SEVENDUST represents in many ways a quintessential blue-collar heavy rock band: the group releases albums regularly, then goes and tours the shit out of them. No matter what one may think of the band's music, there's no question that SEVENDUST is one of the tightest, punchiest bands on the metal circuit, with the melodic range of vocalist Lajon Witherspoon also one of the group's secret weapons."Alpha", the band's sixth studio offering, is a solid slab of crunching power chords, thumping rhythms and the group's trademark call-and-response vocals between Witherspoon and drummer Morgan Rose. It's also their heaviest effort in several years, following the label-pressure tactics seen on 2003's "Seasons" and the lost-in-the-wilderness-and-trying-to-refocus feel of 2005's "Next". Opening track "Deathstar" is a killer, one of the most pounding and relentless tunes the band has ever written, and it's quickly followed by the manic energy of "Clueless". There's a palpable sense of anger throughout the record on songs like "Beg to Differ", propelled by the band's business experiences of the last two years as well as Rose's own personal suffering (he writes many of the lyrics) — expressing a range of emotions has never been a problem for this straight-shooting band. Guitarist John Connolly comes up with a consistent supply of chugging riffs, nimbly switching between fiery speed metal and slower, down-tuned rumbles. He's aided ably by Sonny Mayo, making his first full-fledged SEVENDUST album after joining during the recording of "Next". Yet "Alpha" never delivers a knockout punch — "Deathstar" almost makes it, but a number of the other songs, as good as some of the riffs and as listenable as Lajon's vocals are, tend to blur into each other. Part of the reason is that the group never strays from a standard songwriting formula very much, especially when it comes to the vocal tradeoffs between Witherspoon and Rose. While this is one of SEVENDUST's most distinctive features, it sounds virtually the same on every tune. The hook on "Driven", the album's first radio single, is interchangeable with a number of previous tracks by the group. "Under" is probably the catchiest tune on the album, deftly mixing a percussive bottom end with a fairly memorable chorus. Things get more progressive on the nine-minute "Burn" when the band mixes some electronic drums and atonal guitars with a more melodic than usual vocal from Witherspoon before transitioning to a haunting piano finale. Closer "Alpha" is almost straight thrash, also a relative departure for this mostly-midpaced act. Six albums in, the band seems unafraid of taking little experimental steps. There's also no doubt that SEVENDUST has the skill to mix some brutally heavy riffing with moments of musical beauty, and the group can sound powerful and heavy to all but the most diehard death metal goons. But if they lack anything, it's that one undeniable hook. The heaviest of metal and the gentlest of ballads all need that.
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