It's been nearly three years since alt-metal superstars Sevendust rolled out their critically praised best-selling record Cold Day Memory, which also represented the return of founding guitarist Clint Lowery (who had left the band back in 2004 to form Dark New Day with his brother Corey). The success of that album – and the interim period in which many of the band members pursued side projects – created pretty high expectations for a follow-up, which arrived with their ninth studio release Black Out the Sun. While the tone of the material on this album is a bit darker and more ominous, it's still every bit as much a Sevendust project; a few elements here began life in another form during Cold Day Memory's songwriting sessions, but as a whole the tense, urgent vibe here falls more in line with their groundbreaking 2001 release Animosity. That's one of my personal faves, so it's only natural I found myself digging this record as well.
The pensive acoustic intro track "Memory" seems to serve as a thematic linkage to the previous album before the fires crank up in "Faithless,” establishing the signature sound which helped solidify the so-called “nu metal” genre (I always hated that term) in the late '90s. Unlike their contemporaries like Korn and Limp Bizkit, Sevendust maintained a more passionate vibe, thanks to the balance of dense layers of drop-tuned riffs stacked a mile high with the intense melodic vocals of frontman/lyricist Lajon Witherspoon soaring over the top. All of those elements are in play here, making this an ideal kickoff point. Some other genres are folded into that mixture, like the thrash/hardcore motifs of "Till Death" (awesome breakdown in that one), but the band mainly sticks to what they do best, as in "Mountain," which lays down a fat, chugging riff but allows Lowery and fellow guitarist John Connolly enough pace to trade off impressive leads in the bridge. Rocking power chords elevate "Cold as War,” giving a ballad feel to Witherspoon's more pop-flavored vocals, and the title track's coarse, edgy chords and harmonics frame some outstanding multi-tracked vocal work... plus the reverb-soaked guitar solos are truly epic.
The album's darker tones come through in the second half, beginning with the alternating time signatures and harsh/clean vocals of "Nobody Wants It” (one of the album's scary standouts), and an air of tension and mystery permeates "Dead Roses,” aided by a distorted piano and thick, fuzzy guitar washes. Ambient effects, Middle Eastern harmonies and creeping riffs make "Decay" another strong repeater (accentuated by gothic horror overtones in the video below), and the riffs go even deeper and creepier in the well-titled "Dark AM,” which separates verse and chorus with a lurching rhythm that stops and starts unpredictably. The record's meanest, dirtiest riff is counterbalanced by its most uplifting chorus, elevating "Picture Perfect” to dizzying heights. After all this darkness, the acoustic ballad "Got a Feeling" could have ended up maudlin in the wrong hands; here, it's a slow-burner that climbs naturally from pensive to ecstatic. But we're back in the shadows again for the intense, industrial-tinged "Murder Bar," which ends the album on a note of spooky uncertainty.
If you're a Sevendust fan, Black Out the Sun will definitely brighten your day. It's a relatively fat-free distillation of everything the band does best, and while it may feel a bit less epic than Cold Day Memory, it's still a muscular, ass-kicking effort for the band, with a warm, human core that doesn't diminish its ballsy attack in the slightest. Want a taste? Here's the creepy video for “Decay”...