Time Travelers & Bonfires
Over the past few decades, Georgia has earned an international reputation as a hotbed of musical talent, from alternative rock (R.E.M., the B-52s) and folk (Indigo Girls, India.Arie) to hip-hop (Outkast, T.I.) and country (Zac Brown, Sugarland). But until the recent emergence of bands such as Baroness, Kylesa and Mastodon, the state’s metal scene had remained largely unnoticed.
Back in the early ‘90s, influenced by Living Color and other artists from the Black Rock Coalition, Atlanta-based bands such as Follow For Now and Sevendust created an invigorating local movement by blending elements of hard rock, punk, funk, soul and R&B. Too melodic and eclectic for hardcore headbangers, but too heavy for the city’s burgeoning urban music scene, Sevendust went through three name changes in three years (starting as Snake Nation in 1994, then Rumblefish, then Crawlspace) before settling on a moniker inspired by a commercial insecticide.
Released in 1997, their self-titled debut album sold a whopping 311 copies in its first week. But, in what would become a career-defining theme, the band toured relentlessly, keeping the album in the lower reaches of Billboard’s Top 200 Albums Chart for 16 weeks. Two years later, it finally went Gold. With each subsequent album the band’s ardent following grew slowly and steadily, but there were little victories (touring with Ozzfest, playing Woodstock 1999, etc.) rather than a big breakthrough.
Sevendust also suffered its fair share of setbacks and tragedies. The group went on hiatus in 2002 after frontman Lajon Witherspoon’s brother was shot and killed. Guitarist Clint Lowery left in 2004 in order to join his brother Corey (formerly of Stuck Mojo) in the band Dark New Day, which signed a deal with Warner Bros Records. Around the same time, Sevendust parted ways with TVT Records. Their next label, WineDark Records, reneged on its obligations and ultimately went belly-up, leaving the band bankrupt, with nearly a million dollars in debt.
But, as the old saying goes, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The band continued to soldier on, released two consecutive albums (under their own 7Bros imprint, via Asylum Records) that debuted in the Top 20, and by 2008 Lowery had returned to the fold.
It’s been a long, bumpy road for the Atlanta alt-metal vets. But, along the way, Sevendust has built up a loyal legion of grassroots followers that continue to support their efforts, no matter what record label they work with. So, for the self-produced Time Travelers & Bonfires, it made perfect sense that the band launched a direct-to-fan fundraising campaign via PledgeMusic, ultimately raising 235% of their goal.
The result is one of the most impressive albums of the band’s career, with 12 songs evenly divided between new songs and acoustic versions of their greatest hits, as chosen by their fans. New tracks like the opening “Come Down” boast an exhilarating slow-burn intensity you don’t expect from acoustic rock, losing most of the distortion from their trademark sound, but none of the passion. “The Wait” is another new standout, with strings and piano building a dynamic epic reflecting on the personal loss of saying goodbye to loved ones who have passed away.
But the second half of the album is even more revealing, with acoustic versions of classic cuts like “Black” (from their debut) and “Denial” (from Home) shining a bright spotlight on Witherspoon’s remarkably soulful vocals. This isn’t the first time Sevendust has done an acoustic album: fans have been clamoring for a follow-up to 2004’s Southside Double-Wide: Acoustic Live for years. But it is a timely reminder of the talent that continues to drive the grandfathers of Georgia’s metal scene, 20 years into their careers.