There's something almost intangible about a band with strong chemistry. When the guitarists vibe off each other just right, the bassist is lock in step with the drummer, the music almost transcends the musicians. And when the vocalist is feeding off the power of the other players, almost anything is possible. It's something Sevendust learned early in their career when guitarist Clint Lowery joined forces with the eclectic Atlanta group.
"I knew once I got him in there that he could definitely change the band fully," says drummer Morgan Rose. "His background vocals and his writing style and guitar playing were the final ingredients for us to become the band that we needed to be."
With Lowery as a major contributor, Sevendust released four albums that stretched the limits of hard rock and metal, combining elements of thrash, classic metal, southern rock and soul into songs that were both sinfully tuneful and ruthlessly aggressive. Then in 2003, after the release of Seasons, the guitarist quit to focus on his other band Dark New Day. Sevendust continued for three more albums, and enjoyed considerable success, but something was clearly missing. So, when the band reunited with Lowery in early 2008, it was like the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle was finally reinserted and the picture was again complete.
"It was really cool having Clint back in the band," vocalist Lajon Witherspoon says. "That energy was great and it was really exciting to be able to work together to really hone in on what we had before and make it even better."
The band's new record, Cold Day Memory, capitalizes on all of Sevendust's chemistry and potential. While the band's last few efforts were mainly heavy and rhythmic, the new songs balance brutality with textural passages and infectious counter-melodies. There are even fleet-fingered guitar solos. But whether confronting the listener with double-bass drums and staccato power chords or using melodic arpeggios and soft brush strokes to sweeten the sound of Witherspoon's multi-faceted vocals, Sevendust sound excited, energized and ready to take on the world.
"We wanted to change the template completely from what we did with our last album Hope and Sorrow, Rose explains. "We were going, ‘Let's bring back those other elements Clint brought in that made us what we were. So we sort of made a silent agreement that we were going to let Clint run wild. We said we'll jump in when it's time, but if you've got an idea let's go with it."
"I just wanted us to do what we do best," Lowery says. "We have a lot of melody that's a cool contrast to the heavy music that we play. So, you'll have a melodic chorus that comes out of nowhere, but we still have aggressive vocals there. And I did a lot with the harmonies, but I also did a lot of the heavy vocal stuff as well. So it was a challenge for me to really dig in and find a voice that was aggressive enough to where it sounded sincere enough to put on the record. We're a very heavy, but melodic band and I wanted to maintain that."
Throughout, Cold Day Memory is inventive, immediate and infectious. "Unraveling," the first single is vintage Dust, a dynamic radio rocker that combines Witherspoon's pained, melodic vocals with angry bursts of distorted guitar, peaking with a chorus made for driving with the pedal to the floor. "Splinter," which opens with galactic sound effects, showcases the band's heavier side with an opening guitar line reminiscent of Iron Maiden and a chugging riff that feeds into surging verse that bristles with animosity. Yet no matter how loud it gets, Witherspoon's acrobatic vocals - which see-saw from an enraged howl to a vibrato-laden croon - keeps the song from flying off the rails. Other tunes are more experimental. "Karma" features jazzy, twanging guitars, a tumbling tribal beat, chiming guitar harmonics and vocals that build from a whisper to a scream. And "The End is Coming" incorporates electronic effects and string samples into an apocalyptic, harmony-laden amalgam of doom and dreams.
While Cold Day Memory is easily Sevendust's most accomplished release in at least seven years, it wasn't an easy album to create, especially for Lowery, who went above and beyond to prove himself. "I was second-guessing the hell out of myself and driving everyone else in the band crazy," he says. "I was questioning whether everything I did was good enough. So, it was the hardest record for me because I was putting a lot of pressure on myself."
Sevendust started working on Cold Day Memory at Room 56, their practice space in Atlanta in May 2009. With the help of Lowery's brother Corey (Stereomud Dark New Day) who engineered and produced, Sevendust wrote a batch of high quality demos, including one, from which they procured the title of the album.
"It's kind of funny because we were writing a song and I couldn't come up with lyrics for the chorus," says Lowery. "So I just threw in a bunch of words that sounded cool, and one of the phrases was ‘Cold Day Memory.' We didn't end up using the lyric, but when I came up with it I thought, ‘That sounds like a cool title for a record.' So I put that back in my mental Rolodex. Then, when we were up in Chicago in the dead of winter, and it was such a dismal scene every day with the clouds, the snow and the rain, I started thinking back to that title, and I was like, ‘Man, that pretty much explains this whole experience.'"
In October 2009, Sevendust flew to Chicago to work on Cold Day Memory with producer Johnny K (Disturbed, Three Doors Down, Staind) at his Groovemaster Recording Studios. There, they spent three months reconfiguring their arrangements and fine-tuning their playing until the songs were tight and powerful.
"The schedule was brutal," Witherspoon says. "We worked from 12 to 12 every day. We went through the works, but it went down really well. We did the vocals in this big booth that we built upstairs that overlooked the whole city, and along the way it became known as The Zone. And The Zone had rules. You weren't allowed in there if you were too rambunctious. You couldn't talk too much. It almost made me feel like when I was a wrestler in high school and you were going on deck. You were getting ready to go to The Zone to do your magic."
More often than not, the vocal melodies and harmonies on the demos were different than those on the final takes. And the final takes were rarely the same as the 10 or 15 that preceded them. In the studio, Johnny K worked quickly, but he liked to examine multiple options from different angles.
"I tried a lot of different singing styles because we wanted to make sure we had a lot of things to choose from," Witherspoon says. "But that was fun for me, man, and it felt like incredible conditioning because I was able to not only do vocals with Corey [Lowery], but then turn around and go back over those songs with Johnny K to tweak different things that he wanted to hear."
All five band members contributed to the lyrics on Cold Day Memory, and the songs were works in progress up until the moment they were recorded. In the end, the band crafted songs that encapsulated their experiences with the world and one another. Witherspoon, who recently became a father, penned some lines about commitment and responsibility, while Rose, who was going through a painful divorce, wrote lyrics about heartbreak and disillusionment. "Unraveling," which was co-written in Malibu, California by Lowery and Dave Bassette, is about the collapse of a relationship and "Confession" indirectly addresses Lowery quitting and returning to the band.
"Since we all write, it's hard to tell exactly what each song is about, but we like to leave it up to the listeners to decide for themselves," Rose says. "It's funny because in the end you almost don't know what you wrote. I remember telling [guitarist] John [Connolly] one time, ‘Dude, that was an amazing line you wrote,' and He went, "What are you talking about? You wrote that."
Despite it's unconventional creation, in the end, Cold Day Memory is a cohesive return to form that restores everything Sevendust pioneered and excelled at in the late ‘90s with the writing and playing chops the members have developed since then. Moreover, it's a modern sounding disc that uses the latest technology to create timeless tunes.
"It just brings a more musical side back to us, but at a more seasoned level," Witherspoon concludes. "I'm just glad we're all back together like this. I feel like this is a great album, and it's only the beginning of a lot more stuff to come."