If there were ever a band that received an unwarranted cold shoulder from metal fans, it would be Avenged Sevenfold. Yes, they suffer from the Hot Topic Effect™ (having their merch purchased en masse by mall rats and teenyboppers) and perhaps they’re a little too accessible for some, but I genuinely feel as though many who write them off simply because of how popular they’ve become are missing out on something fantastic. So I’m here to go to bat for them. I won’t beat around the bush. Nightmare is my favourite album of all time. After Avenged Sevenfold first introduced me to the world of heavy metal in the innocent days of my early teens, I quickly developed a taste for music heavier than many of the band’s contemporaries, growing out of bands like Korn and Five Finger Death Punch mercifully fast, and with most of my dignity intact. While my tastes changed as I gravitated more and more towards black and death metal, one thing has remained the same: Avenged Sevenfold are, and most likely always will be my favourite band.
Before I started writing for ‘The Vault, I had an Instagram account (@metal_reese for anyone interested) where I would often talk about the only three perfect albums I’ve ever heard. One being Autumn Aurora by Drudkh, another being Blackwater Park by Opeth, and the final and most important being Nightmare. Never in my life have I heard an album that has impacted me quite like Nightmare, but before I talk about the album itself, I feel like I should describe the circumstances surrounding it. In 2009, Avenged Sevenfold lost their original drummer and childhood friend, Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan. While some bands would fold after such a tragedy, Avenged Sevenfold regrouped with whatever unfinished material they had, recruited Mike Portnoy, and put out one fucking burner of a tribute album to their fallen friend.
Opening with eerie twinkling bells, the title track bursts for with muscular riffs, frantic vocals, and a drum performance from Portnoy that proves what a good choice he was to fill in The Rev’s shoes. The song features a great bridge and catchy chorus, and is a quasi-thrash banger that firmly establishes that while the band were dealt a great blow with the loss of The Rev, they’re still kicking as strong as ever. The next song, “Welcome to the Family,” serves as a welcome to Portnoy and is one of the album’s most headbangable songs. It’s a fun, touching track that offers a brief moment of levity on a rather somber album. Portnoy receives yet another chance to show off his drum skills on “Danger Line,” a song written in tribute to those serving in the armed forces. Since Avenged Sevenfold have played many benefit shows for veterans and many, many live shows for troops overseas, the track hits home in all the right ways. The body riff is a slick, aggressive number that transitions seamlessly into the noodly guitar theatrics of Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance, as they relentlessly battle it out for the album’s best solo. Their dual guitar attack is one of Avenged Sevenfold’s most endearing elements, and they crank it up to 11 on Nightmare. The track culminates with M Shadows crooning from the point of view of a soldier bleeding out while he sends his final thoughts to his daughter. The song fades out to the sound of a whistled funeral tune, and it’s a gorgeous touch.
Things slow down after that, as the spooky intro to “Buried Alive” creeps in, and its strummed chords have a ghostly-western vibe to them, for lack of a better term. The song is built upon some rather unnerving chords and backing string instruments complimented by emotive vocals from M Shadows and some great guitar licks from Synyster Gates. About four minutes in, however, it explodes into a muscular, thrashing stomper, culminating in one of my favourite buildups/payoffs in all of music. The final song of the album’s A-side is “Natural Born Killer.” As my friend (and fellow Vault writer) Jared put it “‘Natural Born Killer.’ All that needs to be said to a drummer to make them weep.” it’s a final, blistering track to end the album’s first half, before the somber, introspective B-side arrives.
Kicking off said B-side is “So Far Away.” I’m comfortable enough in my masculinity to admit that this song makes me misty-eyed every time I hear it. Though the whole album is considered to be a tribute to The Rev, “So Far Away” was the song written specifically for him. It’s a slow, gentle, and emotional track that acts as a tasteful and beautiful sendoff to someone the guys in the band had known since childhood. I’m not a fan of quoting lyrics in a review, but this album is packed with meaningful verses, so I’m more than happy to make an exception. The line “I loved you/you were ready” hits me in the gut every single time I hear it.
Following hot on the heels of “So Far Away” is “God Hates Us.” Back in 2003, Avenged Sevenfold put out the single best metalcore album ever recorded before they ditched the genre entirely. “God Hates Us” is the band’s heaviest track since Waking the Fallen, and when I say it goes hard, I mean it goes HARD. Starting off with atmospheric jangly chords, it erupts into a death metal-inspired rager, seething with virulent aggression and acidic fury. A corrosive attack on all things flawed in humanity, it’s the angriest song on the album by far, and one that left me shell-shocked the first time I heard it.
Interestingly enough, the band follow up a song called “God Hates Us” with a song called “Victim.” Considering the album’s circumstances, the implications are easy to guess. It’s a moving ballad, carried by M Shadows’ inimitable vocals, and to my great surprise, female backing gospel vocals. It’s a gloomy little number that somehow works in some great hooks, and managed to raise the hairs on my arms a couple times in its seven minute runtime. We’re then met with the apocalyptic “Tonight the World Dies.” M Shadows shows off some serious pipes on this song, while Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance prove they’re more than just first-class shredders by laying down some unsettling and atmospheric guitar lines. Johnny Christ’s bass is also a major player here, giving the song some real aggressive crunch underneath the sorrowful guitars.
Up next we have “Fiction.” This was The Rev’s final song before his death. Based on the nature of the lyrics, and the way in which he died, it’s speculated by some that The Rev’s death was a suicide. While it’s not my place to weigh in either way on such a subject, hearing the song in light of this theory is an evocative experience. The song can only be described as “ghostly.” It’s a ballad of lost souls, an audio haunting, it’s eerie, it’s deceptively beautiful, and hearing The Rev’s voice right after the song’s final intense swell is a cathartic and gut-wrenching moment.
Finally we arrive at “Save Me,” the album’s 10+ minute closer. This is my favourite song of all time. While “So Far Away” makes me misty-eyed, “Save Me” evokes powerful emotions in me that I have a much harder time describing. It’s a surreal-sounding journey, that has musical and emotional peaks and valleys, and at risk of sounding like a total tool, my heart soars when I hear this song. The mournful bells lend the song a sullen, yet innocently curious air, and adds to the already-dense atmosphere. While “Buried Alive” has one of my favourite buildups/payoffs, “Save Me” reigns supreme over them all. The way the song winds up to its cathartic and chillingly beautiful climax is amazing. The breathtaking moment where M Shadows’ vocals swell with the guitars as he mourns for his fallen friend and bandmate sends shivers down my spine.
I would be wrong not to point out one of the album’s subtlest, yet greatest strengths: The pacing. Side A is comprised of faster, heavier material, but in order to keep it from feeling like a straight division between the album’s more accessible, fun tunes and the somber emotional numbers, “Buried Alive” was placed on side-A to slow things down, and “God Hates Us” was placed on side-B to inject some raw fury into the proceedings. Nightmare is also the album where the band demonstrated their strength in applying detailing. Keyboard flourishes, bells, string instruments, backing vocals, layered vocals and guitar lines hidden in the mix all add to the album’s atmosphere and make for a compelling listen.
The album’s cover also suits the music to a tee. This album is the sound of the colour blue. So it would only make sense that the album’s cover is painted in many different and beautiful shades of blue. Though if you decide to spring for a physical copy, for whatever reason, the colours are MUCH richer and more vibrant on the CD version than they are on the vinyl edition. So if you want something to look at, I’d recommend that. On the CD version, you can also find the bonus track “Lost it All.” While it’s a heavy and headbangable track, putting anything after “Save Me” is an anticlimax, and as someone who listens to albums front-to-back, I’m glad it was relegated to just the CD and deluxe digital versions.
I get that many of you may not like Avenged Sevenfold, but I urge you to give Nightmare a shot with an open mind. It’s a beautiful record, and one that I hope some of you will come around to, and maybe even enjoy. The worst thing that could happen is you find another album to throw your money at. If you’ve made it this far in the article, I want to genuinely thank you for reading along about an album I feel so passionately for. It means a lot to me that I was given the space to write about it, even though this article has gone on for over 1,800 words. Since the album has been out since 2010, I feel as though it has stood up to the test of time, and meets every one of my criteria for a perfect album. As such, I award Nightmare my first (and likely only) A+ rating. And don’t worry, I’ll be back to reviewing black metal before you know it.
You can buy the album on CD in nearly all stores where music is sold, as well as Warner Brothers’ webstore. The vinyl edition can be found on Hopeless Records, digital copies are on all music streaming services other than Bandcamp, and if you’re lucky, you can find a copy of the gorgeous blue splatter vinyl on Discogs.