Sun kissed beaches, royal blue sea waves crashing at your feet and the music of the shiny happy people. Ladies and gents, welcome to Orange County, California. Home of The Offspring, No Doubt and just about every other perky punk pop band that have invaded your head with their buzzsaw guitars and infectious melodies over the last few years.
Avenged Sevenfold: from hardcore outcasts to heavy metal heroes
In 2003, Avenged Sevenfold had just released metal-influenced second album, Waking The Fallen – to the annoyance of their former comrades on the hardcore scene…
Only all is not well in paradise. A big black cloud is hanging overhead and when we say black we mean blacker than a black coffee topped off with a little extra tar.
As Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnell once said: "You have to ask yourself how much more black can this be? And the answer is none, none more black." Tufnell could quite easily have been talking about the black cloud hanging over not just the Orange County music scene but the music world as a whole. That black cloud has a name. And that name is Avenged Sevenfold.
If you don't already know the story behind Avenged Sevenfold, then let us bring you up to speed. The band, named after a biblical passage in the story of Cain and Abel, established themselves by exacting a local no-holds barred, guerrilla-style promotion campaign whereby the band ploughed all the limited financial resources they had into stickers, flyers, T-shirts and sampler CDs that they would nightly pass out outside any gig that would be going on in their area of Orange County. This resulted in the band being signed to Hopeless Records and releasing their debut album Sounding The Seventh Trumpet.
Did we mention all this happened while the band were still studying in their respective high schools? While achieving minor success on the underground circuit, A7X were welcomed with open arms and open hearts by the Orange County hardcore scene. For a short while.
“There was a really big hardcore scene in Orange County, so we really got accepted by that in a big way and then as soon as we started branching out beyond hardcore obviously those scene kids started hating us,” frontman M.Shadows recalls. “It was never cool to do solos, or cool to not be playing just those ‘chug-chug’ riffs that all hardcore bands have and we were never into just humming along and doing what they wanted us to do. If they said jump we said, ‘Fuck you’ and never ‘How high?’.”
And so the evolution continued.
“We became so fed up of the hardcore scene, and so fed up of what those kids liked. Like those brain dead things hardcore bands do like going into a breakdown every couple of minutes. We were like, ‘This is fucking stupid’. We never wanted to do that. We wanted to write real songs ’cos our favourite stuff is rooted in melody and doing that in hardcore is not cool. There were too many rules in hardcore.
"I guess we just kind of said fuck you to all of them. We just completely disassociated ourselves from the hardcore scene. To me, we never were a hardcore band, but we got this total excitement of, ‘Yeah dude, this is gonna be a full-on metal band with some punk undertones’. Our whole pride is in metal. If someone calls us a hardcore band we’re just like, 'Oh… whatever. Are you gonna listen to Hatebreed or are you gonna listen to us?’. Most fucking hardcore bands want to be metal bands anyway but they just can't play well enough.”
Bending and breaking the rules is exactly what A7X have done on Waking The Fallen, their quite frankly astonishing second album. There is no ‘cool’ factor considered here and no ‘now’ genre for this record to fit in because it treads the water of so many different sub-genres. Prog rock, heavy metal, post-hardcore, goth, melodic rock and hardcore, they're all in the melting pot somewhere and welded together with devastating effect. To put it in the simplest terms possible, if you’re holding a copy of this magazine there is something that will appeal to you on this record.
If you combined Slayer’s never-ending drumming assault with the riffs of Dimebag Darrell, the solos of Dave Mustaine, the ethereal gothic feel of latter day Faith No More and added the vocals of a wailing Bruce Dickinson, a growling James Hetfield and a screaming Phil Anselmo through a blender, you might have just created the sound of Avenged Sevenfold’s Waking The Fallen.
“We always wanted to be a little different to what was going on right now, I guess,” says Shadows. “We wanted to blend elements of punk rock and elements of the better side of hardcore into metal, and we’d just write our songs having all these different parts of the music that we loved. And people were like, ‘What the fuck!?’.”
“We knew right off the bat that if people didn’t have a strong opinion of us then it was never going to be anything special and if we get plenty of love or hating reactions to it then that’s something special. Most of the world’s biggest bands, you either love them or hate them, and we never wanted to be any different to that. Even if someone would come up to me after a show and would say, ‘That fucking sucked! What do you the hell do you think you’re doing?!’, I’d walk away happy because it forced a reaction from him, and he’d always remember us.”
Truth be told, for the best part of the last five years there’s been very little to shout about when it comes to traditional, balls-to-the-wall, riff after riff quality heavy metal. It seems to be ‘uncool’ to blast out heavy, complex riffs with colossal guitar solos (remember them?), accompanied by sublime musicianship. Everyone wants to be ‘cool’. But what have we had in the way of true, full-blooded heavy metal?
Sure, Disturbed hinted at it with their debut, but then they promptly took their foot off the gas to let us down and attempt to ‘fit in’ with Prayer. And OK, Soil had a fairly sterling effort in 02 with their Scars debut, but even then their song arrangements are fairly formulaic and musical proficiency certainly isn’t their strong point. No. In all honesty, not since Pantera dared to challenge the world of mainstream metal with their own brand of Vulgar Display Of Power have a band so boldly concocted a sound brutal enough to appeal to the die-hard metalhead, yet have a sense of intense melody that could very well carry them over to the mainstream and onto magazine covers the world over.
“We always look at a band like Pantera or Megadeth or Metallica, or any band that have brought millions of people in by just doing what they love to do and not changing their sound just to bring in some extra cash or popularity. Everything that gets big in metal and stays at the top starts in the underground, and we’re totally willing to tour our asses off and do that until people sit up and take notice of us. If we just keep playing and touring and keep working harder and more and more people hear us and like us then radio and MTV and whatever other powers that be are just going to have to take us on board. They’d have no choice, that’s the way it’s gonna have to be. They’re gonna have to come to us because if you let them have control of you then they’re gonna make you and break you, but if they’ve come to us because of our fan base then it’s all good because it'd be more on our terms.”
Is there ever the worry that there won’t be a fan-base waiting for you because the sound Avenged Sevenfold are embracing could be considered a bit slightly ‘dated’?
“Not really because we get that all the time,” snaps Shadows. “We always hear, ‘Oh this is that old-fashioned shit that’s already been done before’ and all of that bullshit, but that’s what we love. We sound likethe bands that we love. We're just going to carry on making the music that we love. We’ll make the music we want to, and if people and critics want to say that it’s dated or whatever then it’s their fucking problem because those people really don’t mean shit to me.”
You truly can believe that Matt Shadows is not only a man who knows what he wants and he knows how to get it, but is a man whose every word drips with genuine human emotion. This isn't just some guy trying to sell his record to you with the usual, ‘This is honesty, now buy my album’ speech. He breezes answers with endless enthusiasm for his own band and any minus point put to him is met with a ‘fuck you!’ attitude the likes of which hasn’t been seen for far too long. When you spend enough time with enough people inside the music industry, you can’t help but be able to tell the difference between when someone is telling you what they honestly believe and when they are just dribbling mindless spiel. Matt Shadows is above and beyond all of that. Matt Shadows is the real deal.
“The detractors can blabber blabber blabber all they like, and if they want to start their own band and it’s better than my band then I’ll take my hat off to them. But we’re the type of band that do what we do, and don’t care what people have to say about it. Those people are just going to bring you down. They’re never gonna help you or be on your side, so why bother fucking listening to them? If we’d have listened to those people from the beginning then we'd still be playing hardcore and we’d never have branched out and followed what we’ve always wanted to be and that’s to be a real metal band who love what they do and that's what we are.”
While there are all these reasons as to why Avenged Sevenfold are so vital to the current music scene, the most important is the fact that they are truly proficient musicians. Mountainous riffs fight amongst thumping bass-lines and cannon-like drums. All lovingly wrapped up in the most complex of song arrangements that leads to epic tracks often over six minutes in length while avoiding the endless repetition other metal acts resort to.
“I love going on tour with bands that are bigger than us so that we can just rip them apart musically,” says Shadows, sounding enthused by the prospect. “Whether it’s just shredding backstage or going out onstage and blowing them offstage it’s just totally satisfying. I love that. Even if we don't ever get bigger than them, it's worth it knowing that we can play better than them and aren’t just playing to see whether the kids get it or not. I mean we know we can play. Synyster can play any shit on the planet and so can our drummer, The Rev. We don’t mind admitting that we’re all kick ass musicians and obviously that means we're a better band for that.”
The band’s lead guitarist Synyster Gates was a pupil of the Musicians Institute and he is, as they say, shit hot. Indeed you’ll need only refer to the first 30 seconds of the song Eternal Rest before you’ll be conjuring up images of a man playing with smoke seeping from the high end of his fretboard and picking your jaw up from the floor.
“It was a huge mix of guitar players, and I could learn theory or anything else from some truly amazing guitar players but originally I joined the group to work on my jazz chops!” Synyster confesses. “I really badly wanted to be a session player in a studio, but I never really thought I could go anywhere writing original music. At the age of 18 I was thinking about money and my financial situation But when we started writing and I started to believe we could do it, then we all just dropped every fucking thing in the world because we believed in this band. We couldn’t pay the bills, we were threatened with being kicked out of our houses. While things aren’t that much better now, we really just know that this band is worth fighting for, and going through all of the shit times because we get to do what we love and that’s what this is all about.”
With all of this gung-ho punk rock spirit in among their ranks, you could certainly be fooled into thinking that any sort of flamboyance wouldn’t be in the band's future plans, but you couldn’t be further from the truth. The legendary Dave Mustaine once said, “You used to be able to pick a rock star out of a crowd. There was a bit of glamour and a bit of extravagance about them when now any fucker that walks into a 7-11 store could be a rock star.” There’s the age old question of whether Slipknot would have garnered so much attention without the masks? What would a Marilyn Manson show be like if he play the songs wearing T-shirts and jeans with simple lighting? The A7X mentality: why settle for being ordinary when you can be extraordinary?
“I know at the moment with all of these screamo-emo bands it’s cool to be just dressed like one of the fans and be like one of the fans, but I don’t want it to be like that,” Matt admits in unusually hushed tones. “We have a good relationship with our fans and love to meet the fans, but when I’m onstage I want to be that guy that everyone looks at. We want to put on a real show. One of the main things we want to do is have all of the huge light shows and put on a full-on Alice Cooper/Marilyn Manson type show but obviously do it in our own way. We want it to be that you get your money’s worth every single time you come and see us play.
“Our looks are nothing new and if I’m totally honest with you, we just stole it from Danzig, because we love everything he stands for. It’s not revolutionary. Even our music isn’t revolutionary or ‘super original’. It’s just what we love to do and if people like it then that’s great but it’s not like we’ve made it our ambition to save heavy metal.”Whether they meant it or not, Avenged Sevenfold may have saved heavy metal – just when you'd laid down your guns and thought it was all over. Get ready for the second coming.
This originally appeared in Metal Hammer 122
For more Avenged Sevenfold and the story behind the Nightmare album, then click on the link below.