Going into Nightmare I felt that Avenged Sevenfold had something to prove. Their last full album was 2007's self-titled release and it was a big let down. It was not completely bereft of decent cuts but it did not live up to the promise of their breakout album City of Evil. Avenged Sevenfold felt like a rush job that was trying way too hard to be another City of Evil. Sure, the band had heavy expectations following the heights reached with City, I understand that. I also understand that their label was likely pressuring them to put out a similar sounding follow up. With all of that said, Nightmare is a big step forward for the group and they may just be moving on to the next level of their creative output.
Now don't get too far ahead. This is a step in the right direction but it is not going to change anyone's world and if you already don't care for them this is not likely to change that. This is, after all, still the same Avenged Sevenfold that you either love or hate. No sooner had they exploded back in 2005 that a backlash built up. The band had changed their style somewhat, most notably with M. Shadows abandoning of his screaming from their first two albums and there were many who did not really care for this. I am sure there was a good reason for the change, much like the change in David Draiman of Disturbed's vocal style. Still, many didn't like this while many did. This album is a natural progression for them in their post-City of Evil career.
Before getting any further there is a personnel change from their last album. Late year drummer The Rev passed away unexpectedly, leaving behind friends and loved ones and a band to pick up the pieces. The band has moved forward but have not yet found a replacement drummer. Sitting in on this album and on their initial tour in support of it is Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy, one of the best in the biz. He does an admirable job of filling for the late Rev, who was quite a good drummer in his own right. Portnoy has stepped in and it does not sound like they have missed a beat, he sounds perfectly at home with A7X, while bringing that distinct Portnoy style with him.