In spring 1997, I was 17 years old and finishing my senior year of high school. Though I had been raised on loud guitars and thunderous drums, I had become disillusioned with a lot of rock music in the mid-’90s, and had turned to the harsh, industrialized sounds of Nine Inch Nails and the dark theatrics of Marilyn Manson. I remained a regular reader of Metal Edge magazine in those days, however, and one day, while perusing the latest issue, a CD review caught my eye. The CD in question was the debut, self-titled release from a quintet out of Atlanta called Sevendust. I wish I could find that review or remember what the critic wrote, because something about it made me take note, made me think this was a band I needed to hear. YouTube and Spotify weren’t even a figment of anyone’s imagination at this point, so the first time I ever heard Sevendust was a short time later when I spotted the CD on a shelf at Circuit City (RIP), went home, popped the disc in my CD player and those unforgettable opening notes of “Black” started me on a journey I’m still on 20 years later.
The same notes kicked off Sevendust’s show at Baltimore’s Rams Head Live on Wednesday, June 21, the first night of the band’s five-date 20th anniversary tour. It was clear from the start this was a special occasion. The members of Sevendust—vocalist Lajon Witherspoon, guitarist/vocalist Clint Lowery, guitarist John Connolly, bassist Vinnie Hornsby and drummer Morgan Rose—always have had an energetic, amiable stage presence, but there was an almost palpable excitement flowing back and forth between the band and fans on this night. Witherspoon said the band came into town a day earlier and compared the previous night to the night before Christmas—that’s how eager he was to play this show. The wide smile rarely left his face throughout the set, as he expressed his deep gratitude at every opportunity and frequently singled out familiar fans in the crowd, many of whom traveled great distances to be there.
Each of the 11 songs on the album holds up remarkably well two decades later. “Black” has been a live staple throughout the band’s career, as has “Bitch” for much of it. Most of these tunes, however, haven’t been performed much—or at all—in the past 15 or so years. Highlights from those album cuts included “Prayer,” during which Witherspoon almost became overcome with emotion (the song reportedly was written about his childhood experiences praying with his younger brother before going to bed every night; his brother died in 2002); “Speak,” with its three-pronged vocal attack, an early sign of what would become one of the band’s hallmarks; and the closer, “Born to Die,” with its ultra-heavy finale.
A four-song encore followed, and I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to pull such a small number of tracks from the band’s other nine albums. The choices worked well, though, starting with “Face to Face” from 2003’s “Seasons,” which has been the closing number of the live set for many years; and continuing with “Shine,” a somewhat hidden gem from 2001’s “Animosity,” and then two more recent tracks: “Decay” from “Black out the Sun” (2013) and the song that earned the band its first Grammy nomination, from its most recent release,” Kill the Flaw” (2015), “Thank You,” an exceedingly appropriate title for this night.
Twenty years ago, Sevendust was lumped into the nu-metal subgenre that was all the rage at the time. But seeing that first album performed live now, it’s clear it never belonged there, given the guitar solos sprinkled throughout, riffs that draw on groove and classic metal, and, most of all, the sophisticated vocal arrangements. It’s easy to see why Sevendust has endured while many of its contemporaries faded from memory long ago.
I’ve seen Sevendust live 22 times since 1999, and this might have been the most enjoyable performance I’ve witnessed from them. The band was in top form, and there’s no reason to think it won’t continue for a long time to come.
The opening acts were the Maryland-based Seventh Seal; up-and-coming Dallas, Texas, rockers Never Your Zero; and sludgy veterans He is Legend. All three naturally were overshadowed by the headliner, but they succeeded in setting the stage for a magical night in Baltimore.
SEVENDUST SET LIST: “Black,” “Bitch,” “Terminator,” “Too Close to Hate,” “Wired,” “Prayer,” “Face,” “Speak,” “Will It Bleed,” “My Ruin,” “Born to Die,” (encore) “Face to Face,” “Shine,” “Decay,” “Thank You”