November 1, 2008

CD/DVD Review: Avenged Sevenfold - Live in the LBC & Diamonds in the Rough

While Avenged Sevenfold is no doubt a good band, it appears that they may have peaked in terms of their mainstream popularity. Well, I guess you could doubt their goodness but that would end up in an argument over the value of their worth that will likely never be resolved. What do I mean by this? Well, it seems that after the mainstream explosion of City of Evil there has been a building backlash against them, the same that happens to pretty much any band/artist/film that gets too big too fast. It is through no fault of their own, it is just the nature of the beast. To their credit, Avenged Sevenfold charges forth with their die hard fans, and that is definitely who this set is aimed at.

I was one of the millions who discovered them with City of Evil. I absolutely love that album. I went back and picked up Waking the Fallen and found I loved that as well, it was a distinctly different sound but you can see the logical progression that City of Evil was. I have also gone and listened to Sounding the Seventh Trumpet, which is also a solid album, pretty much in line with Waking the Fallen.

That brings me to their self-titled album that was released in 2007. I have to say that I felt let down with that album. I was hoping for something along the quality of City of Evil following the progression begun with Waking. What I found was an album that had some good moments but felt a bit rushed and too much along the same ground as City of Evil. Now, with some time between its release and now, my views have softened somewhat and while it will never be my favorite, it is not all that bad.

Those softening feelings have been helped along with this two-disk release. This covers the band on two fronts: their charismatic live show and their quality leftovers from the studio. Whether you want live stuff or more new tunes, this will fill the bill for any A7X fan.

The set begins (ends? I guess it doesn't matter) with a 75-minute live set shot April 10, 2008 at Long Beach Arena in Long Beach, CA. This set makes up the Live in the LBC side of the package and it shows the band in fine form as they rip through their set, comprised almost exclusively of tunes from their last two albums, with only one song coming from the first two releases in the form of "Unholy Confessions" from Waking the Fallen.

I saw A7X live once, it was during the City of Evil tour cycle when they co-headlined a tour with Coheed & Cambria. They stole that night, in my opinion, as they ripped through their set to a ravenous crowd. This DVD is very reminiscent of that night, although the band seems even more confident here. See what life on the road, playing countless shows will do? It will tighten up your performance and give you all the confidence you need to play to a hometown crowd with a professional film crew recording your every move.

The band takes the stage with their sound, playing at the intersection of screamo, metalcore, and metal, delivering said combination with the cocksure attitude of the 1980's LA glam scene. Just try to picture what it could be like for a band like Ratt or LA Guns if they were headlining arenas today. Not to take anything away from those bands, but this is along those lines. Avenged Sevenfold attacked the stage with all the lights, fire, and strippers that you could ever want from an over-the-top rock show. They definitely know how to entertain.

Now, the set was a good one, except for the blemish of having a fan sing Pantera's "Walk" with the band. Sorry, may be fun if you were there, but I would have rather heard Shadow sing it himself. Oh well, the rest of the set was a blast featuring such hits as "Beast and the Harlot," "Bat Country," and "Critical Acclaim."

The recording is excellent with everyone sounding powerful in the LPCM stereo mix. I always love this option for concert DVDs. There is also a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Also, to sweeten the pot a bit, the entrance videos they used for each tour stop are included. They are all right to watch once, but nothing all that special.

The second part of the set is Diamonds in the Rough, this 11-track CD features seven leftover cuts from the Avenged Sevenfold sessions, two cover tunes, one remix, and one alternate version. All together, this 53+ minute CD is quite satisfying, showing that they did have some in reserve that was not laid out on the album proper, plus respect for those who inspired them.

The good thing about the tunes here is that they are not mere cast offs. Actually, I guess they are since they did not make the album. Anyway, while they were not deemed primary album worthy by the band, they are actually pretty good.

Each song features some strong guitar work from Synyster Gates, who is an excellent lead guitarist, punishing drums from The Rev, and the distinctive vocals of M. Shadows. Actually, I think Shadows may be the weakest link in the band. It is not that he is bad, but there is a tinge of whinyness that grates on me a little, still he has the right style for this band.

"Demons" opens the disk and while it is decent, it runs a bit too long, clocking in at a tiresome 6+ minutes. At the positive end of the spectrum, the new tunes are highlighted by "Girl I Know," "Until the End," and "Dancing Dead."

As for the covers? The first is Iron Maiden's "Flash of the Blade." The guys acquit themselves admirably, doing a fine job being true to the source while putting their own spin on it. The other is Pantera's Walk. Here they do a fine job of mimicry, sounding a lot like the original, although with a bit too much polish. The biggest issue here is that they try to hard to sound just like Pantera, I would have preferred a little bit more A7X flavor, like with the Maiden cover.

Lastly, the alternate mixes. First is "Almost Easy (CLA mix)," it sounds very similar to the album version. I did not do a side by side comparison, but the vocals sound a little different but that is about it. The second is "Afterlife (Alternate Version)," which has some different riffs and the addition of string support. I like this different version, the strings add some nice texture.

Bottomline. If you are an A7X fan, what are you waiting for? For everyone else, go start with City of Evil and work up to this. This is a good release that actually made me enjoy the band again, as I haven't listened that much since the self-titled release. The concert is nicely captured snapshot of their charisma, while the B-sides and covers just give us more new music to enjoy. All around this is a nice package.

Recommended.

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