, and composition of this album is intrinsically tied to all of those things. So let’s talk about each of them to explore why no one gets Avenged’s new album, and how I went from pretty much hating it, to it being in my top 3 A7X albums.
At first, I kinda hated this album. Especially after hearing the singles; a lot of the hate it seems to be getting, I agreed and resonated with. I wanted to like them, but I didn’t understand the choices they were making from a songwriting or production level.
In fact, this feeling stuck around until more than halfway through, when it suddenly cracked during ‘Beautiful Morning.’ …The section that starts with the song title made it clear to me they were attempting a very different kind of album, something totally outside the standard industry album cycle and music production process of today.
As the album continued on, the cracks grew and grew and grew. I think I began to understand what they were doing and why. This album is not an Avenged Sevenfold album. This album wasn’t made by M. Shadows, Johnny Christ, Synyster Gates, and Zacky Vengeance.
It was made by a bunch of dudes named Matt, John, Brian, Zack, Brooks, and Jimmy. Yes, Jimmy. He’s EVERYWHERE on this album, you guys! You can feel the rest of the band channeling him and it’s amazing, ESPECIALLY on “G” and “Life is but a dream…” Unsurprisingly, death plays a big role in this album, but it’s not overbearing the way it can often be discussed; it’s embraced.
By the time I finished the album, I think I’d cried at least twice and was just flat-out in love with it. The last song, well it’s not really a song, it’s a composition. A lot of these tracks are composed in that way.
I felt I understood what they wanted to write, and like I’ve said, it’s not even Avenged Sevenfold, really. To that end, why not make it something different, under a new name? Well, because I don’t think they look at it like that. I don’t think they see Avenged Sevenfold as a brand or image of what they are in the music and metal scene, at least not anymore; rather the group of kids - now adults - that got together in middle school and high school to play some music and have fun. That’s what Avenged Sevenfold means to them now. It’s who they are and their family and their history. The name is superfluous, it kind of always has been. To hear them tell it, they just kinda thought it sounded cool.
I’d argue this album isn’t meant as a modern production, not even a modern metal or prog production so I don’t get the criticisms, really. It’s a metal psychedelic record, guys! We just haven’t heard one of these in a VERY long time. And these aren’t meant to be perfect.
There’s this idea in popular music that the production has to be this top-quality highly produced sound. And it’s ironic to me metal is part of this line of thinking, considering it’s grimy punk and psychedelic roots. A whole good chunk of metal these days is trying to sound like the same few bands, sonically speaking.
So if you don’t have these highly processed and limited drums, or vocals that aren’t super compressed and tuned, dominating the mix like a pop record, or slamming rhythm guitars reaching out to tear your ears off, many metal listeners may just be turned off. Hell listen to the metal albums of the 80s and half of them are “unlistenable” now.
Why do you think all these metal classics are getting remastered? Because they weren’t done well the first production after standing the test of time for decades? Don’t get me wrong, remastering has its place, particularly for vinyl and mastering for specific or new formats; and, aside from that, most of the time I think it’s just record company greed. IMO remastering is akin to George Lucas going back adding in all the new VFX. It’s just a big F-U to the artists who worked on the original production which clearly resonated with the culture at large.
Remember A7X started as a hardcore punk and metalcore band; there’s a DIY element to that they’ve ALWAYS espoused. From the get-go they were crazy into the production process to the point where they’ve been producing their own albums since they’re self-titled in 2007. I’ve heard from multiple reviewers now: How could the record execs, the mixing and mastering engineers let this happen? Well, maybe they’re not missing something, maybe you guys are. This is not a normal album, not even a normal Avenged Sevenfold album and that’s on purpose.
A lot of people are bringing up Matt’s vocal quality. I don’t know if they understand that the dude literally had doctors tell him he’d never sing again after a recent injury. Dude went back to basics and rehabbed his voice to the point of what we hear on this record. It’s also incredibly clear that everything is done intentionally in terms of vocal quality. I mean you can hear him tell you himself… play interview quote
I’m not really hearing a ton of other gripes with the instrumental performances, so I’ll leave that to another video where I just gush about each song specifically and the songwriting and composition. Lmk in a comment below if you’d want to see that.
Drugs n Death
Life is but a dream… is a meditation on existence and nonexistence. This album is meant to make us reflect on our own lives, on ourselves, our loved ones, our earth, our death, and the death of everything and everyone. It’s meant to help us reorient our existence to something a little more aligned with nature. With a rooted humanity on earth.
Ok WTF does that mean? Well yeah, that’s why people aren’t getting it! To understand this a little more, let’s talk about drugs. During and after WW2 scientists and researchers were discovering and exploring the properties of many mind altering substances. Some of these, like lysergic acid diethlymide no. 25 (better known as LSD) were used by therapists to aid in the treatment of patients suffering from psychiatric distress as well as a bunch of other use cases.
One substance known as DMT, Dimethyltryptamine, was discovered to have extremely profound mind altering properties. The curious bit about this substance is that it exists naturally in many plants and animals, including us humans. In fact, this is one of the chemicals that’s produced when the human brain is dying. Woah.
Humans have ritually ingested DMT-containing plant mixtures for thousands of years. We don’t actually know exactly how long, but if the oral traditions of some of the last remaining hunter-gatherers in the world are anything to go by, it could be 40,000 years or more. So why take this substance when not, well, dying? Clinicians are discovering, even today, the powerful therapeutic benefits of it.
In multiple interviews, Matt expressed that he and the band used DMT in a controlled and ritualistic setting. Like the whole nine yards, Shaman included. And each time, you can kind of hear the interviewer not know what to do with this information, but it’s clearly important because I don’t think he’d share this with the press if it didn’t play a massive role in this record.
Matt and the band clearly had their own profound experiences with DMT and found a holistic perspective from which to not just make art, but to gain an understanding of life and death, process that into their own individual psyches, and use that growth to produce the art they’ve always wanted to.
Hell if G aint got some Pinkly Smooth vibes. Which is part of the reason I feel that Jimmy is so close to this record than any other since his last. He HAS to be there, unless it’s not them. It’s not Avenged Sevenfold and it’s not Matt, Brian, Zach, Johnny, and Brooks. Jimmy is still in Avenged Sevenfold through them, and because they’ve done the work, they’ve sought out this reorientation and processed it into this album, we get to hear him like this again. Like holy shit thanks guys! Thank you for that, that’s amazing.
It’s like all these reviewers are jumping on the hate bandwagon and are fucking missing the forest for the trees! And I get it, I get why. This isn't easy stuff to listen to and to hear.
Death is absolutely everywhere. We all experience it and come to terms with it. When someone close to you, I mean really close to you, dies, you are just fucking changed, man.
Matt and the rest of the band have felt that; and so have I. I lost my mom to cancer last summer and that shit is just a process, one I’m still going through. And I’m fucking doing the work, I’m in therapy every week, I’m engaged with my family, I am in it, I am trying, I am living, and it is hard.
It’s so so easy to shut oneself off from the world during this time, to just want to disappear. Because a part of you feels like it already has. And I think a lot of people fall into this trap. They shut themselves off to a degree and just keep trying to cope and distract themselves, an easy thing to do in our society.
But when you face it, embrace it; process the loss, process death itself, you come out with a more holistic understanding of life itself. Not only have Matt, Brian, Zack, Jonny, and Brooks seem to have done that, they’ve doubled down.
In every album, except Hail to the King – I fucking hate that album to this day, we all have one, and that’s mine – they’ve tried to express this process. I think “the stage” was a formative effort in this, but it wasn’t rooted in life; it was too broad, too alien, too cosmic. There was little life and little death, just eternity.
Their experiences with DMT, the lockdown, the pandemic, the wildfires, the wars; I think that provided them that extra grounding which allowed this album to take on a holistic quality The Stage wasn’t able to.
I think this is where the genre diversity comes into play on this album. There was very little diversity in the Stage. But life is diverse, too; and it makes sense that they would pull from any and all influences they have for this piece of high art. This is also where I think the philosophy behind the imperfection of its production and intentional “badness” comes in.
Metal became much more versatile in the 2000s and 2010’s. Until then, it wasn’t super common to hear anything outside of the normal metal band instrumentation: drums, vox, guitars, and bass. Sure there were exceptions like Metallica and their S&M thing, but by and large metal bands stuck with the instruments they had, especially outside of ballads.
But that started to change in the oughts. Even on Avenged’s 2005 outing, City of Evil, my fav album, we had a gorgeous symphonic interlude in “Strength of the World.” But it was just that, an interlude, not integral to the song, nor woven within it.
The 2010’s saw this experimentation explode, with synthy pop metal bands and rap metal bands using hip hop and top 40 melody and song structures, Like Dead by April and Falling in Reverse. This is really the first time they were integrated into the music itself, outside some parts of Numetal like Limp Bizkit.
In the progressive metal world, Meshuggah pioneered a whole new kind of sound called Djent, stemming all the way back to the 90s. Bands like Periphery, Between the Buried and Me, and Animals as Leaders were at the forefront of combining djent with these genre-hopping interludes. Often being rooted in jazz, with more classical and composed bits coming later.
And yet still, these genre-hopping experiments remained interludes; fun, quirky breaks from the heavy, proggy majority of the songs. Although, BTBAM and Animals as Leaders were definitely leading the pack in terms of more integration with these disparate genres; and newer bands like Aviations started blurring the lines even more.
This is where Avenged Sevenfold essentially comes in and slams us with a through-composed genre-hopping instrumentation that is integral to the soul of the album itself. Life is But a Dream realizes what every metal band was tip-toeing up to, and it makes sense a lot people don’t love it. It’s not really metal in a classic sense anymore, and that’s the point.
Right now in the progressive metal world, it’s metal to not be metal. To showcase how skillfully you can balance the different timbres and genres. And that’s fine, great even. Personally, I find it hugely refreshing and inspiring, because until now, I was getting kind of bored.
Philosophy of Art:
Life isn’t pretty, and death isn’t pretty either. I don’t think Avenged believes in putting out that kind of clinical, highly produced music anymore; and that feels validating to me, because I honestly don’t either. I haven’t felt more motivated to make metal music in a long time because I kind of hated the monotony of tonality and timbre in metal and popular music in general these days.
It’s why I think I’ve found myself drawn more so to the classical world in recent years. Because for me the music you compose is about you and what you want to do as an artist, not what anyone else thinks. And the classical world is so broken, I see no point in trying to be a “great composer.” So I…say it with me…’JUSt WRIte Misuook”
It’s not until recently I’ve started to see artists of all stripes say “fuck it, I’m a do me.” But that’s also a me thing, because artists have been doing that for ages! My season of life has come back around and this album found me at the right time. That much, even this soon after its release, is clear to me.
This is where Avenged is coming from. They are calling it as they see it and not making any compromises for their vision; at least, not to record labels and studio executives. In a way, we have the current state of the music industry to thank for this…
In a world where there’s no money in record sales, touring, streaming, and barely merch; artists find themselves stuck between two positions:
Either make the most generic and broadly appealing music possible; or, dig deep and find what makes them uniquely themselves, latch onto that, and execute it without compromise. If the chance of making a good living is null anyway, why not do exactly what you want to do in your music?
Avenged Sevenfold; Brian, Matt, Zack, John, Brooks, and Jimmy – they chose the latter. And goddamit I’m crazy glad they did; because the fact that it’s A7X doing this, perhaps the last metal band to truly break into the mainstream and stay there, is huge. It screams, volumes.
So that’s my take on A7X’s new album “Life is But a Dream” and why I think it’s so divisive. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
For all you rock and metal guitarists out there who want to finally write the music you want and improvise with confidence, I’ve got something really awesome in the works that’s just for you.
I want to make sure you’re the first person to hear about it when I announce, so click the link in the dooblydoo to grab a copy of my 3-Step Songstarter, which will give you a headstart, and make sure you know the minute it’s available.
Thanks so much for watching and hangin out with me today; I’m Avi and DFTBA
FREE GUIDE: 7 Ways to Write a More Effective Melody
Proven Tools for Any Melody, Any Genre...
Get the Guide – Worth $14 Free Today
I'll also send you additional free weekly content like the post above.