originally written by Jim Brandon
Of all the bands who were birthed in the early/mid- 90’s and enjoy a comfortable level of mainstream success, for some reason Sevendust has been spared much of the unmitigated hatred aimed at many of their counterparts who have also been lumped erroneously into the nu-metal category. They’ve established a respectably solid fan base, as the impressively high (#14 on the Top Albums) first week charting of Alpha proves, and the attendance numbers of their current tour are nothing to sneeze at. Truthfully, I pretty much lost interest in the band immediately following their self-titled debut, and have gotten mixed reviews from a few of their fans as far as their overall catalog goes. Where Alpha is concerned, it’s fully understandable why it made such a noticeable first week showing on the charts, for not only is it in touch with what is going on in metal these days, it’s simply a very good album from front to back.
Sevendust have it completely within their power to craft an entire album of thrashy metal if they so choose to, and when they delve sparingly into darker, more aggressive waters, I can’t help but wonder what an experimental over the top disc would sound like from these guys. The snap-suplex riffs in “Clueless” and “Alpha” dive into tight, rapid fire staccato rhythms, and the overall vibe of the album really isn’t all that lightweight. “Confessions Of Hatred” and “Feed” are stuttering, chunky ebb and flow constructions that chug along at sinfully catchy paces; in fact, the whole damn disc is infectious as hell when taken in small doses. The use of breakdowns is minimal, like with “Suffer”, and the peculiarly-arranged “Story Of Your Life”, these stiff passages are blended tastefully and don’t sound forced, or reaching too far for metalcore approval. The piano intro on “Aggression”, which is laced with psychedelic elements, is an interesting beginning to a track that ends up being one of the rare weak links on the disc. The unexpected “Burn” is an iffy 9:04 endeavor that goes from Life Of Agony-styled verses and a couple of odd, plain sub-choruses before mellowing out into airy keys, and sparse percussive repetition for the last three minutes or so, fading into a rattle of background noise before launching into the pummeling title track. I give them credit for trying something different, even if it isn’t one of the stronger songs on the album.
A huge plus, and a medium-sized negative arises when discussing the vocals here, and it’s a vocal style anyone who has ever listened to Sevendust is very familiar with. Lajon Witherspoon is an exceptional singer with a commanding persona and a voice that is stronger than well-worn leather, as smooth as silk charmeuse, yet rough as sandpaper when the situation calls for it. Lajon’s vocal performance alone is almost reason enough to check this out, but as always, drummer Morgan Rose has hold of the tag rope waiting for his chance to jump in the ring and hit an enzuigiri, or vocally speaking, rather plain rough shouting that sounds unnecessary in some instances. By the time the album is half over, this see-sawing becomes a bit wearing and predictable, and heightens the fact that there are no real standout tracks to be found. There is a steady level of quality that neither rises nor dips, and unfortunately, doesn’t really offer any truly killer or memorable moments to be savored in the end.
Despite the lack of venom propelled at Sevendust, there is a reason why they’ve consistently flown just slightly under the radar for some of us. To me, that reason is their failure to craft that one signature album that transcends all genres of harder music, and makes everyone stop and pay serious attention. That one shining moment has yet to arrive, but after doing some listening research of their back catalog, it seems to me that the excellently-produced Alpha will please any fan of the band, but also gives would-be detractors nothing to find fault, nor fascination with. I’ve got nothing against these guys, but wish they’d finally release that one truly incredible album once and for all, since they obviously have it in them, somewhere. Regardless, Alpha is a success that I was pleasantly surprised by, and it‘s definitely worth listening to.