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You can see the Deathbat if you squint.

Who is the crowd that peers through the cage
As we perform here, upon the stage?
−Chorus of the title track.
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The Stage is the seventh album by Californian Heavy Metal band Avenged Sevenfold, released on October 28th 2016. It is the first album featuring drummer Brooks Wackerman, who had replaced Arin Ilejay the year before.

While their previous effort, 2013's Hail to the King, was a pretty straightforward and old-school Traditional Heavy Metal album, this one took the opposite approach by veering more into Progressive Metal and mixing many sub-genres into it, with more elaborate song structures and more complex drumlines. Some songs even feature Black Metal-influenced riffs, which was unheard of in the band's previous albums. All of this makes it probably their biggest stylistic change since 2005's City of Evil, while keeping some of the band's trademarks, like the obligatory Power Ballad.

It is also a loose Concept Album, written around the themes of space, artificial intelligence and the self-destruction of mankind, all concluded by the 15-minute epic "Exist" and its final 3 minute speech by physicist Neil Degrasse Tyson. While themes like the horrors of war and the world ending are still present, the storytelling is more science based, unlike the mystical and biblical themes the band was fond of − "Angels" even evokes the loss of belief in God.

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The album was also peculiar in the way it was delivered: it was dropped almost completely by surprise two weeks after the title track, despite being announced for December with the title Voltaic Oceans. note  The band also wanted to make it an "evolving album" and released one by one six cover songs and one B-side during the following year. Also unusually, only two songs of the main album (the title track and "God Damn") were released as singles.

The Stage − as the band expected − elicited polarized reactions, although critical reception was largely positive. Singer M. Shadows described it as "a grower, not a shower". Despite that, it was the first album to earn them a Grammy nomination (best rock song for the title track, which they lost to the Foo Fighters).

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Tracklist (singles in italic)

Main album

  1. The Stage (8'32)
  2. Paradigm (4'19)
  3. Sunny Disposition (6'41)
  4. God Damn (3'42)
  5. Creating God (5'35)
  6. Angels (5'41)
  7. Simulation (5'31)
  8. Higher (6'29)
  9. Roman Sky (5'00)
  10. Fermi Paradox (6'31)
  11. Exist (15'39)

B-Side

  1. Dose
  2. Retrovertigo (Mr. Bungle)
  3. Malagueña Salerosa (Chingón)
  4. Runaway (Del Shannon)
  5. As Tears Go By (Rolling Stones)
  6. Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)
  7. God Only Knows (Beach Boys)

Members and guests

  • M. Shadows − Vocals
  • Synyster Gates − Lead guitar, backing vocals, doctor in "Simulation"
  • Zacky Vengeance − Rhythm guitar, backing vocals, vocals in "Runaway"
  • Johnny Christ - Bass, backing vocals
  • Brooks Wackerman - Drums

  • Jason Freese − Keyboards in "The Stage", "Paradigm", "Higher", "Fermi Paradox" and "Exist"
  • Angelo Moore and Walter Kibby − Horns in "Sunny Disposition"
  • Brian Haner Sr. aka Papa Gates − 2nd guitar solo in "Angels"
  • Valary DiBenedetto Sanders − Nurse in "Simulation"
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson − Final speech in "Exist"
  • Warren Fitzgerald (The Vandals) − Guitar in "Runaway"

Tropes found in The Stage

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The humans in "Creating God" are starting to be dominated by their own inventions.
  • Another Dimension: "Dose" is based on the story of a man who claimed to have been transported into a parallel reality through a wormhole and to come from a country called "Taured". The track was left out of the album, but was released as a B-Side later on.
  • The Band Minus the Face: A minor example, as it's only one song − the "Runaway" cover is the only A7X song that doesn't feature M. Shadows or Synyster Gates.
  • Black Comedy: If not outright comedic, some parts of "Sunny Disposition" are at least pretty sarcastic, featuring lines like "Dear radiation, my sweet friend", or the megaphone bridge about a man who couldn't eat because he had his head cut off. The quirky horns during the chorus help too. Also see Pun-Based Title.
  • Black Metal: Played with in "Fermi Paradox". M. Shadows deliberately sung with clean vocals over a black-metal riff to create a contrast between the cold despair and the seeping hope of ever finding life in the universe.
  • Blood on These Hands: Implied by the lines "Mother wash the devil from my hands" and "Somehow all the bullets bear my name" in "Angels", although the exact meaning of the song is somewhat ambiguous.
  • Call-Forward: The third solo in "The Stage" ends with the spoken line 'You know this is just a simulation… don't you?' Later on the album, there's a song about exactly that.
  • The Cameo: Warren Fitzgerald, from famous Punk Rock band The Vandals, plays guitar on the "Runaway" cover. A reunion of sorts, as Brooks played on one of the Vandals' albums back in 2000 (Look What I Almost Stepped In…)
  • Concept Album: Thematically at least, all the songs of the main album are related to space, stars, the benefits and risks of A.I. and/or war.
  • Defiant to the End: "Roman Sky" uses the Famous Last Words of Giordano Bruno, the first man to theorize that the stars might be other suns with their own planets, who was burned at the stake for heresy.
    As they spoke your fate, a fearless man replied:
    "As you sentence me, your fear is beyond mine."
  • Epic Rocking: "Exist", the band's longest song to date. The first half is entirely instrumental, the third quarter is an accoustic ballad with vocals, and the last quarter is a speech from Neil Degrasse Tyson over a repeating synth melody and an ever-changing drumline. "The Stage" is a bit shorter at 8'30, but still pretty damn long for a single, with a minute and a half intro, three solos and a two-part outro. Rather ironically, the album also features one of their shortest songs ("God Damn", at 3 and a half minutes).
  • Ethereal Choir: A female choir is used in the final parts of "Higher" to accentuate the peaceful and heavenly mood.
  • Modulation: Strangely done in "Roman Sky", where Matt's voice (but not the music) suddenly rises by a full octave mid-sentence in the second verse.
  • Feel No Pain: What comes with the territory of becoming a transhuman in "Paradigm".
    I'm clawing my skin, but I can't feel it inside. I know the agony of pain would hurt so much better!
  • Genre Mashup: The album has elements of classic, progressive, thrash, black and symphonic metal, as well as some Blues Rock here and there.
  • Godwin's Law of Time Travel: An "alternate universe" variant − "Dose" mentions the Axis winning the war in the world the narrator comes from.
  • Longest Song Goes Last: "Exist" is the logical closer, as it would be hard to add anything after such a dense and epic track.
  • Mood Whiplash: A few instances:
    • "The Stage" is pretty fast and energic during the first two verses, but stops to a quiet clean guitar interlude after the first solo. And then it has several rhythm changes in the last part.
    • "Simulation" has soft, almost cozy verses that fade out before you hear ominous voices in the background and the rythm and voice suddenly go crazy in the chorus, before the calm comes back in the next verse, all illustrating the confusion and pain of the protagoonist.
    • "Roman Sky" has the weird Modulation mentionned above.
  • Non-Appearing Title: "Sunny Disposition", "Fermi Paradox", "Exist" and "Dose" don't feature any of those words.
  • Power Ballad: "Angels" fills this role, while "Roman Sky" steps out of metal altogether, being sung and composed more like a dramatic poem. The "Retrovertigo" cover was also made into a sort of dark power ballad.
  • Pun-Based Title: "Sunny Disposition" sounds like a nice and happy title; the "sun" in question is actually the radiations after a nuclear war, which is referenced in the line "Let sunlight glow under my skin."
  • Schrödinger's Butterfly: The protagonist of "Simulation" ends up not quite sure what's real and what's virtual.
  • Spoken Word in Music: NDT's speech at the end. The original plan was to use excerpts from Carl Sagan's "Pale Blue Dot" speech, but the band couldn't get the permission. To a lesser extent, "The Stage" and "Simulation" have characters talking in the background between the verse and the chorus, enhancing the songs' theatrical vibe.
  • Something Completely Different: While "Dose" and maybe "Retrovertigo" seem right at home within the rest of the album, the other tracks of the B side are all non-metal covers of classic rock or pop songs that are much Lighter and Softer than the band's usual fare.
  • Symphonic Metal: "Roman Sky" mixes clean electric guitars with violins and a classical drum, all concluded by a metal solo with choirs. The end of "Higher" and the sung part of "Exist" also have elements of this.
  • Together in Death: The astronaut of "Higher" lets himself drift away in space to join his friends who died during a failed NASA test.
  • Thrash Metal: Mostly in "God Damn", the heavy parts of "Simulation", the first half of "Exist", and the solos of "Paradigm" and "Sunny Disposition", which are all fast and raw.
  • Transhuman: The protagonist of "Paradigm" escapes death with an enhanced body, but then wonders how much "humanity" remains in him.
  • Uncommon Time:
    • The verses of "Angels" are in 7/4 (or 14/8, meaning you count 4+4+4+2), creating a slight sense of unbalance that reflects the narrator's doubts and hesitations, before the pre-chorus and chorus switch back to a classic 4/4.
    • Similarly, the verses of the following track "Simulation" create unease by using a 15/8 signature, removing an eighth note every two bars (4+4+4+3).
    • "Exist" has a part between the 3rd and 5th minute where each portion is composed of three 4/4 bars followed by a 5/4 bar, culminating in a polyrhythmic part where the guitars keep the aforementioned pattern while the drums stay in 5/4, which gives it a chaotic feel.
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