SEVENDUST “DEATHSTAR” advance single review
Sevendust is a solid band who will always release solid records. But does solid portend greatness? The question on the mind of Sevendust fans after guitarist Clint Lowery’s mysterious mid-tour departure in 2004 was whether or not the band would be able to continue to change and evolve without their primary songwriter. 2005’s Next was a solid record, but a bit of a step back for Sevendust after 2003’s brilliant Seasons record, seemingly answering their fans questions with a resounding “no.” If “Deathstar,” the first publicly available track from their upcoming March 6, 2007 release Alpha is any indication (now available on the band’s MySpace page and Website), it appears that Sevendust may be doomed to alt-metal mediocrity forever.
Sevendust’s evolution as a band is intriguing as well as indicative of their current plight. Their first two releases through TVT, Sevendust and Home, were relatively average nu-metal affairs mixing plodding rhythmic aggressive guitar growls with angst-ridden nu-metal lyrics and delivery. The band did manage to turn a few heads by introducing some non-standard elements to the mix. For one, charismatic frontman Lajon Witherspoon elevated the band to a whole new plateau. Besides the obvious rarity of having an African-American front a metal band, Witherspoon’s electrifying stage presence and sheer vocal ability immediately stood out from the pack at a time when morons worldwide thought that Fred Durst was talented. Witherspoon’s diversity ran the gamut from aggro-howls to haunting vibrato. Add to that the band’s knack for writing a good hook, and you had a formula suggesting more staying-power than many of Sevendust’s peers.
Animosity saw the band take a big leap forward, allowing catchy sung choruses to creep their way into the songs while letting some of their rap-metal tendencies slip away. “Trust,” “Praise,” and “Crucified” were instant classics, and the epic “Angel’s Son” is a crowning achievement in the band’s discography. 2003’s Seasons was a culmination of this change. Feeling pressure from then-label TVT to move in a more radio-friendly direction, the band hired songster producer Butch Walker (Marvelous 3, SR-71, Default, The Donnas, Pink, Avril Lavigne) to take the helm. The band later resented this decision, feeling they were strongarmed into making an album they didn’t want to make. One record label exec reportedly played the band the latest Strokes record and asked them to adjust their sound accordingly. To this day the band hates on Seasons, to the point where last year’s tour setlist featured only one song from the disc.
And here’s the irony: Seasons is a masterpiece. Butch Walker was the best thing that ever happened to Sevendust. The band needed someone to take the reins and focus their raw ability, putting the emphasis on the SONG, which always matters most in the end. Walker took the band’s songs to the next level and exacted inspired performances out of them in the studio. Complex rhythmic chugging gives way to undeniably catchy, wide-open choruses in song after song. Even the staunchest fan of heavy music has to admit a certain irresistability. The knob-twiddling was left to mixing-guru Jay Baumgardner, whose mixes proved nothing short of astounding, pristine, and razor-sharp.
2005 saw the band’s contract with TVT expire, and the boys moved onto a one-album deal with WineDark, an indie imprint with distribution through Universal. With no record label big-wigs watching overhead, the band was finally free to write music as it pleased with no interference from above. This was Sevendust’s downfall. The songs on Next are solid, but at best they’re good, not great. No single songs stick out as clear favorites, and certainly none are on the level of what was consistently achieved on Seasons. The production and mixing on Next are also very pedestrian. “Deathstar,” the aforementioned first track from Alpha, seems to be an indication that the band favors continuing on in this vein. When whisperings of a new album in the works emerged during the Fall of 2006, fans were hopeful that the influence of ex-Snot guitarist Sonny Mayo as Clint Lowery’s permanent replacement would lead the band somewhere interesting. Though Mayo played on Next, he wasn’t involved in the writing process on that record as he would be this time around.
Sadly, this first track from Alpha doesn’t deliver. Again, this is solid; there is nothing wrong here. It’s just not GREAT, doesn’t have that extra mojo present on Seasons that fans hoped would continue to evolve. It appears that Sevendust have regressed back to their old quasi-nu-metal ways, seemingly relegating themselves to a life of slogging it out on the road in mid-level clubs and relegating their CDs to a comfortable place in the bargain bin at your local used record shop. Mayo’s lockstep grooving and riffage with drummer Morgan Rose are a welcome addition to the band’s sound, but nothing that will be dropping jaws at technical prowess.
Surely the band is happy with this latest output, as they’re now in full control, issuing this one on their own 7bros Records (distributed by Warner Music Group.) I had just hoped for more, hoping that this band could continue to take their music to the next level with each release. Somebody somewhere is thrilled to hear Sevendust “return to their roots” — but I had hoped to see a lot more from this band. Clint Lowery’s departure did in the end prove detrimental to Sevendust. Or else, may they prove me wrong. I’ll still go see them on tour, as Sevendust is still undeinably one of the tightest and most fun live bands around. I’ll just be the guy hoping they play the old stuff; it’s too bad they had to be “that band,” because they didn’t have to be. I really do wish for the best for Sevendust, and I’ll always be rooting for them.