The death of a loved one is a nightmare come to life. It’s something that can completely devastate you, leaving you feeling empty and forever changing life as you know it. While there is that overwhelming sadness, sometimes loss causes those left behind to do something special in their own lives. They find the strength to push forward and honor those who are no longer here.
For Avenged Sevenfold, they suffered a tragedy on December 28, 2009 when their drummer, Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan, died at the age of 28 from an accidental opioid overdose. The Rev had become widely known as one of the best drummers in the metal scene, and his death stunned the world. Avenged Sevenfold had become a household name at this point, thanks to the success of their albums City of Evil and the self-titled Avenged Sevenfold. They were becoming one of the biggest rock bands in the world and just as they were in the process of making a new album, Avenged Sevenfold lost one of their brothers.
Just when they were at their lowest, Avenged Sevenfold took a moment of tragedy and turned it not just into triumph, but an excellent tribute and farewell to their beloved drummer. Looking back at Nightmare 10 years later, it’s not only amazing that they managed to put together such a powerful album with a ton of heart, but that it still manages to be one of the best metal albums of the last decade.
Avenged Sevenfold – who consist of singer M. Shadows, lead guitarist Synyster Gates, rhythm guitarist Zacky Vengeance and bassist Johnny Christ – dropped Nightmare on July 27, 2009. Because they didn’t want to replace their friend on drums in the lead up to the album, Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater temporarily filled in and helped the band record the remainder of the album. While The Rev wasn’t able to complete his work on Nightmare his presence (and at times his voice) can be found throughout the album.
“Nightmare” kicks the album off on the perfect note. You have the signature gritty voice of M. Shadows, the dueling guitars of Gates and Vengeance, and Portnoy fits in well here on the drums. The album’s mission statement is delivered on the bridge, which is sandwiched between two shredding guitar solos. Shadows shouts over heavy, catchy riffs that will leave you banging your head along with the music. This moment goes on to set the tone of what’s to come on the rest of this metal epic.
“Welcome to the Family” keeps the energy up with its crunching guitars and Shadows whispering the vocals over heavy breakdowns. The band takes you to the frontlines of a battle on “Danger Line,” a track that does a nice job combining metal with moments of calm and quiet.
“Buried Alive” sounds like Metallica at their peak with the opening sounding like “The Unforgiven” except with a A7X twist before giving way to a fever pitch ending that rocks out like “Ride the Lightning.” Good luck not getting an adrenaline rush during the final minutes of this one.
On a record filled with standout tracks, the one that continues to stand out the most is “So Far Away.” This ballad serves as the ultimate tribute to The Rev and was written by Gates. The track is filled with powerful lyrics, especially as M. Shadows sings on the chorus “How do I live without the ones I love? / Time still turns the pages of the book it’s burned/ Place and time always on my mind / I have so much to say but you’re so far away.” Gates also delivers a guitar solo that leaves the listener feeling the loss the band was going through at the time.
“God Hates Us” punches the energy of the album back up after “So Far Away” allowed for the band to take a beat. “God Hates Us” has some of the catchiest riffs on the albums and features the signature sound Avenged is known for, with the thrashing guitar riffs and thundering drums. Following “God Hates Us,” the record lightens up in the second half and you get more tracks that pay homage to The Rev in the same light as “So Far Away.” On the Pink Floyd-esque “Victim” where Shadows sings of missing his friend and wishing he could trade everything to have saved the drummer on that horrible December night.
The Rev joins M. Shadows on lead vocals on the penultimate track “Fiction,” a song that’s absolutely haunting. The song was the last The Rev would ever write for the band, submitting it to the group just three days before his death. The Rev’s lyrics float over chilling keyboards throughout the song, and it comes to an end with the eerie line “I know you’ll find your own way when I’m not with you tonight.”
The record comes to a close with “Save Me,” a 10 minute and 56-second ender that perfectly sums up the tribute and ties the knot on what is truly a complete album from front to back. Portnoy’s drums light up the track in a way that would put a smile on The Rev’s face, especially with his booming double-bass pedal. The entire band gives the song their all, from M. Shadows whispered growls and harmonic vocals to the incredible guitar work from Gates and Vengeance. Nightmare and the song comes to a close with an outro featuring the lyrics “tonight we all die young,” as the band says their last goodbye to their friend. Nightmare went on to be a huge success and helped keep Avenged Sevenfold as one of the biggest acts in metal. While I personally don’t listen to music like Avenged Sevenfold as much as I used to, this album continues to be a part of my rotation. The band cultivated their pain into something beautiful. It’s a record that gave The Rev a proper send-off and one that would’ve made him proud. Nightmare is something anyone grieving can go to and feel a little better, even if it’s just for an hour and six minutes. For that, Nightmare will always be special.