Review Summary: not QUITE as bad as others would have you believe...
I'm just coming out and saying it, Hail to the King is nowhere NEAR as bad as that God-awful Falling In Reverse record, despite the first round of 1 ratings. Is it a great record? Hell no. Is it better than Nightmare? If I had to choose, I would say yes.
Nightmare as a whole was cursed the moment Avenged Sevenfold's original drummer Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan died. Sullivan was by far the most creative member of A7X and that legacy died with him. Mike Portnoy was nothing more than a session drummer essentially on that album and the album as a whole suffered from obvious grief. It would have benefited Avenged Sevenfold much more if the band members had given themselves time to grieve and accept The Rev's loss instead of succumbing to the pressure of releasing Nightmare mere months after The Rev died. Nightmare was at best a scatter-brained effort and at worst the sound of a band trying in vain to immediately get over Sullivan's death. Had A7X waited a year or so to finish writing/recording Nightmare and then release it, the record may have been more better.
Which brings me to Avenged Sevenfold's latest record, Hail to the King. It is the first Avenged Sevenfold record with new "drummer" Arrin Illejay, who let's be honest is nothing more than a hired hand. Hail to the King is also the first Avenged Sevenfold record that bears their "new" sound. According to the band members, Hail to the King is more blues-rock/classic metal oriented (which I thought City of Evil WAS their first classic metal-inspired album? But whatever). The band pointed to the simplified and more groove-oriented drum patterns as the "new" template for their sound. Which is sort of true, since the guitars no longer shred away at a gazillion miles an hour.
Let's start with the first single, the title track. Are the drums annoying as ***? A little bit. Are M. Shadows vocals still nasally? Yes. But the song grew on me for some reason the more that I listened it. For some ***ing reason, Avenged Sevenfold decided to overmix the drums WAY above the guitars, which makes Hail to the King the album sound a "bit" mushy at times. Considering that one of the main reasons Avenged Sevenfold gained so much popularity was because of the notable abilities of Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance. At least you can hear the ***ing bass guitar a little bit. Shadows still sounds too nasally and whiny for my tastes, but it's not as bad as on past albums. The lyrics are still about God knows what, but who listens to Avenged Sevenfold for the lyrics anway?
Shepherd of Fire is actually a pretty good song, with a slight Pantera swagger that is certainly welcome. Doing Time begins with an absolutely retarded spoken-word section and the song itself is not much better. This Means War is a complete ripoff of Metallica's Sad But True (c'mon A7X, you even stole the vocal melody?!!!?!?). Requiem begins with hilariously bad Latin-chanting but the song has a weird sort of "epic" feeling that redeems the intro. Crimson Day (again) rips off Metallica's Black Album, this time the poor victim is Nothing Else Matters. Since A7X mentioned the Black Album countless times as an influence when writing Hail to the King, I'm not surprised, but seriously if Metallica has any artistic integrity left they should be preparing a hefty copyright lawsuit against Avenged Sevenfold.
Heretic has another Pantera-esque swagger, while Coming Home is meh. Planets may just be the best song on Hail to the King, as features a wicked riff and decent vocals from Shadows. The finale Acid Rain is a crapshoot, with an orchestra and piano and a bunch of other stuff, in an obvious attempt to recreate A Little Piece of Heaven (only without the hilarious lyrics).
I still don't know why in the hell the drums were mixed so high, but in the end Avenged Sevenfold's new album Hail to the King is not the complete natural disaster that others would have you believe. I'm no super fan of A7X, although I do count these guys as one of my occasional musical guilty pleasures. Hail to the King is certainly the heaviest Avenged Sevenfold album since City of Evil. Gone are the constant genre-jumping of the self-titled album and the weepy ballads of Nightmare. Instead, A7X locks in on a more groove-metal oriented style that might serve them well if they worked on developing it more. So I go back to my original question: is Hail to the King better than Nightmare? Yes. Is it better than the self-titled album. Close. Is it the abomination that the newest Falling In Reverse album is? God no.
So, there's my objective view on the new Avenged Sevenfold album Hail to the King.