Nightmare (Warner Bros.)
Man for man, Orange County's Avenged Sevenfold is arguably the most talented band in metal today, and surely no other working outfit has each member play such an integral role in its sound. So it was with no little trepidation that surviving members set out to replace founding drummer James "The Rev" Sullivan after his tragic death by drug overdose last year. Besides driving the band rhythmically with his distinctive and virtuosic percussion, Sullivan wrote songs, sang back-up, and played piano. Enter Dream Theater skinsman Mike Portnoy, one of Sullivan's influences growing up. And while he's apparently not a pianist, and Sullivan had already written songs that appear on this latest record, Portnoy at least does a bang-up job of subbing for the Rev's nearly inimitable style, chiefly by beating the covers off his double bass and filling the scant spaces in between with tom and cymbal antics.
But even in a band where responsibility seems so democratically apportioned, there's still an alpha presence, and in Avenged Sevenfold, that presence is M. Shadows, the muscular frontman whose singular talent for nonstop, adhesive vocal melodies defines the band more than any other element. Shadows is in fine form here, on a rockers like the title track and ballads like "Danger Line" or "Fiction."
The only quibble about Nightmare is that this is the first of the band's five albums that doesn't really break any new ground; it comes off more like City of Evil, Part II. But given the scope and ambition of that record, the band's third and best to date, that really isn't such a bad thing at all.