Like any good Sevendust fan, I've been waiting for Alpha pretty much since the previous offering, Next, was released. On the other hand, I think there was probably some unspoken nervousness about what we might see from this disc; while I loved Next, there were plenty of detractors, and Alpha marks the first disc that actually involved new guitarist Sonny Mayo (ex-Snot, Amen, hed pe) in the writing process.
The good news is that Alpha sees Sevendust continuing the return to their heavier roots that was seen on Next--not that 2003's Seasons was soft by any means, Alpha is probably has the largest number of bludgeoning riffs since 1999's sophomore release Home. Also making a more noticeable return is more wah-based texturing of the guitars, such as on the intro to the lead single "Driven" or "Feed."
What's more interesting is the experimentation on the disc, possibly influenced by Sonny being involved in the writing. While there are still plenty of riffs primarily based around polyrhythmic chugging against Morgan's drums, there's more creativity in the riffs and fills; for example, a spiraling fill on opener "Deathstar." There are also a number of solos, on songs such as "Driven" and "Feed." A piano and some atmospheric effects show up on the intro to "Aggression." And the biggest surprise of all, although perhaps appropriate with the vaguely concept album nature of the disc, is the 9-minute progressive epic "Burn." And finally, the closer "Alpha" owes more to straight thrash than to the numetal crowd the band is generally lumped in with.
The lyrics on the disc are inspired by drummer/main screamer Morgan Rose's divorce and other rough times in the past few years. Thus, anger and frustration are fairly central themes to the disc. This spills over into the vocal delivery as well; Morgan's screams come much more frequently than on past discs, and even many of Lajon's normally-soulful lyrics are delivered with a sharper edge in his voice. (Fear not, melody-lovers, it's not all gone, this is just a harsher disc than some of their recent releases.)
The only complaint about this disc is that it's starting to sound like Lajon's well of vocal hooks is running dry. The chorus hook on "Driven" bears a resemblance to a song from Next, and similar hooks appear elsewhere on the CD. Then again, 10 years and 6 studio albums into their career, maybe repeating a few melodic patterns every now and again is forgivable? All told though this is a worthy successor to Next and an excellent addition to the Sevendust catalog. It probably won't change your mind if you've already written off Sevendust, but it's otherwise a great disc to add to your collection.