Sometimes when a band is on its fifth go ‘round, faced with the prospect of churning out an album when chances are good that they used most of their good material on the first four, outside circumstances can intervene and give that band a new lease on life. In losing an original member, Sevendust has gained the motivation necessary to prove themselves all over again on a musical level. In switching record labels and making the decision to produce their new album themselves, the band has gained a sense of self-determination and independence. Perhaps most importantly (and certainly most tragically), in losing his brother to a violent, gang-related death, vocalist and primary lyricist Lajon Witherspoon has gained a tremendously deep font of inspiration.
The result is Next, an album that by any members’ account is a new chapter for the band, but which really sounds like Sevendust doing what Sevendust does best—melodic hard rock with a screamy kick.
Where Next finds most of its “development” is actually in regression. Seasons, the band’s previous album, was a collection of songs that largely saw the band slowing down and adding more melody to the mix, giving added emphasis to the songwriting and taking away from the aggression that defined earlier albums. Next, on the other hand, is far more aggressive than its predecessor, particularly at the outset of the album where they had me fooled into actually thinking they were gunning for some metal scene cred. “Hero”, which opens the album, actually features Witherspoon competing for screaming superiority with resident banshee (and drummer) Morgan Rose. “Don’t wanna be the one to bleed, / It’s like I’m mourning over the death of me”, Witherspoon sings, exorcising his evil spirits with cutting words backed by just-as-sharp riffs. “Pieces” and later track “The Last Song” emphasize the aggression as well, allowing Rose as much scream time as Witherspoon gets croon time.
Instrumentally, the band is as tight as they’ve ever been, even with the replacement of guitarist Clint Lowery (who left to pursue other musical interest) with former Snot guitarist Sonny Mayo. Mayo adds an edge to the sludgy Sevendust guitar sound, adding squeaks and squeals to songs like “Pieces” and “Desertion”. Next includes a DVD on which Mayo is introduced and the other members speak of him in predictably glowing terms, though none will go so far to say that he’s better for the band than Lowery. I’ll say it—Mayo’s presence adds a new layer to Sevendust’s sound, an element that’s going to keep them from falling into a predictable, sludgy rut, at least for another couple of albums.
Even Mayo’s presence, Witherspoon’s inspiration, and all of the other outside factors that inspired Next can’t prevent a few of these songs from being trapped in the sludgy, dare I say grungy clichés of their genre. The latter half of the album is littered with midtempo aggression; with nary a catchy melody to be found, songs like “Failure” and “See and Believe” hardly leave an impression past the fact that they exist. Even a tinge of electronic beatmaking in “Never” can’t keep it from the same pitfalls.
All is forgiven, however, as closer “Shadows in Red” rears its acoustic head, pitting major-key melodies against minor-key chord progressions as Witherspoon looks inward and doesn’t like what he sees: “Blinded by one thing, / Obsessed with the need to be loved”, he wails, citing the common lament of one who’s lost many of those he once cared so deeply about. It is in such loss that Next finds its inspiration, allowing the band to reach inside and find new ways to replace that which is now gone. With Next Sevendust haven’t created anything that will win any new fans or cross over to any new genres – but what they have done is made what they do sound vital again.