“Oh yeah, we sold out again.”
– M. Shadows in Revolver
Avenged Sevenfold are awesome for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they reinvent themselves with every album. Sounding the Seventh Trumpet was a kind of crappy metalcore/punk album, Waking the Fallen was a melodic metal album that saw the emergence of Zacky Vengeance and Synyster Gates’ guitar skills, and City of Evil was the biggest departure, featuring all clean vocals, dueling guitar solos, and 8-minute long songs, each with about forty different parts. A number of people close to the band, and even some of the band members, have stated that around five years ago, Shadows said that he wanted the first album to be all screaming, the second to be half screaming/half singing, and all other albums to be all singing. A lot of the changes that were made between albums were built around his vocal changes. Well now since there are no more screaming/singing variations to be made, how did the band change their sound? Well they didn’t do much, honestly, but they still did enough to differentiate their self-titled album from City of Evil. They simplified their songwriting formula, shortening the tracks and aiming for a more straightforward rock sound while still allowing room for experimentation, creating some of their strongest material to date, but also some of their weakest.
For those of you who, like me, were scared when you heard Shadows sing like an emphysema patient on Good Charlotte’s “The River” earlier this year, don’t worry; most of his singing on this album is very good. Interestingly, his voice has really declined with each successive album. On Waking the Fallen, his clean vocals were incredibly strong and powerful. With City of Evil, his voice was scratchier, raspier, and more nasal, but on every track he was still very strong and enjoyable to listen to. Now, he is sorta on and off, like a lot of things on the album. “Afterlife,” “Brompton Cocktail,” “Lost,” and “Unbound (The Wild Ride)” all feature some of the best performances of his career, while “Critical Acclaim,” “Scream,” and “A Little Piece of Heaven” see him at his worst, as well as being the band’s worst songs. The two right-leaning redneck rants in “Critical Acclaim” would actually be sort of bada
ss if they didn’t come out of absolutely nowhere and completely disrupt what little flow the song had going. “Scream” is just downright annoying, featuring some of Shadows’ most grating vocals, and “A Little Piece of Heaven” is like some of the more nasally parts on City of Evil times a thousand. However, it’s easier to overlook his missteps when you listen to his stronger outputs. The choruses of “Afterlife” and “Gunslinger” show him at his melodic best, he absolutely soars in the bridge of “Unbound,” and the verses of “Brompton Cocktail” are equal parts chilling and touching.
The real problem with the album is The Rev. He’s an awesome drummer. But he is just not cut out for a prominent songwriting position in Avenged Sevenfold. First of all, his vocals suck. In some songs, namely “Critical Acclaim” and “A Little Piece of Heaven,” you’ll hear him singing in a completely obnoxious voice that in no way sounds good. His background vocals in the chorus of “Almost Easy” are awesome, and that’s what he should stick to: the background. He also wrote a few songs for the album. “Afterlife” is great. It’s catchy, emotional, etc. Sadly it seems like one good song was all The Rev had in him. “Almost Easy” is alright, aside from the fact that it sounds very lazy and forced. And now we come to “A Little Piece of Heaven.” You have no doubt heard this song being described as the most insane thing the band has ever written. Well here’s the lowdown on the track. The basic premise of the song is this: a man kills his lover and then preserves her body so he can continue to have sex with her. Then, the woman comes back from the grave and kills the man. Then
, the man comes back and apologizes to the woman for what he did. They get married and start killing everyone in sight. Yeah. Now, we’ve heard some A7X songs that, on paper, did not sound like good ideas. “Sidewinder”? Theoretically that should have been a bad song, but the execution saved it. Same with “Bat Country” and “The Wicked End,” and even “Brompton Cocktail” from this record. Conceptually, “A Little Piece of Heaven,” sounds like a complete piece of shi
t. Can the band save it with an awesome performance? Nope. The song itself is a jumbled, incoherent mess, and the few good sections are not enough to save the overall product. Various members of Oingo Boingo contributed orchestral parts that the band should have saved for some other song, because they really are cool, but their placement in the song ultimately feels extremely cheesy. Circuses have no place in pop music.
To put it bluntly, most of the lyrics are abysmal. City of Evil had great lyrics. Waking the Fallen had “Chapter Four,” which the band still has yet to top. This album has stuff like “Come back to me, it’s almost easy. Come back again, it’s almost easy,” “Caught up in this madness too blind to see, woke animal feelings in me, took over my sense and I lost control; I’ll taste your blood tonight,” and “Somewhere life is good and things go as they should; it’s hard to find, but that’s alright, yeah yeah.” And that’s just on the first half of the album. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the lyrics to the aforementioned disaster “A Little Piece of Heaven.” Check out this excerpt: “Must have stabbed her fifty fu
cking times, I can’t believe it. Ripped her heart out right before her eyes, eyes over easy, eat it eat it eat it. She was never this good in bed even when she was sleepin’, now she’s just so perfect I’ve never been quite so fu
cking deep in. I can keep you looking young and preserved forever with a fountain to spray on your youth whenever. ‘Cause I really always knew that my little crime would be cold that’s why I got a heater for your thighs.” As you can see, the band members need to come together and murder The Rev in his sleep. Shadows seems to have adopted the tried and true Sum 41 method of finding words that rhyme and jumbling them together. There really isn’t even much to offer in the way of actual good lyrics. The lyrical high point is pretty much “I reach toward the sky, I’ve said my goodbyes,” and really the only reason that is so good is based more on Shadows’ delivery than on the lyrics themselves.
Even musically the album is a step down. While Zacky and Synyster are still one of the best guitar duos out there, the toned down approach doesn’t really suit them as much as the over-the-top, fun wankery of City of Evil. Their focus on the record seems to be geared more towards riffs than anything else, which was a mistake, seeing as how their skill has always been in solos and leads rather than actual “riffs.” As a result, a lot their performances seem lazy and forced, governed by what Shadows and The Rev wanted to do instead of what they themselves felt like doing. The songs that were written for this record don’t really call for the style that the two guitarists utilized on City of Evil. When the guitarists do
get a chance to shine, they put forth the only enjoyable parts of the worst songs, like the epic intro to “Critical Acclaim” (in the same vein as “Beast and the Harlot”). Solo-wise, it’s all Synyster. The repeated motif solo in “Scream” is the only good part of the song, although the verse riff is annoying as hell. The ending solo in “Lost” can really only be described as very “free-sounding.” It’s probably the best solo in A7X’s discography. The end of “Dear God” features a very emotional and touching duel between Synyster and some dude (Greg Leisz) playing pedal steel. Bassist Johnny Christ is nowhere to be found except for like three seconds in “Afterlife” and The Rev toned down the craziness while still remaining solid overall.
But what of experimentation? Shadows described every single song as an experiment. Well you might be disappointed. I’ve already told you about the biggest experiment, “A Little Piece of Heaven.” The rest of the “experiments” are not so bad, but a lot of them are pointless. In some songs, they used a device called a “woman,” which contributed vocals on “Dear God,” “A Little Piece of Heaven,” and “Gunslinger” (studio magic is insane these days). In all seriousness, the female vocals rule, although Juliette Commagere can’t save “A Little Piece of Heaven,” try as she might. “Unbound” has some awesome choir vocals, much like “The Wicked End,” as well as three seven-year olds towards the end who almost ruin the song. String sections are prevalent and for the most part they’re awesome. “Afterlife” is made all the more poignant by striking violin performances. “Scream” has really low-end hip-hop bass booms in the verses that you can apparently only hear through those subwoofers that people put in the trunks of their Honda Civics. Oh, and “Dear God” is a country ballad
that features the awesomely bad line “Dear God the only thing I ask of you is to hold her when I’m not around.”
So ultimately, Avenged Sevenfold is a disappointing album, but it’s still good. In no way does it live up to City of Evil or even Waking the Fallen, but it at least shows that the band is somewhat adept at self-producing an album and that they seem to have more material left for future records. Hopefully the declination of Shadows’ voice has stopped and perhaps by the next record the band will realize what a mistake it is to let The Rev write songs. In the end, this album sounds like five friends having fun in the studio. Unfortunately, music in the name of fun is not a justification for bad songs. Perhaps self-production was a bad idea. Maybe Avenged Sevenfold need a producer in the album to let them know that a song about necrophilia/zombie murder is not funny. Hopefully on the next record the band will get serious and not fu
ck around so much. Seriously, I got the “making of” documentary. About 90% of their studio time was spent fu
cking around, and yet they still managed to write half a great album. Imagine what could happen if they get serious next time. I feel it should also be mentioned how terrible the artwork is. Remember that skeleton from the cover of City of Evil? Well he appears on every page of the liner notes, often in increasingly stupid poses.
In one picture, he’s even riding a roller coaster. Wee.