We’ve already experienced the attempt of a label to cash in from a greatest hits compilation over a  band’s switching to another label (eg. back in 2011 when Between the Buried and Me signed to Metal Blade abandoning Victory Records). But what happens when the new label, and therefore the band, decides to move the album’s release date earlier? Almost a month before its initial announcing, “The Stage” (and not “Voltaic Oceans” as at first cited) dropped like a bomb by the heavy metal titans AVENGED SEVENFOLD (Α7Χ) yesterday, boycotting Warner Bros’s frivolous movement and delivering instant bliss to A7X fans all over the world.

With not much of any marketing preparation, and with a bizarre yet astonishing virtual reality gig on top of Capitol Records roof stage a day before the newly confirmed release date, A7X bring forth their most diverse album in their 17-year history. The self-titled opener track “The Stage” which was released as a video 2 weeks ago, sets a solid vibe for the whole record. Matt Shadows’s characteristic voice belt out a wake up anthemic call to humanity, telling that it’s our own performance on the stage for whoever is truly watching upon us (probably the grim reaper who seems to pull the strings and presses the button at the end of the video).

After this wild 8-minute course and with a flamenco ending that soothes the adrenaline rush, the flow loses no impetus with “Paradigm” and “Sunny Disposition” where the latter catch you quite unprepared when the brasses hit in. Indeed, unpredictability is a factor you take into consideration while listening to the album as it progresses. “God Damn” and “Creating God” tracks remind us the City of Evil era where the killing trio Synyster Gates, Zacky Vengeance and Johnny Christ flawlessly showcases band’s unique stringed talent insurgence, both on rhythmic and soloistic parts. Ex-Bad Religion drummer Brooks Wackerman is also an exceptional addition to the lineup, definitely not living in the shadows casted by Rev’s loss.

Almost halfway of the album and M Shadows is questioning “Mother, tell me was it all a lie? Show me where the angels die” in the balladesque track “Angels”. From now on, album seems to become less aggressive, but as I mentioned before unpredictable twists is just ahead in each of the following tracks such as “Simulation”, “Higher” and “Fermi Paradox”. Furthermore, “Roman Sky” and mainly “Exist” are accounted for the outros of this grandiose album. Especially for the 15-minute closer track “Exist” is arguably the longest and one of the most impressive songs A7X have ever written, where astrophysical nods (such as the guest spot from scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson) can transcend you to another dimension.

This 73 minutes long, seventh opus of the Californian outfit is a bold and ambitious endeavor, where venture and temporal transitions are adding towards a greater benefit and culminate tension compared to the predictable and simplistic predecessor “Hail to the King” album (which was hailed as a Metallica rip-off). Mesmeric, provocative, intoxicating, “The Stage”, came out early enough, to triumph the late 2016 as one of the best records of the year. A second listen is a must if you want to grasp the full potential of this masterpiece.