Avenged Sevenfold has built a hugely successful career on a willingness to change its sound to suit whoever might be listening. Over the course of five studio albums, it’s tossed death-metal howling, metalcore vamping, emo/glam posturing, and whatever else moved units at Hot Topic into its sonic mix. The end result is a band that’s gone from one plateau to another without ever developing a coherent sound. Still, the group’s fans are an enthusiastic lot, and they had every reason to worry whether Nightmare would ever happen. The band’s drummer, Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan, died late last year from a pill overdose, and there was legitimate concern that the band would call it quits after such a devastating blow. But Avenged Sevenfold soldiered on, with Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy stepping behind the kit to deliver an eerily Rev-like performance—which, depending on your perspective, is either a fitting tribute or a missed opportunity to evolve. Once again, the Avenged Sevenfold that appears here bears only a passing resemblance to the Avenged Sevenfold of previous albums, apart from its eagerness to be all things to all people, only to wind up being very little to anyone.
Nightmare starts out strong enough; the title track is a genuinely heavy effort with a throwback thrash sound that might fool listeners into thinking the group has decided to go metal again. But it quickly sinks into what passes for a new development: the presence of heavy goth elements, both in M. Shadows’ low, soft vocals and in the way Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance drop their usual note-heavy riffing into a minor key at every opportunity. At least the band has a reason to feel sorry for itself this time around, but it comes across as peevish instead of moody on “Welcome To The Family” and the atrocious “Fiction.” Female vocals on “Victim” add nothing, and while A7X wanders back to incoherent hardness enough to keep things lively, it’s still a mess. The irritatingly hooky “Nightmare” is already rocketing up the charts, so it’s unlikely the band’s fans will care, but Avenged Sevenfold continues to sound like five different bands on every album, none of them particularly good.