It's been 21 years since we first saw that hazy spliff glob in our faces, and with it, the arrival of SEVENDUST—the band once labeled nu-metal, then alt metal then melodic agro rock. At this point, whatevs. Now, it is hardly the same band that extolled the raucous "Black", "Bitch" and "Too Close to Hate". Playing the band's self-titled debut in comparison to its more recent albums, the former's sheer heaviness sounds foreign. Lack of dynamics being that slab's only fault, no one can accuse SEVENDUST of that any longer. If anything, SEVENDUST has flaunted its alleviated agro-soul digs to full design.
Lajon Witherspoon could wear the title "Mr. Dynamic" across the back of an XFL player's jersey if he wanted. To be frank, though, SEVENDUST's albums have recently fallen into a stuck mojo, and on the band's twelfth, "All I See is War", that edict remains the same—for part of the ride. Coming to the table with 60 songs, a new recording label, Rise Records, and producer, Michael "Elvis" Baskette, SEVENDUST caters to its well-fortified audience while turning an ear-pleasing dime in the second half. This means softening things up considerably until the funky, chord-bombed finale, "The Truth", but in this case, that's not a bad thing. It's fricking refreshing.
The opening number and the album's first single, "Dirty", is one of SEVENDUST's customary proto punchers, and it will grab the group's flock immediately. Lajon Witherspoon's elegance glistens above the hammering riffs and the (frankly annoying) screaming behind him. Clint Lowery's guitar solo is another highlight. The stitching riffs of "God Bites His Tongue" are ho-hum and impede the message of lost morality that Witherspoon tries to imbue with his usual grace. Even the breakdown here sounds as tired as the song itself, which is shame, since Lajon gives it his best rescue operation. You know "Medicated"'s chord patterns like the knee hole in your jeans, so the only option is to glue onto Lajon and his burnished backup section.
"Unforgiven" and "Cheers" are equally monotonous and "Sickness" can't help but play into the band's overdone tropes despite showing the album's first signs of inspiration. "Sickness" is smartly written and delivered with actual passion, serving as a linchpin for "All I See Is War"'s wooly cause. "Risen" is the heaviest cut of the album, and SEVENDUST finally summons the most strength from its massive riffs, inevitably, however, dawdling along the choruses. Still, the vocals are so encapsulating you gravitate to them robotically.
Depending on what you want from SEVENDUST at this point in the group's career, "Moments" is either going to alarm you or you're going to cheer the band for trying out new methods. The whisking piano gives Morgan Rose a tempo to glide behind, and while the chords bruise at times, "Moments" exhales beautifully and not just from the vocals. The synths glossing over the introspective ballad "Not Original" aren't so much the story as is Lajon Witherspoon, who bears even more flowery weapons from his soul-kissed arsenal. Lithe and melancholic, Witherspoon is as sensational as the frolicking guitar lines around him. In a better music sales market, "Not Original" has the right stuff of a major hit.
While some may argue the second half of "All I See Is War" is weaker in terms of volume, songs like "Not Original", "Descend" and "Life Deceives You" are actually stronger, because of how fresh they are. Without understatement, the vivacity Lajon Witherspoon adorns these songs with compliments the overt shakeup to the album.
Not to say that SEVENDUST should abandon its heavier tones—save for maybe dispensing with the bothersome background shrieks on songs that stand strong without such mistimed melodrama—but this is a band with a strange and delicate destiny on its horizon. The songwriting on "All I See Is War" is conflicted within, but SEVENDUST's sense of escapade saves it from outright banality.