Heaven & Hell is the debut studio album by American singer Ava Max. It was released on September 18, 2020, through Atlantic Records.
Background and development
Following the release of "Sweet but Psycho" in August 2018, Max toured for 30 to 40 days overseas before returning home around Christmas that same year, where she began writing for her then-untitled debut studio album. In April 2019, Max first announced that she would release the album sometime during the year, discussing in an interview with Billboard that "there are some other tracks on there that are like wild cards, and there are a few that I'm being vulnerable in". She recorded over a hundred songs for the album, which she spent several months on deciding what to include. Heaven & Hell was initially completed in early 2019, but was delayed in order to improve the tracklist by adding more songs and removing one.
In December 2019, Max hinted that the album would be released in the upcoming months. She confirmed that it was in the process of being finalized, but was subsequently delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. When asked about the album by MTV News shortly after the release of "Kings & Queens", she stated that the previously released singles with the exception of "Sweet but Psycho" were not included on the tracklist. "So Am I", "Salt" and "Torn" eventually made the final tracklist, which Max added due to fan demand. She also decided to include the introductory track "Heaven" at the start of 2020, while switching the each track on the album based on her instinct. Max announced the release date and title of Heaven & Hell on July 29, 2020, which was accompanied by the release of "Who's Laughing Now" the next day. A US tour supporting the album was originally planned for September to October of 2020, but was cancelled due to the pandemic.
Production and album artwork
Max insisted on wanting an upbeat energy to the album so that it would be cohesive, reasoning that she does not want every song to sound the same. She described some songs as "very strong and empowering", while others "are a little bit more emotional". Max refused to include a ballad on the album, as she wanted to include over four ballads without removing any dance tracks. Cirkut, RedOne, Charlie Puth and Bonnie McKee were involved in the album's production.
Heaven & Hell is split into two sides; Side A: Heaven, and Side B: Hell. The former consists of light energetic songs which serve as anthems, while the latter consists of darker and moodier melodies. Max first envisioned the concept before performing at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards, after including the album title as a lyric in the bridge of "Torn", where she eventually placed the song as the album's "purgatory" track. The cover art of Heaven & Hell shows Max's asymmetric hair in two different colors, while the photos in the booklet depict heaven being in space and hell being on earth.
"Sweet but Psycho" was released as the first single on August 17, 2018. The song became her breakthrough single, ultimately reaching number one in 22 countries and charting at number 10 on the US Billboard Hot 100. "So Am I" was released on March 7, 2019, as the second single, which peaked at number one on the Polish Airplay Top 100 and charted in the top 10 in 14 countries. "Torn" was released on August 19, 2019, where it reached the top 10 in Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. "Salt" was released as the fourth single on December 12, 2019. The song was released officially after receiving high streaming numbers on SoundCloud despite containing no prior marketing or promotion. It topped the Polish Airplay Top 100 and charted within the top 10 in Austria, Finland, Germany, Norway, Russia, Ukraine, and Switzerland.
"Kings & Queens" was released on March 12, 2020, which served as the fifth single for the album. It reached the summit of the Polish Airplay Top 100 and charted in the top 20 in Austria, Finland, Germany, Norway, Switzerland and the UK. "Who's Laughing Now" was released on July 30, 2020, where it charted in the top five in Finland and topped the Radiomonitor chart in North Macedonia and Lithuania. The seventh single, "OMG What's Happening", was released on September 3, 2020.
User Album Review
Ava Max was destined to be a pop star. Growing up, the Wisconsin native listened to the likes of Mariah Carey, Lady Gaga, Whitney Houston, Britney Spears and Beyoncé, studying their craft in hopes of one day becoming their peer. While the legendary performers’ influence is evident on the 26-year-old’s debut album, Heaven & Hell (out Friday, September 18), she has made sure to forge her own path.
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Heaven & Hell is split into two sides like an old-school vinyl record, with the eighth song, “Torn,” representing a purgatory of sorts (Max even sings during the bridge, “I’m torn in between heaven and hell”). The first half is more pop-driven and carefree, while the second takes a darker, moodier approach. And yet, all 15 tracks are upbeat; Max refused to include a single ballad on her introduction to the world.
The electronic opener, “H.E.A.V.E.N,” sets the tone for the album before the women’s empowerment anthem “Kings & Queens” kicks in. The regal earworm — one of the best singles to come out of 2020 so far — gives Max a chance to showcase her powerful and theatrical vocals early on, and the glam-rock electric guitar solo that comes after the second chorus only adds to the pizzazz. She continues to preach feminism on “So Am I,” an ode to the misfits of the world, and “Tattoo,” a musical reminder that she leaves a permanent mark wherever she goes.
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Max cowrote every song on Heaven & Hell, which features production by Cirkut, RedOne, Charlie Puth and other hitmakers. Some lyrics, while empowering, err on the side of cliché; “Naked” stresses that baring all in a relationship requires more than stripping away clothes, and “Salt” is about crying so much that you literally run out of the electrolytes needed to form tears.
Fortunately, the good far outweighs the bad. Max serves disco realness on Side A’s “OMG What’s Happening” and “Torn,” the latter of which subtly samples ABBA’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight).” Side B’s “Who’s Laughing Now,” meanwhile, has the catchiest chorus centered on the words “don’t cha” since The Pussycat Dolls’ 2005 hit.
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With its yin-yang concept, Heaven & Hell is a promising launchpad for Max, who is bound to have one heck of a ride toward stardom.
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