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When Sevendust entered Tree Sound Studio in Atlanta to write their seventh studio album, Sevendust VII: Hope and Sorrow, they had no real idea what they wanted. They just knew what they didn't want. In the past, the group had gone in with a clear objective and spent their time putting methodically together the pieces to achieve their goal. This time, they chose to be guided by the element of surprise -- to collectively and spontaneously go with whatever they were feeling at the moment and eventually wind up at a common destination.
'No only were we on different pages, I think we were in different books when we first started out," says guitarist John Connolly, then laughs. "We were all coming from different musical perspectives and everything was a big question mark. We didn't know what the record would sound like until we were almost finished with it, and I think it turned out to be a much better record for that reason."
There's no question that Sevendust VII: Hope and Sorrow is one of the band's strongest and most musically diverse albums to date. Sevendust have always explored various shades of darkness and light, but on the new disc they delve into a new spectrum of vivid colors. "Inside" is mechanized and furious, incorporating industrial samples into framework of chugging guitars, slamming beats and scathing vocals before taking flight with one of vocalist Lajon Witherspoon's signature choruses. "Hope" intertwines melancholy piano, sparse, repeating guitar swells, heart-rending strings, and soul-searing vocals between volleys of scream-infested animosity. And "Prodigal Son" is a gorgeous string-laden blend of atmosphere and melody that's custom-made for rock radio, but unlike anything else on the air.
"I feel that Hope and Sorrow honestly paints a picture of a band that has evolved and is not afraid to explore different types of music within their own sound," says Witherspoon. "We've done heavy music and nailed it, but honestly I think this time we really decided that it's okay to go outside the norm and take chances and do different things."
While Sevendust's 2007 album Alpha received unanimously positive reviews and the tours that followed, were successful as always, by mid-year the band was itching to start working on the new material. So, they holed up in Connolly's home studio and came up with a wide assortment of riffs and melodies, which they assembled into complete songs, each band member working diligently to mold their variegated structures into a unified and cohesive vision.
"It was very exciting to work that way," Connolly says. "With a lot of songs, we'd sit there and go, 'oooh, it's not the strongest in the bunch.' And then all of a sudden we'd get all the pieces in the puzzle and finish it up and everyone would say, 'Wow, that's our favorite song on the record.' And that happened three or four times in a row. It was just a great record to make because we didn't put any boundaries on us. It just came."
After a few months or experimenting with arrangement and composition, Sevendust entered Tree Sound Studios in their hometown of Atlanta, and started recording. They tracked much of the material over the next six weeks, then they headed back out on the road before returning to complete the album. "It was a good way for us to work," drummer Morgan Rose says. "We were able to get away from the record for a little while, then periodically revisit it while we were on the road, and let other people hear a little bit of what we had done and then go back in the studio to get back to business."
Sevendust chose the name Hope and Sorrow for a couple reasons. First, two of their favorite tracks on the record were "Hope" and "Sorrow," but, perhaps more importantly, the title summed up the seemingly contradictory emotional approaches of the songs.
"That's what this band has definitely been through its whole career," Witherspoon explains. "There's been a lot of promise and a lot of loss, but at the end of it all we're still together. It's about all the ups and downs we've been through as a band, and us still being able to stick together and have this beautiful, magical energy that has been created, not only by the band, but by the people that have grown up with us along the way."
Lyrically, Hope and Sorrow addresses pain, confusion, shame, isolation, redemption and joy. While Alpha was a cathartic scream of rage and despair, the new record is far more reflective, contemplative and ultimately optimistic. "Prodigal Son" tells the New Testament parable about the man who loses his way then returns home to make amends, "Scapegoat" addresses guilt by association and "Inside" is about learning from mistakes. "It's really about me telling someone else that they should learn from my mistakes or they're going to end up following in my footsteps and dealing with the repercussions I had to deal with," Rose says. "In the end, it's about being accountable for your actions."
Sevendust had more fun creating Hope and Sorrow than they've had in years. Not only did they enjoy feeding off each other's ideas and writing whatever they felt inspired by without anyone looking over their shoulders, they had the luxury of working on their own schedule. And they, had a couple special guests that made the process even more rewarding. The most unlikely collaboration came from former American Idol star and Grammy-nominated hitmaker Chris Daughtry, who leant vocals to "Beneath the Water."
"He's an enormous fan of our band and we never knew it," Connolly says. "We did a radio show in Fort Myers, Florida, and we look outside the bus and I go, 'Who's that guy with the shades on standing outside the front door?' And sure enough it was Chris Daughtry waiting for one of us to come off the bus so he could meet us. He's the nicest guy in the world and we basically became friends with him that day. So, then he was in Atlanta on a break and they had an opportunity to get in the studio for four or five hours and that was it."
Also joining Sevendust on Hope and Sorrow were Alter Bridge singer Myles Kennedy and guitarist Mark Tremonti (ex-Creed) "We've known Tremonti since the Creed days," Witherspoon says. "We toured together and we're still really good friends. Unfortunately, they couldn't come to Atlanta, so we sent the track "Sorrow" down to Myles in Spokane, [Washington], and, man, he sent it back to us with this beautiful part he laid down that was almost like Jeff Buckley. And Mark put the solo down on "Inside," and it just sounds like he kicked somebody's door down and started ripping up shit with his guitar."
"It was cool because we told those guys to do whatever they felt inspired by," adds Connolly. "And then those tracks came in it was like having a brand new perspective on those songs."
More than a decade has passed from the moment Sevendust first got together under the name Crawlspace and bonded on their mutual love for heavy music and strong melodies. Three gold records, countless tour dates and seven albums later, the band has funneled all of its collective experience and musical acumen into Sevendust VII: Hope and Sorrow. From the surging guitars and stomping beats of "Enough" to the "haunting strumming and harrowing howls of "Lifeless," from the staggered riff and marching beat of "Fear" to the yearning vocals and euphoric guitar chords of "Walk Away," Sevendust have created a record that's difficult to categorize and impossible to ignore.
It's one thing to be prolific. It's another thing to not only kick maximum ass with every album, but constantly challenge yourself and your audience in the process. In a modern rock landscape littered with lowest common denominator dreck, Nonpoint have risen above the pack with grace and thunder time and time again. And the seventh time's yet another charm for the Fort Lauderdale outfit, as latest full-length Miracle fuses searing hard rock brutality with disarming honesty and introspection.
Together since 1997, Nonpoint still boast three of their four original members: frontman Elias Soriano, bassist Ken 'BASTARD' MacMillan and drummer Robb Rivera. Axeman Zach Broderick makes an auspicious debut on Miracle, dropping ferocious leads at will to offset hammering rhythms and complement Soriano's distinctive narrative voice. (Quips the frontman, "We've been doing this for 10 years, so Zach joining the band was like that new pair of running shoes: they're nice and they're comfortable and they make you feel like you can run a mile longer than you used to be able to.") Most critically, the quartet enlisted longtime Mudvayne pals Chad Gray and Greg Tribbett to produce. Gray appears in the rollicking call-and-response showdown of the title track (the more-than-worthy first single), which recalls the intense propulsion of previous Nonpoint hits "Bullet With a Name" and "Rabia." Not only that, but he inspired Soriano to take album centerpiece "Frontlines"—an originally metaphoric slow-burner anchored by the refrain "on the frontlines, fighting for my life"—to an inspiring new level.
According to Soriano, "Chad said, 'You have family in the military—we all have friends and family in the military. I see these guys out there struggling and they don't get a lot of help when they come back home.' He painted this picture, then said 'Do you think you might wanna define it even more towards being an appreciative song for those soldiers who are dying for us every day?' and I thought, 'Absolutely.' It's the most evolved Nonpoint song we've ever written—some of the softest parts of my voice to the most aggressive parts, and some of the most intricate guitar lines to some of the simplest. And then the message puts the nail in the coffin."
From revelatory acoustic EP predecessor Cut the Cord to deluges of explosive new material and rousing covers of Pantera, Black Sabbath and Phil Collins—"In the Air Tonight" was a breakout hit from Michael Mann's Miami Vice—Nonpoint always seem to be a step ahead of the competition. The only bummer is that "Iron" Mike Tyson sorta reclaimed the latter with his memorable a cappella rendition in The Hangover. For his part, Soriano is magnanimous about the champ's version.
"I felt like 'Iron' was feeling it more than I was," he deadpans. "I never made anybody shut up for the drum fill part. Yeah… I'm gonna throw the baton over to Mike. I mean, come on—you know you feel it when you love it so much it causes you to perform acts of violence."