Alternative nu metal pioneers Sevendust have been kicking ass for more than a decade. When their now classic debut self-titled album came out in 1997, they won the respect of audiences and peers everywhere they toured. The short golden age of nu metal was in full force (which I date from 1996-1999). Staind, Limp Bizkit, and other bands they toured with in 1998 and at Ozzfest were as raw and hungry for success and respectability in the metal world as they were.
Ten years later, after many of those so-called "metal" bands either mellowed out or faded away, Sevendust is still going strong. All but one of the musicians are original members; veteran axe man Sonny Mayo (ex-Snot, Amen) replaced Clint Lowery a few years ago, who left to join his brother Corey Lowery (ex-Stuck Mojo, Stereomud) in hard rock band Dark New Day.
Sevendust has also switched labels in recent years and formed their own (7Bros) as a way to retain some rights and rewards for their own work. The band had their first four CDs and a live acoustic album released through TVT Records, their fifth album Next released on Winedark Records, and their sixth record Alpha distributed by current label Asylum Records in early 2007. And so this past December, just two years after the release of Sevendust's first retrospective — their last release for TVT — entitled Best Of (Chapter One 1997-2004), Asylum/7Bros quietly released another best of as a CD/DVD combo curiously entitled Retrospective 2.
While the first greatest hits CD had a few song choices Sevendust fans may quarrel with, its sixteen tracks did a good but not truly satisfying job of representing the band's best work through four albums. Retrospective 2 is also average, but it isn't much of a true "retrospective," at least on the audio disc, as its mere nine and mostly live tracks include only two from the Next disc and four from last year's hyper-aggressive Alpha album.
The other three are considered new studio tunes, but only two of them are truly new — "The Rim" was previously only available on international orders of Alpha from the Target store. They have the typical meaty and melodic riffs you'd expect from Sevendust, but despite the vulgar lyrics of "The Rim" and the personal lyrics of "Losing You," only "Sleeper" stands out from this new batch, mostly for its rather strange song structure. The change from slow, melodic verses and refrains to machine gun fast riffs throughout the song is sudden, memorable, and of course, intense.
Elsewhere, the live version of "Alpha," found on both the CD and DVD, catches the band at its heaviest and most hardcore since their early records. Drummer/backup vocalist Morgan Rose's performance stands out, especially his sustained screams, which are in tune with the music whenever he wants them to be. Those loud lungs, and even more so his pummeling drumming style are among the reasons Rose is one of the best all around drummers in hard rock. And with his "Pete the A&R Guy" pranks as seen on this DVD and on the bonus DVD from 2003's Seasons album, he's apparently a good actor too!
Not to be outdone however, is Lajon Witherspoon, still one of the best black singers in heavy music since Doug Pinnick of King's X. No disrespect to the other members of the band who are gifted musicians in their own right, but there's a good reason why video director Ian Barrett (of WAAF radio fame) has the camera focused on Witherspoon and Rose more often than the other three members during the DVD's live footage.
As a group of five songwriting musicians, the band still cranks out the heavy rock that only they can make. But they haven’t written many instant classics in recent years that are in the vein of early hits like "Black" and "Bitch." And aside from an acoustic album from a few years back, and a few mellow tunes, including “Angel’s Son,” the band hasn’t expanded their sound all that much and is suffering a bit from sameness. On eight of the nine songs on the audio disc, the guitarists (Mayo and John Connolly) and bass player (Vince Hornsby) have their lowest string tuned down to B from E (which makes for their super heavy sound). The excellent and comparatively lighter tune “Beg To Differ” is the lone exception. Mixing up the tunings a little more (like they used to) or being a bit more creative with them could solve this “sameness” issue easily.
So what does this all mean for the quality of this release? The answer is that Retrospective 2 is mostly good for the hardcore Sevendust fan who has to have everything they release and for curious fans who want a taste of how intense their live performances are — all of which were taped last year. The band is truly at their best live, and both discs stress that point. In addition, if you’re like me, you’ll want this release as a way of catching up on the band’s recent history and as a decent holdover until the band’s next and seventh studio album Hope & Sorrow is released this Spring.
Where the audio portion is lacking in tunes, the DVD makes up for this error with rare and highly amusing band interactions and live videos. Fans will definitely dig the Q&A session Sevendust taped at a House of Blues joint in Florida in March 2007, as well as an actual conceptual video for the song “Ugly” and Morgan Rose’s aforementioned hilarious “Pete the A&R Guy” prank. This is not one of those must-have releases, but it definitely passes for what else is out there these days in the world of heavy metal. Longtime Sevendust fans will likely dig a good chunk of it, but miss the old stuff as well.
Please visit Sevendust’s myspace page to listen to a new song from the band's forthcoming new album.