Avenged Sevenfold are releasing their sixth album, Hail To The King on 27 August 2013 and they’re headlining Wembley Arena in December as part of a nationwide arena tour. The chances are that the album will head to the top of the charts in both the UK and in America. The chances are Wembley Arena will be sold out. The chances are Avenged Sevenfold won’t bother with another UK tour in 2014, in favour of headlining Download Festival 2014.
When they released the title track online in July, the reaction was positive.
“It’s a song that’s anthemic and it felt like a good representation of the new record,” explains bassist, Johnny Christ. “It has that chorus that I think fans are going to gravitate towards – the chants that come in. It’s just a big-sounding song to us and that’s pretty much what we went for for the whole record. We wanted a sonically huge, smash-you-in-the-face sounding record.”
There was an album artwork change as well. The original cover, on the left, was widely derided for not being ‘Avenged Sevenfold-y’ enough or being not metal enough or whatever crap the people on the internet decided at the time and so an updated version of the artwork was released in due course. Then there came another, much simpler image and the second released, improved piece of artwork was relegated to being the artwork for the single. It was all a bit confusing and a bit messy and made a lot of people wonder what on earth was going on.
“One of our best friends, who we’ve worked with in the past, came up with these two really great pieces of art,” explains Johnny Christ. “His style’s really unique to him and he came up with the concept that we all really, really loved. “We were busy mixing and focsussing on the album in New York at the time and the label were sending us deadlines so we just sent out a piece of art that he had done that we liked.
“We never really said it was the album cover,” Johnny continues. “But it was left to interpretation and it probably wasn’t the wisest thing for us to do because it confused a lot of people. Once the album was finished, we decided that that album cover didn’t go along with the atmosphere of the songs and the other album cover we wanted to use didn’t have the right vibe – this album is bare bones. It’s the core of Avenged Sevenfold. We didn’t even put our name on the cover. We just put the Deathbat and ‘Hail To The King’ because we wanted to make a statement.”
How any why have the band decided to take their new album back to the bare bones, though? At a time where it might be expected for them to make the step up to the next level – a genuine heavy metal powerhouse – why would Avenged Sevenfold risk alienating their fans?
“Over the years, we’ve basically taken a mannequin and put on underwear and layers and layers until this thing’s wearing a fucking winter parka and can’t breathe,” Zacky Vengeance explains, using the kind of analogy only a metal guitarist could. “All the heavy metal we love, from Black Sabbath to Metallica have been able, at points in their career, to take off all the layers and strip it back down to bare bones of what makes heavy metal heavy, which is pounding drums, freight train bass and in-your-face vocals and wailing guitars, and that’s it. We just stripped it down to the basic instruments and ran with it.”
Does this mean that Hail To The King is Avenged Sevenfold’s St. Anger, then? Once the laughter has subsided, Johnny Christ explains their songwriting technique for HTTK in a bit more detail:
“I feel like each song has one main riff that you’ll see themed throughout the whole song and we’ve never done that per song. We have parts where the riff stands alone for a while, but then we quickly going out of it to another progressive part and we’re going here and we’re going there. We wanted to make sure that each song stood by itself. They’re all in the same vein but are very different.”
It’s a position they’ve been in for a while now, but it’s interesting to think about how not having to worry about money affects how the band writes its music. There’s no need to go looking for another temporary job, but there’s also no desperation to create some music that will make them some money because they’ve already done that. Several times, now.
“All you get to do is focus upon making music and it’s a blessing,” Zacky explains. “We wrote and recorded for this album longer than for any album we’ve ever done before and it’s funny how when you take the songs and really strip them down, it’s actually a harder process. When you listen to a Rolling Stones song, it sounds like there are just a couple of guys in a room jamming and they have these songs that sound fun and feel seamless and really can conquer an audience but really those guys were in the studio for years of their life. Truly, it’s the hardest thing to make a song feel effortless.”
Avenged Sevenfold @ Download Festival - 11 June 2011 c/o Gary Wolstenholme
Let’s just assume – for argument’s sake – that Avenged Sevenfold will be headlining Download Festival 2014, how have they got this far? Having sold a million copies of 2005’s City Of Evil, Zacky Vengeance admits that they thought they “were going to be rich and the most famous band ever” but when they failed to sell enough tickets for their London Astoria show (they’d already played and sold out the venue previously), A7X got the necessary kick up the backside and at an all-too-important moment in their career.
“All of a sudden we came back and played for half as many people in the same place,” Zacky says, happily reflecting on a past failure. “These kids take their shit seriously. Bands that come up and die out quickly… they want something different and I respect the hell out of that. We went back and played a show at The 100 Club and started from the beginning because that’s what we deserved.”
It was an experience that changed the band’s mindset. They realised then, that they couldn’t take their success for granted.
“When other bands don’t want to put in the work or invest the money to get to certain places to put on the show that they need to do, we’ve been willing to say we’ll go play for fucking free if we’re able to put on our show,” Zacky explains, being careful not to alienate any peers. “We’ll do whatever we have to do and by any means necessary and, to be honest, if you want to be a heavy metal band that’s headlining festivals, you have to have proven to fanbases that you’re in it for the long haul.”
“We want to put on the best show that we can because that’s what you dream of when you pick up a guitar as a little kid,” he continues. “You dream of hitting a note and having fucking fireworks shooting off behind you and a sea of people screaming. If that’s where we’re headed with this album, it’s only because it’s a natural progression through a lot of hard work.
Avenged Sevenfold have been of the festival headliner status in the United States for a couple of years now, but touring 30 cities in America to home crowds just isn’t the same as headlining a major UK festival and they know it.
“The difference is in America, if you have a song doing well on the radio, you’ll do well at the festivals. In England, you have a handful of massive festivals that everyone in the country travels to go to and you have to win people’s respect over years,” Zacky explains. “You can be billed high on a festival because that’s where Andy Copping wants to put you but if the crowd doesn’t like you, that might be your last slot ever playing Download but if you keep building up and building up, the fans will see that you’re the real deal and they’re willing to grow old with you.”
“You need a new generation [of festival headliners] and there are not a whole lot of rock bands that put on the show necessary to do it,” he continues. “We have one stage set that’s being shipped to South America right now and a stage setup that’s getting ready for our festivals in Canada and another stage being built right now that’s unlike anything… it’s huge.”
We’re looking forward to seeing it at Donington next June.