Review: AVENGED SEVENFOLD's 'Life Is but a Dream...' is totally bonkers, totally brilliant | Revolver

Review: AVENGED SEVENFOLD's 'Life Is but a Dream...' is totally bonkers, totally brilliant

New A7X album makes its own warped kind of sense
avenged sevenfold life is but a dream cover art

Ever since the release of their 2001 debut, Sounding the Seventh Trumpet, Avenged Sevenfold have resolutely refused to stay in one place musically. Each new studio album has been a deliberate step forward from the last — not just in terms of technical ability, but also as far as musical scope and artistic reach. By the time of 2007's Avenged Sevenfold, which closed with the jaw-dropping one-two punch of the spooky mini-opera "A Little Piece of Heaven" and the countrified power ballad "Dear God," it had become abundantly clear that there was no conceivable sound, subject or style that this once-metalcore quintet thought was off-limits.

So, if you thought that 2016's The Stage — a grandiose concept album about Artificial Intelligence, nuclear annihilation, space exploration and the collapse of civilization on Earth — might be the cue for Avenged Sevenfold to get "back to their roots" on their next album… you thought wrong, pal. Life Is but a Dream… is even bigger, broader and even more bonkers than The Stage. And it's also a hell of a lot more fun, even with all its talk of mortality, human frailty, destructive egos and (once again) the artistic and societal implications of Artificial Intelligence.

Much of the fun comes from the way the sheer joy of creation and experimentation practically radiates from each of the album's 11 tracks, each of which takes at least one totally unexpected (if not completely batshit) musical turn. Even the opening "Game Over" — probably the closest thing on the album to a "straightforward" A7X rocker — begins with 30 seconds of what sounds like medieval chamber music before plunging headlong into ferocious power-thrash, then hits the brakes a little after the two-minute mark so that M. Shadows can croon, "It strikes me that I don't belong here anymore" over muted orchestral backing like some kind of psychedelicized Frank Sinatra. "Can't you see?" he implores, underlining the album's basic ethos. "Life is but a dream… anyway."

And much like a dream, shit on this album gets crazy in ways that don't necessarily seem to compute ("Now I know this might sound crazy," Shadows admits on "Mattel," "but I've smelled the plastic daisies, and it seems we've found ourselves in Hell"), yet somehow stay with you long afterwards. Avenged Sevenfold sound fiercer than ever on Life Is but a Dream…, but metallic shred and brutal breakdowns are no longer the coin of their chosen realm. They're way more interested in creating mind- and ear-expanding music that will take listeners on a head-spinning thrill ride — and if that means tossing elements of electropop, jazz fusion and widescreen cinematic soundtracks into the mix, then so be it.

Like the Synyster Gates power-drill guitar lick that drives "Nobody," Shadows' sad-robot vocoder vocals on "Easier," the genre-hopping suite of "G," "(O)rdinary" and "(D)eath" that climaxes the record, or the ragtime-inflected titular solo piano instrumental that closes it, Life Is but a Dream… can feel like a big bag of "WTF?" at first. But once it has fully burrowed into your skull, the album starts to make its own warped kind of sense — and you'll find yourself going back again and again to smell the plastic daisies.