SEVENDUST, CHAPTER VII: HOPE & SORROW — VINCE’S LONG REVIEW
[Sevendust announced yesterday that founding member and key songwriter Clint Lowery has rejoined the band after a four-year absence. The following is my best attempt at writing a review of their new album without having heard that news, which, in certain ways, is really difficult to do given Lowery’s past influence on the band. -Ed.]
Almost exactly a year ago in a review of the then-new Sevendust album Alpha, I wrote the following line:
“Songs like ‘Deathstar’ feel like a cop-out to me; this is a mediocre song, and I feel like guitarist John Connolly could easily shit riffs like this for days and days.”
Unfortunately the band hasn’t done much to disprove me with their latest offering Chapter VII: Hope & Sorrow, out next Tuesday, April 1st on 7 Bros. / Asylum Records. For their third album without founding member and key songwriter Clint Lowery, essentially Sevendust have gone and written the same album for the third time in a row. Though there are a few nuggets on this album, Sevendust have failed to push themselves forward as a band and have, once again, failed to live up the potential that I have hoped — that I know — they have somewhere inside themselves.
My primary problem with Chapter VII: Hope & Sorrow is that Sevendust haven’t taken any risks or attempts to push themselves forward; their artistic progress stagnated after Seasons, and they seem content to recycle pretty much the same riffs and song structures over and over again. I suppose the argument could be made that inviting Mark Tremonti, Myles Kennedy and Chris Daughtry on for guest spots could be considered both of the above, but this seems more like a step back, an admission of defeat, than a step forward. Sevendust’s qualms with former-label TVT around the time of Seasons have been made well-known; so if the band so desperately wanted to be free from the shackles of hit-seeking labels, why have they gone and invited for guest spots an American Idol finalist and the guitarist of one of the most successful radio rock bands of the past decade? It reeks of desperation. Furthermore, the material on Hope & Sorrow lacks the artistry, immediacy and heaviness of their earlier works.
Ironically, one of the aforementioned guest spots actually makes for one of the more interesting moments on the album. A piano intro sets a somber mood for the down-tempo “Hope,” opening into a chilling chorus that juxtaposes synth-string hits and heavily distorted guitars. Mark Tremonti’s guitar solo (Alter Bridge, ex-Creed) flat out shreds, half-Zakk Wylde, half-Slayer.
But Daughtry’s appearance on “The Past” fails to deliver; it’s a by-the-numbers modern rock ballad; think Nickelback’s more tender moments with the guy from Breaking Benjamin singing. Likewise, the voice of Alter Bridge’s Myles Kennedy (himself a talented singer) in “Sorrow” offers a bit of spice, but otherwise the song itself is pretty much standard mid-tempo Sevendust fare with some strings thrown in (hey, at least they tried).
But the album isn’t without some rewarding moments. “Scapegoat” is a real winner for me. The band brought their sequencers back to the table and wrote a song that builds into the best chorus on the record courtesy of Connolly and Sonny Mayo’s creative metal riffing. “Fear” also has a pulse that drives forward from the get-go, leading to a semi-catchy non-chorus, and finally a pay-off in the way of an epic bridge/crescendo 4:15 into the song. Album-closer “Walk Away,” in its 6+ minutes of glory, hints at the best song Sevendust have written in the post-Clint era (“Burn” from Alpha), but falls a bit short despite an infectious chorus. Even so, it represents the band actually attempting to expand from their usual song structure, and that is a good thing. In the way of heavy, the intro and verses of “Inside” definitely deliver courtesy Morgan Rose’s pounding double-bass and guitar/bass syncopation.
In the end, Chapter VII: Hope & Sorrow is yet another mediocre Sevendust album. What’s so disheartening to me is that the talent within the band members is definitely there, lurking beneath the surface somewhere. Lajon Witherspoon’s voice is so soulful and like no other, Morgan Rose is one fuck of a badass drummer, and the band are an electrifying live unit. So what’s been missing? Well, we might just find out with Clint Lowery’s return to the band. Ultimately Sevendust hasn’t had quite the creative gusto since Lowery left, and they’ve been lacking that guiding force in the writing process. Unfortunately we’re gonna have to wait a while to find out.