Hardcore rockers Avenged Sevenfold go soft on new LP

Finally, after a two-week delay, the fourth Avenged Sevenfold album has filled the shelves of local media stores. Originally set to release on Oct. 16, the release date of this self-titled album was pushed backed to Oct. 30, supposedly due to the need for extra work on the production and layout of the black and white cartoons filling every other page of the album's liner notes.

The question is, should this band be worrying about sketches of skeletons with bat-wings, or should they be more concerned with upholding the adrenaline-infused rock and serious shredding that characterized their last two albums?

Back in 2003, Waking the Fallen offered this group's raw and aggressive talent, truly showing how they dominate their axes. M. Shadows offered driving vocals without sympathy, and the bass and drums steered the wheel at break-neck speeds with the utmost precision.

City of Evil, released in 2005, triumphed over Fallen by adding unforgettable melodies and harmonies to the solid steel backbone of the five Californians. One can see this transformation in the structure of their Hunter S. Thompson-inspired "Bat Country." Zacky Vengeance and Synyster Gates trade the spotlight manifesting guitar solos that intertwine with the sophistication of a classical symphony. But perhaps Avenged Sevenfold has built a repertoire that they might have trouble keeping up with.

The 2007 self-titled release may be a new direction for these hardcore maestros. The disc displays a classy collection of symphony and brass arrangements. The guys also try out some female vocals on the tracks "Gunslinger," "A Little Piece of Heaven" and the closing track, "Dear God." Co-producer Andy Wallace seemed to have played a part in this transformation while adding in some auto-tune on Shadows's vocals when mixing the album.

The most interesting aspect of the new album is the fact that its cover displays the polar opposite graphic that appeared on Waking the Fallen. Could this be a metaphor for Sevenfold's shifting style? Does the black 2003 album resemble full-throttle hardcore from hell, while the white 2007 album portrays purity and peace? That's really up to the listener, but it's an unusual coincidence. It may be able to explain the album's novel ballad-like approach that characterizes its layout. One thing is for sure: Johnny Christ and The Reverend still know how to fashion an ostentatious rhythm section. The Reverend shows "the skins" no mercy and Johnny Christ produces the heartbeat of the rockers.

Perhaps it is not a bad omen that the band has turned slightly soft. This is a band that shouldn't be given up on because of one disc; these elements could be carried over to their next album in a more functional way. Longtime Avenged Sevenfold fans, however, may be disappointed by their newest release.