Review Summary: Avenged Sevenfold dig further into their roots with reasonable results.
Avenged Sevenfold have certainly had an interesting history, haven't they? In terms of discography, none of their records are completely identical and yet there are numerous trademarks that identify them all the same. Either way, they've had a few great efforts (City of Evil, Waking the Fallen) as well as a misfire or two (don't even get me started on their self-titled album). However, after the death of the band's drummer The Rev (who also contributed a good chunk of the songwriting), the band have opted to bring a more mature approach, as seen on 2010's Nightmare. There was more emphasis on ballads, more sensitive and dark subject matter, the works. So with a new drummer and a more diverse well of influences to draw from, how does the new record Hail to the King stack up? Well, it kinda goes forward and backward in different places.
First things first though; let's start with some positives. For instance, M. Shadows has grown to be a much more consistent singer, even though he doesn't exactly stretch his limits like he did on Waking the Fallen. He doesn't sound quite as nasally here and at least harbors some confidence in his higher range. The musicianship is pretty damn good as well, definitely making a noble effort to bring the listener back to the days of 80s Iron Maiden and Metallica. New drummer Arin Ilejay doesn't really show his chops very much on this release, instead just keeping things tight in the rhythm section. The songwriting has also become more consistent with this album, keeping the quality in a steady line instead of having a lot of "peaks and valleys" stylistically. Instead of a bunch of mini-epics as heard on City of Evil, Hail to the King just feels tighter and more concise; the song lengths are shorter and you aren't being assaulted by a barrage of guitar noodling (for the most part).
While opener "Shepherd of Fire" begins on a slightly sour note (doesn't the beginning of Illud Divinum Insanus by Morbid Angel come to mind pretty quickly with those midi-sounding synthesizers?), it picks up when the main melody comes around. What you get is a midtempo number with a healthy amount of double bass drumming and harmonized vocals lines. 80s classic metal comes to mind pretty quickly with the songwriting, particularly during the soaring vocal melodies of the chorus. The solo is also nice, with Synyster Gates walking that fine line between appealing melodic lines and those fun shredding moments found on City of Evil. When you get down to it, the faster songs such as this one are some of the best on the album. "Doing Time" is a shorter number that reminds one a bit of "The Struggle Within" from Metallica's self-titled black album, with a similar punk-ish drum beat and such. The music is a bit thrashier on this one as well, particularly in the guitar riffs and vocals; there's a real sense of fun in the music, especially in the speed aspect. You get that certain rush of energy when you hear the homages to 70s and 80s rock n' roll. Songs like "Coming Home" and "Heretic" are similar in tone and follow the pace the other fast metal tracks had already set.
Unfortunately, "following the pace" is where this album falters. While this album is more consistent than other Avenged Sevenfold efforts, it feels even less inspired than many of its predecessors. Many of the songs that try to give off an epic or generally more serious vibe just sound cheesy and downright ridiculous, particularly with "Planets," "Requiem," and Crimson Day." With songs like these, you get such treats as: hilarious choir chants, symphonic samples that would sound better in an Age of Empires game, a ballad that's pretty much five ballads in one, and so forth. Not only that, but we get to the two biggest travesties pretty early on, which are the title track and ESPECIALLY "This Means War." The latter is just awful, particularly because it's pretty much "Sad But True" by Metallica. Low doomy verses with shouting on the first beat of the measures? Check. A long lead guitar line glazed over the top of said riff during the chorus? Check. Pretty much the exact same tempo? Absolutely. The song is an absolute insult; it can't even be considered a rip-off, as it's basically the same exact song with little alterations here and there.
So yeah, this album is very frustrating. It knows what it wants to be, but doesn't know how to go about doing so. Despite the many issues of the album, it is at least a fun one; the classic metal influences and speedy tempos, as well as proficient instrumentation, make the record enjoyable enough. It definitely could have done without the quasi-epic and completely uninspired songs as well, though. This gets my recommendation, but just barely. It's just slightly above the average mark because of those awesome moments when things click.