Sevendust – Black Out the Sun
Record Label: Asylum
Release Date: March 26 2013
Now that we’re finally in the middle of summer, that means two things – it’s the season of pop-punk/easycore, and we’re a little more than halfway done with the year. Of course, you (the listener and reader of this review) don’t have to only listen to pop-punk this time of year, but rather, whatever you want. Personally, I’ve always looked at the summer to be the perfect season for pop-punk, i.e. catchy choruses (with or without gang vocals), very relatable lyrics, and simplistic instrumentation that’s lighthearted and fun. Easycore is kind of the same thing, but with a post-hardcore/metalcore sound to it. Even adding a few breakdowns couldn’t hurt. Why am I talking about this? Even better, what exactly is my point? I bet you’re asking yourself those questions right now, and let me tell you. I said you can listen to whatever you want, and I wasn’t kidding. Just because certain kinds of music are more suited for a certain time of year doesn’t mean you can’t listen to anything else.
That leads me to the subject of this review: I haven’t been listening to many new releases in the last few weeks, mainly just the new Letlive, Hands Like Houses, Sick Puppies, Sleep City, We Came As Romans, and These Hearts records, along with a few others. Almost all of these records are post-hardcore/easycore, with the exception of Letlive and Sick Puppies. Even so, I’ve wanted more of a variety on my iPod, and I managed to find a copy of metal/hard-rock outfit Sevendust’s new album, Black Out the Sun, released earlier this year (March, specifically). It’s a release that I figuratively slept over, because I’m not hugely into metal or hardcore. I’ve been slowly getting into hard-rock, but I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan just yet. But that’s the thing that really stuck out to me when I first heard this record, because despite it being metal/hard-rock, it’s still quite “accessible,” meaning that even if you’re not into the genre, let alone totally new to it, this is still a record that has a lot of crossover appeal. It remains melodic and accessible, but still heavy and aggressive in some places. It’s a good “gateway” record, so to speak. It’s a perfect balance, and that’s ultimately the biggest reason of why I enjoyed this reason. There were a couple of things I didn’t like, but aside from being nitpicks, I’ll get to those later.
The record starts off with the minute and a half intro track “Memory.” Before I go any further, I have a love/hate relationship with intro tracks. On one hand, they’re insanely cliché and rather boring, because if you’ve listened to as much music as I have, you start to pick up on these little clichés and tropes within various genres, including music itself. The cliché intro track is one of them, and after awhile, it gets boring, because not too many intros are interesting enough to get me excited for a record. Some are executed wonderfully, such as the “Some Nights (Intro)” on Fun’s sophomore record of the same name, released last year. That intro was rather odd, but it really did its job of sucking me into the record, and being excited for what happens. This intro does its job nicely, because it starts off quietly with an acoustic guitar and some orchestral instrumentation. To build tension, some electric guitars come a minute into it, even though that doesn’t leave much time, only around 30 seconds. It’s a bit lackluster, but it does lead into second track “Faithless.” Immediately, vocalist Lajon Witherspoon comes into play with some very nice guitarwork by Clint Lowery and John Connolly, and I’ll get into those two a bit more later as well. Sadly, though, Witherspoon is one of the downsides to this record. No, his voice isn’t bad, and in fact, he’s got a nice range, but his performance isn’t all that charismatic. He’s no Jason Butler (of Letlive) or Patrick Stump (of Fall Out Boy) who have booming voices, and in Butler’s case, very energetic and aggressive screams to add to that. Witherspoon’s voice is nice, but a bit lackluster in some places. He screams a few places, such as a bit on “Faithless” and a bit elsewhere. That track is one of the more enjoyable songs on the record, mainly because of the instrumentation, but Witherspoon’s vocals are pretty cool, especially for a first impression. It’s just later on that his voice (and lyrics) can get a little tiring.
Another problem I have with this album is that very few songs are memorable in their own right. I have this problem with plenty of other albums, because while their sound is interesting, and the record itself is memorable, it’s hard for some songs to be memorable. It does have its moments, like second track “Till Death.” This is a song where Witherspoon’s screaming comes in, and it’s not half bad, but nothing impressive, either. The screaming isn’t there to make them appear heavier, but to add a dramatic effect to the vocals and lyrics. This song has a much more noticeable “hardcore” influence with drummer Morgan Rose pummeling behind the kit, and doing a damn good job, too. He does throughout the record, but this song has it shown a bit more obviously. The next memorable track comes in the form of title track “Black Out the Sun,” which has very creative lyrics, and that’s what ends up making it memorable. Witherspoon’s lyrics are also a bit of an issue. They’re certainly not bad, but most of the time, they’re nothing I haven’t heard before. Songs like “Picture Perfect,” “Cold As War,” “Nobody Wants It,” and “Mountain” are solid tracks, but with lyrics that are rather cliché, especially for the hard-rock genre. It’s things like this that keep me from truly loving this record. I like it, and it’s a very solid release. The thing that truly keeps it afloat is the overall instrumentation. Guitarists Lowery and Connolly really know how to play, and they even have some guitar solos on some tracks, like “Mountain,” the title track, “Dead Roses,” and a few others. The guitar solos are a nice touch, but after awhile, they do get a bit derivative, especially when they’re all over the second half of the record. Nonetheless, the record is very enjoyable, and quite accessible, especially for a “metal” record. Most metal is looked down upon within society, so it’s bands like these who have been around for a long time, and prove that it’s not as awful as the mainstream thinks it is. Not to mention, they don’t even fall into the boring “radio rock” plague, either. They manage to keep things refreshing and interesting, while still having an appealing sound. I don’t love this record, but I do like it. I don’t love it, merely because I’m not a metalhead, either. I don’t love it, because certain things really don’t suck me in, such as the vocals at some points, and the lyrics. The musicianship is what really shines to me, and that’s ultimately what keeps me coming back. But it’s no wonder why this record was (and still is) critically acclaimed.