SEVENDUST is one of those rare bands that generally gets a pass from the metal community no matter how much they've veered towards AOR. Part of it is because the band's riffs are historically tighter than a double stitch and thicker than a lug nut. Part of it's because Lajon Witherspoon is the definition of a front man. He's a cool customer, the official voice of his band which would have no choice but to dismantle without him. The biggest reason SEVENDUST gets away with being a melodic-agro troupe is that FM radio won't touch them despite constructing accessible hard rock jams that far outclass your everyday HINDER, SKILLET or THREE DAYS GRACE amp-pop ditty.
If commercial rock played by fairer rules, is there truly any reason SEVENDUST couldn't bust the charts to pieces with "Mountain" or "Cold as War" from their ninth album, "Black Out the Sun"? SEVENDUST may not be the same band of the late Nineties that drove home some gargantuan chords as part of the dawn of an American metal revival, but they still chug and pummel for all of their blatant strides towards the mainstream. Perhaps the powers that be still see the silhouetted dope smoking on the self-titled SEVENDUST album and recall the unchained fury of "Black" and "Bitch" to give them a fair shake. Or maybe the problem cuts deeper than that and there's no need to embellish further other than to note Django's had his day now. Point-counterpoint.
While "Black Out the Sun" continues to fetch one harmonious hook after another, SEVENDUST does what they do better than most of their ilk, which is to keep a bottom-end heaviness and a soulful top deck amidst their straightforward songwriting themes. "Decay" is nearly offsetting with its crunch 'n munch drive that all but spits upon the rest of "Black Out the Sun"'s tunefulness. Yet hearing Lajon Witherspoon dip just enough into his deeper, scratchy octaves to match the song's plunging low key shows a continued confidence in this band to try and stay a little true despite their patent pop rock collecting.
Those who didn't abandon SEVENDUST after the 1997 self-titled debut and "Home" know what to expect with "Black Out the Sun". While those who prefer a heavier hand than what SEVENDUST's been offering lately, at least "Black Out the Sun" rings pro with snapcase hooks and addictive swirls on the mike by Witherspoon. The gritty, static-charged riffs on "Picture Perfect" and "Dark AM" harken the old days, even when the songs inevitably sway into proto love jams on the choruses. Meanwhile, "Faithless" might be the meatiest song SEVENDUST's laid down in a while despite an extensive thread of serenity lacing along before the band punches the track home in a scream-filled finale. "Till Death" subsequently charges out with faux thrash threads on the verses that sound too clean to generate the right pulse, albeit fans are going to rave over Lajon's fluid exchange between woofs and soars.
Otherwise, "Black Out the Sun" is a status quo affair with melodious sing-alongs such as "Nobody Wants It", "Dead Roses", "Cold as War", "Mountain" and the moody, mostly-acoustic ballad, "Got a Feeling". Hitting no new heights or altered gaits, SEVENDUST simply dials in on "Black Out the Sun" and gives their latter-day fans what they want. Without Lajon Witherspoon's charismatic buoyancy lending SEVENDUST its appeal, this would indeed be just another contemporary AOR album, take it or leave it.