“Prodigal Son,” the lead single from Sevendust’s Chapter VII: Hope and Sorrow, is one of the finest
songs the band has ever recorded. It’s heavy, tight
and a features a Lajon Witherspoon vocal with oh so much soul.
Intentional or not, it is an emphatic statement that Sevendust
has switched gears from the rage-fueled Alpha (2007).
Take the two title tracks. “Hope” begins with
a plaintive piano that leads into a soft vocal by Witherspoon,
then a grand, dramatic chorus with a string accompaniment.
Alter Bridge’s Mark Tremonti tops it off with a searing
guitar solo backed by the machine gun drumming of Morgan Rose.
It is the single most ambitious song the band has attempted
and one of their greatest successes. Alter Bridge’s
Miles Kennedy lends vocals to “Sorrow,” a reflective,
mournful song with a powerful, swelling chorus.
Chapter VII marks the first time Sevendust has employed
guest musicians since 2001’s Animosity, which
is appropriate since a somewhat experimental nature also links
the two albums. The guest sure to raise the most eyebrows
is Chris Daughtry, the former American Idol contestant
who now fronts his own hugely successful eponymous band. He
appears on “The Past” and if his presence sends
a few more fans Sevendust’s way, I’m all for it.
Besides, the song still sounds like Sevendust and duets, whether
they featured outside collaborators or former guitarist/songwriter
Clint Lowery, were common for the band in the past.
As a whole, Chapter VII doesn’t match the
sheer heaviness of Alpha, but do not be discouraged:
When they crank up the volume, it still goes to 11. They’ve
just chosen to vary the volume more this time—more than
they ever have, actually—and the choruses are as big
and melodic as anything in their catalog. The opener, “Inside,”
and the closer, “Walk Away,” come at you with
a rapid-fire pace and have an almost industrial feel with
their mechanized precision. Then they give you hooks that
should inspire sing-alongs. On the other hand, “Contradiction’s”
shouted chorus recalls the fan favorite “Home.”
I wrote in my review of Alpha that it was Sevendust’s
most complete effort. A year later, it remains their most
ambitious, but the title of “most complete” passes
to Chapter VII. Alpha’s relentless
aggression fits its concept of a man losing his mind. Chapter
VII showcases all sides of this great band. More than
a decade into their career, Sevendust has reached a new peak.