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Heaven & Hell is Ava Max's debut studio album which was released on September 18, 2020 by Atlantic Records.

Album Background[]

Following the release of "Sweet but Psycho" in August 2018, Ava Max toured overseas for 30 to 40 days 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. The album 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 "Heaven & Hell" would be released in the upcoming months. She confirmed that it was in the process of being finalized, but it 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. The tracks "So Am I", "Salt" and "Torn" eventually made the final tracklist, which Max added due to fan demand.

She also decided to include the album's introductory song "Heaven" at the start of 2020, while re-arranging each track on "Heaven & Hell" based on her instincts.

Production and artwork[]

"Heaven & Hell" contains genres of pop, dance-pop and electropop with lyrical themes of love, feminism, and resilience. Max insisted on wanting an upbeat energy to the album so that it would be cohesive, reasoning that she did not want every song to sound the same.

Max described some songs as "very strong and empowering", while others "are a little bit more emotional." She refused to include a ballad on the album as she felt that she would have to include at least four ballads without removing any dance tracks. Cirkut, RedOne, Charlie Puth and Bonnie McKee were involved in the album's production.

The album 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", eventually placing the song as the "purgatory" track of the album.

Max enlisted creative director Charlotte Rutherford to create visuals for "Heaven & Hell" through direct messages, where she created the album's cover art, which contains a mirror image of Max's asymmetric blonde and orange hair in two different colors.

Max explained that she wanted it to be "pretty simple" as she used several crazy ideas in previous covers. The back cover and 12-page booklet contains photos which depict heaven being in space and hell being on earth, which she described as an "entire world that I created". A thematic palette of orange and blue was incorporated into the album's visuals, with the colors specifically chosen by Max.

Tracklisting[]

  1. H.E.A.V.E.N. 1:46
  2. Kings & Queens 2:42
  3. Naked 3:42
  4. Tattoo 2:39
  5. OMG What's Happening 2:59
  6. Call Me Tonight 2:50
  7. Born To The Night 3:19
  8. Torn 3:18
  9. Take You To Hell 2:44
  10. Who's Laughing Now 3:00
  11. Belladonna 3:23
  12. Rumors 3:12
  13. So Am I 3:04
  14. Salt 3:00
  15. Sweet But Psycho 3:07

Digital reissue track

  1. My Head & My Heart 2:54

Japanese edition track

  1. Not Your Barbie Girl 3:07

Chart Performance[]

In the United Kingdom, "Heaven & Hell" debuted at number two on the UK Albums Chart, where it charted for 15 weeks. The album charted on the Norwegian VG-lista chart at number eight, eventually peaking at number two the next week. It was certified triple platinum by IFPI Norway on November 9, 2020, for selling over 60,000 units in the country.

On the Polish Oficjalna Lista Sprzedaży (OLiS) dated October 1, 2020, the album debuted at the number 25 peak and was certified platinum by the Polish Society of the Phonographic Industry (ZPAV) on November 18, 2020, for sales of 20,000 units.

In the United States, "Heaven & Hell" bowed at number 27 on the Billboard 200 for the chart dated October 3, 2020. It was eventually certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on October 26, 2020, for sales of 500,000 certified units in the US.

On the Canadian Albums Chart, the album peaked at number 16 on the chart dated October 3, 2020. It received a gold certification from Music Canada (MC) on October 20, 2020, for selling over 40,000 units in sales.

In Brazil, "Heaven & Hell" was certified platinum by Pro-Música Brasil (PMB), denoting over 40,000 sales and streaming figures. On the Japanese Oricon Albums Chart, the album peaked at number 42 on the chart dated September 28, 2020. In Australia, it debuted on the ARIA Albums Chart at the number seven peak on the chart dated October 4, 2020.

Critical Reception[]

Writing for AllMusic, Neil Z. Yeung stated that Heaven & Hell is "an expertly crafted gem", praising the album for showcasing Max's sonic range and personality.

Jason Lipshutz of Billboard noted that it was an "unrelentingly uptempo body of work", with several tracks containing electropop genres. He highlighted Max's vocal theatrics on "OMG What's Happening" and concluded that "Naked" had one of the best chorus introductions in 2020.

Writing for The Guardian, Michael Cragg praised Heaven & Hell for having an impeccable melodic infrastructure. Although he contrasted it to Katy Perry's 2020 album, "Smile" (which The Atlantic labeled as "too complex for 2D"), Cragg acknowledged that originality was not a priority for Max and stated that there was "something glorious about its dogged aversion to anything other than 2D escapism".

Michael Chaiken of Republican-American wrote that the medium tempo album was "very good pop music" with great hooks, comparing it to songs released early in Lady Gaga's career.

Writing for The National, Saeed Saeed noted that every track in the album contained "colossal hooks carried by oceans of synth lines and club-stomping beats", which were accompanied by Max's maximal vocals. He described Max as an "intriguing prospect" before concluding that the album was "anything but subtle".

Billboard staff writer Jason Lipshutz placed "Heaven & Hell" on its unranked listicle of The 25 Best Pop Albums of 2020, stating that Max "sounds like she's having a blast" and praised her decision to not incorporate ballads on the album.

Nicholas Hautman of Us Weekly noted that the album's upbeat tracklist was presented similar to a phonograph record, where the first side was "more pop-driven and carefree", while the latter half took "a darker, moodier approach". However, he criticized the cliché lyrics in songs such as "Naked" and "Salt", insisting that the former was about "stripping away clothes", while the latter was about "crying so much that you literally run out of the electrolytes needed to form tears".

Writing for Spectrum Culture, Jeffrey Davies criticized the lack of innovation and individuality on Heaven & Hell, in addition to the staggered single releases from over a year ago, stating that "Who's Laughing Now" and "OMG What's Happening" were "out of place". However, he commended Max's strong vocals and artistic talent for creating a nostalgic feeling on the dance floor, noting that she was reminiscent of artists such as Paula Abdul and Taylor Dayne.

Helena Wadia of Evening Standard wrote that while Max was skilled at "writing catchy tunes", she criticized the album for its use of "manufactured pop" and "lyrical tropes", concluding that it "ultimately lacks personality".

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