I should start out by admitting that I've never been a huge SEVENDUST fan. I don't outwardly abhor the band and have even caught myself enjoying their energy-fueled live set (which hits much harder than any of their albums ever have) on an occasion or two. The one thing I will say about the Atlanta-based rockers is that, after 11 years of industry ups and downs, the band has never once strayed from their own path in lieu of changing trends. The LINKIN PARK's, GODSMACK's and LIMP BIZKIT's of the world have come and gone, and come back again in some cases, but SEVENDUST has stubbornly continued to play the same hook-laden heavy rock that brought them to the dance in the first place.With all that being said, there is one downfall to the group's steadfastness and that is, after seven albums, the wheels are beginning to spin a little bit. "Chapter VII: Hope And Sorrow" follows that same, custom-tailored for FM rock radio formula that the masses gobble up like candy on Halloween. To completely bash the band for this would be a bit unfair, as they have managed to put together another album's worth of solid tunes that can simultaneously catch the ear and bang the head. A semi-industrial intro almost leads one to believe that opening track "Inside" is going to offer a new level of heaviness where SEVENDUST is concerned, but ultimately, the output is conservative at best. After a few bars of snarled, F-bomb-filled verse, vocalist Lajon Witherspoon plays it safe and goes straight to the soulfully crooned chorus that he's become famous for. Breaking out of their own box a little bit, "Hope" (featuring ALTER BRIDGE's Mark Tremonti) starts out with a mournful piano that slides into a slightly creepy verse section that sees the musicians subtly playing off one another before climaxing with thickly-layered heavy guitars. While this could be the most refreshing song I can remember hearing on a SEVENDUST disc, its counterpart, "Sorrow", is a solid, yet standard rocker which sees Miles Kennedy, also of ALTER BRIDGE fame, make an appearance. Speaking of guest appearances, former "American Idol" alum, Chris Daughtry lends a rather sappy vocal track to the obligatory acoustic ballad, "The Past". Songs like "Scapegoat" and "Walk Away" are prime examples of why SEVENDUST is still a viable band today, while lead single "Prodigal Son" misses the boat; thanks in part to the extra helping of cheese slapped on the song's lyrics ("I'm coming on like an elephant gun??" C'mon dude, you can do better than that). Compared to the rest of their discography, "Chapter VII: Hope And Sorrow" probably won't be remembered as either the band's best, nor its worst output. There are several above average moments here, but none that really jump out of the speakers with enough vigor to floor the listener. What it does do is prove that SEVENDUST haven't gone anywhere and don't intend to anytime soon; for better or worse.
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