2020 has been a year of surprises not only in the news, but also in metal. Avenged Sevenfold is no stranger to surprising their Deathbat zealots, whether it was “Carry On” for Call of Duty, or the nightmarish acid trip single “Mad Hatter”. Even the legendary rotation of drummers like Mike Portnoy and current stickman Brooks Wackerman have kept fans loyally engrossed.
When they released Diamonds in the Rough for the first time digitally on the back of their homecoming concert Live in the LBC from 2008, it was a stunning blast beat from the past. The nostalgic release is a hard-hitting collection of rarities, covers, and B-sides from their self-titled endeavor. What is most important to note is this is a time capsule for all of us who missed hearing The Rev behind the kit.
Right off the bat (wink wink), “Demons” attacks with a double-bass flurry from Jimmy and intertwines playful guitar passages in the chorus reminiscent of creatures crawling on your skin. M Shadows demonstrates immediately how controlled he can be with dynamics.
A7X described the 2008 era as “experimental”. As you listen to Diamonds in the Rough, you realize they more lean into their influences that propelled the sound for which they are known. They indelibly cover Iron Maiden’s “Flash of the Blade,” Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” and Pantera’s “Walk”–an almost meta nod to Pantera saluting Sabbath and others in “Goddamn Electric”. In fact, the whole album is a meta-experience. They offer an alternate version of “Afterlife,” arguably their most powerful contribution to metalcore. It has some subtly different guitar and violin flourishes, but luckily does not subtract from the hair-raising chorus.
The first half of the album houses more B-sides and original tracks. “Until the End” is an astounding ballad meant for arenas and drives home a philosophy that describes this album: “Don’t change the way you think of me. We’re from the same story.”
“Tension” is the fulcrum of their experimentation and power before they switch into outtakes and other covers. “Tension” is the best track on Diamonds. It incorporates operatic piano fireworks doubled with remarkably tight double bass. M Shadows’ melody is haunting and only a buildup to the climax of one of their best choruses. It is also an incredible exercise of rhythm and aggression by Gates and Vengeance.
The de-facto second half begins with “The Fight”, which fails to impress lyrically. It is grasping at straws with passages such as “this goddamn place is lazy, old and tired/All your ideas are uninspired”. Funny enough, that is an uninspired cliché for a veteran metalcore band capable of emotion-inducing poetry. However, the song is offset by the laser-focused, proggy guitar harmonies of Synyster Gates and Co.
“Dancing Dead” is another example of filler for them but has a surprising breakdown in the middle of the song. Hello, Waking the Fallen.
The back half of Diamonds is loaded with the alternate tracks “Afterlife” and “Almost Easy”, never before heard session tracks like “Set Me Free” from Hail to the King, and is excellently ended with “Paranoid” and the band does the song justice, especially with the phaser-laden vocals of M.
The phrase “diamond in the rough” means “something or someone who shines despite being among dark circumstances”. Diamonds in the Rough truly shimmers in many ways. Most songs should have been on other albums, but the fact they were not makes this collection enjoyable, compelling and an overall win for Avenged Sevenfold. It is a cohesive effort and well worth the listen.