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Forgive me Father for I have sinned. It has been six years since my last start to finish listen to a new Avenged Sevenfold album.
Confession time: I fell off the Avenged Sevenfold love boat years ago. I didn’t buy their last two albums; I bought a couple songs and figured ‘eh, I got the gist of it.’ After the passing of The Rev, well, things weren’t quite the same for a lot of us long-time fans. We were mourning and it’s hard to muster up anticipation in the face of tragedy. I couldn’t manage that same eager energy for them anymore. And yet, I still vividly remembered our early times together like freaking out the first time I saw ‘Unholy Confessions’ on MTV’s Headbangers Ball back in 2004. I was in high school.
Fast forward more than a decade and I can swim anew in the wash of love and enthusiasm for their newest creation. The Stage, a surprise release on Oct. 28, 2016, is a masterfully crafted epic about science fiction, that will one day become science fact, as well as the cosmos. I intentionally mention the cosmos ’cause guess who is featured on the last song of the album? Oh yeah, that’s right, the astrophysicist superstar himself: Neil deGrasse Tyson. I mean, geez, the man has an asteroid named after him and nearly 20 honorary doctorates. Superstar.
The band members are quite stellar themselves on this concept album. I wish I had the technical background to give due justice to the soaring guitar riffs and haunting drum beats, but alas I do not. I barely consider my poetic leanings background enough to delve into their lyrical content but I cannot help myself. Also: it gives me a good reason to continue listening to this album over and over and over again. It’s only 74 minutes long after all.
Honestly, part of my enrapturement with A7x is in their evolution; Sounding the Seventh Trumpet, Waking The Fallen, City of Evil, so forth and so on were all deeply entwined with Christianity’s view of sin and God, and while The Stage definitely has references to The Lord Almighty, the writing has grown to more than a twisted mirror of theology to a perfect, dark union of spirituality with science and the physical realm.
And really that’s what this masterpiece is all about: beautiful juxtaposition. Themes of artificial intelligence, nanobots, and machines sung out by a raw human voice not diminished or adjusted by vocal tuning. The visceral realities of an astronauts’ mission and nuclear war as well as the great intangibles of our thoughts being our own and the unknowable God. A beginning on The Stage that is really the end of time since it is begun with our birth, a rather recent development all things considered… and an end, in Exist, that starts at the very beginning of all with The Big Bang. Well, we must start as they did then, with the end:
Track 1: “The Stage“
Tell me a lie in a beautiful way
I believe in answers
Just not today
Such a strong start to set high expectations for the rest. This first track (and first single) mirrors the work as a whole; within the song it starts with the end and finishes at the beginning too. First he tells of his birth (bringing us to now, the end of told time), maybe as M Shadows, maybe as a mysterious protagonist, naive initially then learning the way of a world where God was too little like us to worship so we ‘levitated our own (Jesus) to idolize’ instead and then wrapping up with the birth of sin: Satan as the serpent unleashing free will on the mind of man through Adam and Eve, the first. We hit the familiar with religious references throughout discussing man’s near obscene obsession with itself in all things. And it is this obsession with self that cages the crowd as well as convinces the walking ape that nuclear war was best for keeping the score.
Our protagonist laments our lack of communication and empathy asking his listeners to tell of their ‘crosses to bear’ so he can understand, because he, like us, struggles to relate. He is no different than the crowd; he found his heart and control in awakening to the ruthless reality of life but this new perspective is still very self-centric in outlook. One could argue that he too merely peers out from his own cage at the world at large. A cage built of ego, and feeling sorry for himself; his own depression and self absorption holding him tight. A cage built of the worst of human nature.
A cage that will always be there, as long as we long for beautiful lies that comfort us while keeping us locked away. While only the truth can set us free and wake us up? It also hurts like a bitch and we don’t always want it. At least, just not today.
Track 2: “Paradigm“
A god in size
Beyond the reach of mortals
I shed my human side
So this is where that dark union of science and spirituality that I mentioned earlier really starts to come in. The technology exists now, and is progressing daily, to continue life way past the point that used to be considered normal. Scientists play creator, and man strives in its arrogance to be a god in size of lifespan; everyone wants the immortality we assign traditionally only to God. But A7x asks: Is that ‘life’, engineered and architected just so, equal to a natural human life? Would God Himself, Our Father, recognize us anymore if we can’t even recognize ourselves?
Disconnected from fear and pain – after enough time, will our protagonist even remember being himself? This is a thought provoking song utterly punctual and relevant in the current landscape of our technological advancement. I also love the line “Singular I am, I have the question if these thoughts are mine.” It brings to mind The Technological Singularity, the theory that Artificial Intelligence will trigger so much technological growth that humanity will be irrevocably changed perhaps to the point of being rendered obsolete with the AI simply upgrading itself indefinitely and constantly. Humanity may not stand a chance.
See also: The Singularity is Near by Kurzweil for more on immortality via medical advances
Track 3: “Sunny Disposition”
Just takes a fence to rule the roost
As long as the scale has been reduced
By the third track on the album, we’ve sunk directly into the depraved destiny of those who only focus on the material. Here, there’s no mention of God or virtue, only nuclear war and the physical. The lyrics talk of ego and appetite in a very literal way but what isn’t mentioned is equally relevant. If we can only focus on survival within our fences and pens, then there’s no greater good. Orwellian doublethink becomes a very real thing where war is peace: preemptive wars to buy peace thus dooming children; where freedom is slavery: free to work every day to even get the privilege of making your own choices , but still slave to those who make more money than you as well as slave to that job itself; where ignorance is strength: ignorant to reality, only able to find the strength to move forward by calling it all an illusion.
More than anything else though, this song is about the powerful abusing those without power. The elite making terrible decisions whose consequences we all have to suffer, resulting in the worst possible outcome: nuclear war. And so we fossilize – frozen forever by nuclear ash and buried beneath because we stayed the course and toed the line forgetting that there is power in our numbers in i.e. United We Stand, Divided We Fall.
Track 4: “God Damn“
God Nation, Goddamned
The devil dances with the scorned
And how the fire keeps us warm
So if in the last song we were lead to our doom by staying caged and still, in this track, we damn ourselves by going too far. In allowing and even desiring Big Brother (another Orwell reference) and the government to monitor our every move, we traded essential liberty for security and, according to Ben Franklin, that means we deserve neither. Our inability to actually see what was going on, our tunnel vision, our only seeing the big picture of the forest led to a debt that can only be paid by our damnation and willing enslavement. They may have handed us the chains but we shut them all on our own in this one.
Also: Love the Eye of Horus reference. It’s an Egyptian symbol of protection, royal power, and good health.
Track 5: “Creating God“
Have you noticed that I’m needin’ it more now
More than it needs me
Got a couple of billion that seem to agree
The transition from one song into the next is seamless and ever so purposeful on this album. If God Damn was a cautionary tale of an overreliance on government leading to nuclear war, Creating God is a warning about overdependence and worship of uncontrolled technological development leading to a more subtle apocalypse: Artificial Intelligence taking over as the dominant being on the planet.
So if you’re following along closely you notice now that track 3, 4, and 5 are all warnings in increasing speeds; 3 is about complacency and stagnation in the face of seeming overwhelming authority, 4 is about shuffling forward blindly because that same authority says so, and 5 is about rushing forward with technology because we want endlessly without considering the consequences going far beyond what we should ever attempt.
Disrespecting Charles Darwin and the time it takes to evolve, we push to go faster and further. A modern messiah in nanobots, machines, and AI to save us all from…. well, everything from work to pain to living.
Suggested Reading: The Last Question by Isaac Asimov
Track 6: “Angels“
Mother, tell me was it all a lie?
Show me where the angels die
So this is the first song since The Stage and Paradigm to be in the first person, making it a lot more introspective than the last three, while still touching on their concerns. He’s looking within for the answers to all the conflicting dilemmas mentioned earlier, finding fault with himself for the stagnation (words that never found [his] lips), for the blind march forward (lost [his] grip, [he] slip[s]), for going beyond what we ever should (the faster we run now, the closer the gun).
He begs his mother to not only wash the devil from his hands and thus cleanse him of any wrong doing but also to show him where the angels die. For all intents and purposes these angels must be others like him who sought only to do the right thing but failed along the way. He’s begging to see where they ended up perhaps so he can avoid the same fate. He regrets taking the road and not chasing the stars, a clear sign that he took an easier way, a path already established by these angels even, rather than chasing his dreams of better futures.
Fin Part One
PS: This was getting SUPER long so I figured I’d break it up into two parts =D