In 1996, I became aware of the music of heavy metal band Metallica by hearing their song “Until It Sleeps” on the radio while visiting Lowell, IN to attend my grandmother’s funeral. It sounded good, and I thought it was a good enough song to warrant further research. I purchased their “Load” album and was enamored of the bluesy lead guitar solos of Kirk Hammett played over the crunching rhythm guitar riffs of James Hetfield on songs like “Bleeding Me” and “The Outlaw Torn,” both introspective masterpieces lasting over eight minutes. By the time my family was preparing to move to Illinois from Fall Branch, TN the following summer, I was letting out my frustrations with the heavy metal classics “Sad But True,” and “Harvester of Sorrow,” and playing extended air guitar renditions of the amazing, haunting instrumental “Call of Ktulu.” When we finally moved to Illinois, I got pumped for football games by absorbing the powerful parent-hatred of “Dyers Eve” in my veins. In addition to moving away from my parents emotionally, I had moved away musically; I could no longer stand the adult contemporary garbage that should not be, on which I had been raised.
Ever since finding Metallica, and being mesmerized by the complex and breathtakingly fast guitar play of Hetfield and Hammett, I have been in a bit of a musical rut. No other artist in any genre has been able to speak to me the way that Metallica does. A few songs here and there have lit up my appreciation in a variety of ways, but I have never been able to say that an entire band has risen to the status of second-best; a few bands, like the Foo Fighters, System of a Down, and Shinedown are very good and helped keep some diversity in my musical palate, but none even came close to rivaling the extent to which Metallica just spoke to me.
Along came Avenged Sevenfold. I learned of the quality of their music, interestingly enough, from Guitar Hero II, in which “Beast and the Harlot” was one of the clearly superior contemporary tunes. Obsessed ever since, I have bought each of their four albums in the five months since I first heard “Beast and the Harlot.” But can Avenged Sevenfold overcome the weaknesses of so many other bands and find a place next to Metallica in my heart? In their most recent eponymous album, and in their concert last night at The Pageant in St. Louis, I have found my answer.
As I said, I was first brought into the cult of “A7X” by “Beast and the Harlot,” a song with a powerful main riff and a fantastically solid guitar solo by Synyster Gates (it should be noted here that the members of A7X have taken on stage names) that tracks the fall of “Babylon the Great” in the Book of Revelations. That track, the first on Avenged Sevenfold’s third album and first major-label issue, “City of Evil,” was accompanied by other powerful songs such as “Blinded in Chains,” with a strong intro consisting of a drum march and dual guitar riff that I compare favorably to Metallica’s “Struggle Within,” and “Strength of the World,” a musically heavy and lyrically powerful account of a man’s quest for revenge after the murder of his wife and family.
I moved on to discover “Waking the Fallen,” the 2003 album that I found to be in many ways the musical superior of the more popular “City of Evil.” I was spellbound by the dialogue between a suicidal man and his loved ones (or perhaps his conscience’s regrets deployed through the guise of his loved ones) in “I Won’t See You Tonight” Part 1 and Part 2. The first of the two is a slower, but still heavy, and inescapably beautiful song musically, with a riff that melts the soul; the latter is musically much more focused on discordance, and the screams of M. Shadows are both angry and at the same time lamenting the suicide decision made in Part 1. Other strong tracks on “Waking the Fallen” are “Second Heartbeat,” a powerful lament of a relationship gone bad, and “All Things Will End,” a begrudging acceptance of life’s failures, a sentiment to which I am inevitably and interminably bound.
But even after feeling moved to the core by these and other songs, and having been encouraged by the strong, if not as focused, efforts of their 2001 debut “Sounding the Seventh Trumpet,” I didn’t know where to place Avenged Sevenfold in my musical continuum. Were they really better than those many bands who had tried – and failed – to rival Metallica in my heart? Or was their success at grabbing my attention merely equivalent to those attempts of System of a Down and Shinedown, who, while both extremely good, are disposable heroes, and neither as consistently strong nor as powerfully heavy in their lyrical and musical content as Metallica? When I learned of an upcoming new album, and a tour to support it, I decided that these two contributions would help me to settle the internal debate, at least for the intermediate term. If they were truly to be my second-favorite band, a genuine alternative to Metallica in my heart rather than mere filler on those rare occasions when I am not in a Metallica mood, they would surely show it in both their newest album and their live performance.
The newest Avenged Sevenfold album, which is self-titled, is indeed a strong effort. While its opening track, “Critical Acclaim,” strikes some discordant notes with me lyrically because of its unnuanced and even immature assessment of the liberal political culture in the United States (I don’t begrudge them their view, merely their underdeveloped narrative), the song starts with a fantastic organ intro and fantastic guitar riff, and concludes strongly enough to warrant being considered a strength of the album. Similarly, the recent single “Almost Easy” is a solid though not fantastic mainstream metal track, and songs like “Lost” and “Afterlife” are instrumentally sound and are a testament to the technical proficiency of guitarists Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance, bass guitarist Johnny Christ (what a fantastically antagonistic stage name, by the way), and drummer The Rev. Furthermore, previous concerns I had with the vocal talents of group front man M. Shadows seem to be overcome in this effort, with a much stronger performance on all tracks than on almost all of those previously released. The real gem of this album, however, is “A Little Piece of Heaven,” a song that is lyrically so completely depraved as to be comically over the top (in a good way) and nearly indescribable; the music, however, is tinged with a kind of Halloweenish camp that ingratiates itself to the listener and allows the depravity to be recognized for what it is – a vulgarly amusing paean to horror films and dark humor such as that in Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride.
And at A7X’s concert at The Pageant last night, I was strongly encouraged by a solid set. I was disappointed by the problems with Synyster Gates’ guitar on “Beast on the Harlot,” but otherwise the set was well-paced, with faster tunes like “Burn it Down,” “Critical Acclaim” and “Almost Easy” attenuated by an incredible performance of “I Won’t See You Tonight Part 1” and a solid showing on their crossover hit from “City of Evil,” “Seize the Day.” My friend Ashley, with whom I attended the concert, remarked that she was extremely impressed by the band, and given her inclination toward less consistently heavy bands, I was pleased with how M. Shadows kept her involved in the concert along with the rest of the crowd. Aside from the guitar problem early in the set, the band was technically proficient throughout, duplicating and even surpassing the energy in their studio albums. I was disappointed to some extent by their song selection: almost all of the set list consisted of the more popular tracks from their more recent albums; I consistently enjoy the heavier, less popular tracks, and would have been thrilled to hear more of them. The overall experience was strong, and I was very happy to miss a few hours of sleep for the performance.
Neither the album nor the concert overwhelms me, however. My live experiences had previously been exclusively of Metallica, and the 2+ hour shows at each event were a long and ear-splitting testament to the inexorable strength of that band. The concert last night was good, and the level of energy was fantastic, but it was not Metallica – A7X’s set consisted of only an hour, and while involving, it was not nearly so much so as an average Metallica show. Similarly, “Avenged Sevenfold” is a solid effort from a band still expanding its sound in new and different directions. But they still have not found a song to compare to “Master of Puppets,” my favorite song most days, nor have they found an album as brutally heavy and unendingly powerful as the albums “Master of Puppets” or “…And Justice for All.”
But both the album and the concert were extremely good. I released a great deal of pent-up emotion at The Pageant last night, and the album “Avenged Sevenfold” is solid, with both moving moments and amusing ones, something that few bands can achieve. For these reasons, I believe that Avenged Sevenfold is my second-favorite band. The consistently good, and even excellent, quality of their work, and the extent to which I use it as a release and a distraction from the constant stress of my life is a sure indicator that they are head and shoulders above the rest of the bands I have encountered in terms of relieving the frayed ends of my sanity.
Is it possible for Avenged Sevenfold to ever overtake Metallica in my heart? Almost certainly not; that doubt, however, is a characteristic that applies to every piece of music that I will ever encounter. Metallica’s music was a key component of my coping mechanism for overcoming the pain I felt over leaving my home of sixteen years for a run-down town in the abyss that is south-central Illinois; Metallica followed me through college, major depression, the depths of sorrow I found in unemployment, and the many frustrations of trying to find my way back to college and self-respect. Those circumstances are not going to be repeated in my life, and my love for Metallica is inextricably linked to them.
But if, as I argued above, Avenged Sevenfold is now my second-favorite band, they have achieved a feat I thought extremely unlikely – they are truly the cream of the crop of contemporary heavy metal and hard rock, and have granted me an outlet for my ongoing frustrations beyond just dwelling in my past. I can now turn to “I Won’t See You Tonight” or “A Little Piece of Heaven” for inspiration, or amusement in the latter case, in the small hours when I am writing yet another essay or analyzing a complicated paper on international politics. In this regard, second place is truly an astounding achievement, one I did not think was possible.
For that reason, I think Avenged Sevenfold should be congratulated for its achievement, and I strongly encourage them to keep up the good work. Music, and rock in particular, is forever tied to the emotional state of its audience, and A7X has struck a resonant chord in me at least. I celebrate their achievement, and eagerly anticipate a long, loud future together, wherever I may roam in the pursuit of my studies and however wild this ride may become.
–Posted by Kevin, who must now return to work
Avenged Sevenfold Set List 11-6-07 (not in order as played)
Beast and the Harlot
Burn It Down
Seize the Day
I Won’t See You Tonight Part 1
“Avenged Sevenfold” released 10/30/07
Tracks (individually rated):
Critical Acclaim (4.5/5)
Almost Easy (5/5)
Unbound (The Wild Ride) (5/5)
Brompton Cocktail (4/5)
A Little Piece of Heaven (5/5)
Dear God (4/5)