Sevendust – All I See is War

It’s certainly an impressive feat for a band when one can begin listening to them before they’ve reached elementary school and can still continue to listen to new output well into their late 20’s and early 30’s. Time passes, people change, tastes adjust, but one thing is very clear; Sevendust has somewhat bucked that trend. Sure, the members have all grown older, their respective ideologies may have changed, as has their outlook on life, music, etc. And yet, here we stand in 2018, staring at an album by the name of All I See is War, by a band that began between Grunge and Nu Metal. Consistency has been the name of the game, but for a group that has been around for so long, one has to ask themselves: at what point does a band stop being consistent and start sounding complacent? For Sevendust, that’s a tough question to answer, as their sound rarely deviates. So, with that said: are we looking at a band resting on their laurels, or a band that genuinely enjoys the sound they’ve mastered?

One thing needs to be stated right now: if you want to hear a band reinvent their sound, do not listen to this album. In fact, don’t listen to Sevendust anymore if you want reinvention, because this is a rock group that have grown wildly successful based on their simple riffs, their killer drum fills, and the stellar vocal capabilities of both lead singer Lajon Witherspoon and painfully underrated drummer Morgan Rose. If you don’t want to hear that anymore, then don’t. That having been said, All I See is War is a tough album to grade for a fan of the band: first and foremost, this album just sounds like Sevendust. Witherspoon and Co have managed to craft an album that, even while released in 2018, could have been just as successful in 2004. The war motif, the alternating cleans and growls, the palm muted riffs, it’s all there. This is not 2018 Sevendust trying to sound like 1999 Sevendust. This is just Sevendust.

Look no further than opening track Dirty and closing track The Truth. The former sees the double bass percussive assault of Rose, the clean yet gritty vocals of Witherspoon, and the chugging riffs of Connolly and Lowery, while the latter features one of the catchiest choruses the band has ever put to record, a genuine sing along track that may very well be a highlight of their discography. This is Sevendust in a nutshell; equal parts heavy and catchy, it’s difficult to listen to these tracks and not feel a wave of nostalgia. But it’s also tough to hear the tracks and not wonder if they’ve just mastered the sound so much that they have the same formula for each song and record. Again: consistency or complacency?

As usual, there are standout tracks that will garner multiple future listens; the two aforementioned tracks are among the standouts, as are Medicated and Unforgiven; the former comes out guns blazing with chugging riffage and a soaring chorus that perfectly encapsulates the still incredible vocal capability of Lajon Witherspoon. The latter is notable for the back and forth of Rose and Witherspoon, similar to Denial, with the chorus remembered for the alternating screams of ‘wait just a minute.’ It’s been said before that Rose is a criminally underrated drummer, but his vocal output is equally impressive. His screams are nearly perfect for the sound, and it would be a treat to hear him on lead vocals, either in this band for future songs or in his own metal group. It would be a travesty to deny such a vocal talent the opportunity to really shine.

Nevertheless, where the complacency question really comes into play is in the latter half of the album, as could probably be gleaned by the fact that most of the tracks mentioned thus far are early. Not Original utilizes a somewhat stripped down sound, as musically the band is on the back-burner to let Witherspoon croon, and it’s unfortunate to say it makes for a bland, almost boring listen. The vocals are a delight, sure, but no part of the song surrounding it has any real merit. Moments introduces a deep piano tune and contains a solo to help break up the monotony otherwise occupying the track; Morgan Rose’s drum fills are a nice touch, as are his vocals, but the riffs are lacking and by this point in the album the soaring choruses have begun to wear thin, as the band has really seemed to follow a ‘lather, rinse, repeat’ way of writing and recording.

If the previous few paragraphs seem like this listener doesn’t really know what to think of the new album, it’s because he doesn’t. On the one hand, this band has been around for over 20 years and still sounds as they did back then. The problem that we run into is that 25 years of the same output can be difficult to digest. Lajon Witherspoon, quite frankly, sounds not one day older than he did back in 1994, and that is truly incredible. The man has one of the more noticeable voices in rock and metal, and he has not lost a single step in almost 25 years. Morgan Rose is still killing it behind the kit, and his vocals are just as tortured as ever, making his presence on any track a highlight. Musically speaking, there is nothing really bad to say about the group, as they still manage to write catchy enough riffs with the occasional solo thrown in to change it up a bit. But back to the beginning; at what point does a band sound less consistent and more complacent? All I See is War presents a band that is stuck in the middle; on their notable tracks, they sound like they still love to make the music they did in the 90’s, and on the less than stellar tracks they sound like they are sticking to a formula because that’s what they know and what’s expected of them. While a quarter century may seem a bit late for a band to have a midlife crisis, this must be one, because Sevendust, over the span of 12 tracks, sounds like two bands. One is having fun making music they’ve mastered for 25 years, and the other is a band that has run out of ideas and is going back to the well but very nearly coming up empty each time.

Final Score: 3/5, just slightly more consistent than complacent.

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