Sound — 8
Beginning with a macabre funeral-like introduction to Critical Acclaim, it doesn't take long for Synyster Gates' guitar playing to enter the fray dramatically signaling for the rest of the band to enter double time and take it from there. The production is slick, it's clean, it's impressive, in terms of audio quality, but the drums sound a little processed for my liking. The use of piano in songs like Critical Acclaim and A Little Piece of Heaven sacrifices the prominence of Synyster's lead guitar, although he does make use of the whammy bar and quick fingers in many of the songs on show. The return to use of other instruments to complement Synyster's lead playing is also evident on Afterlife, a personal highlight of the album because it causes one to wonder what A7X would sound like backed by an orchestra. In terms of guitar playing, Synyster and Vengeance play off each other well, albeit incorporating a little much of the generic metal chug in the rhythm playing for my liking. On Almost Easy, Synyster widdles his way through a solo accompanied by a piano for the latter section. It is this embrace of progress that remains Avenged Sevenfold's greatest asset, easily a contender for most refreshing hard rock moment of the year. For versatility's sake, Avenged Sevenfold go country, folk and blues on Gunslinger, which has to be heard to be believed, particularly when it comes from a band that once recorded Sounding the Seventh Trumpet. It's the reflective, nostalgic song of the album in many ways. Unbound (The Wild Ride) is perhaps my favourite on the album with it's intricate, emotional lead guitar lines throughout, which manage to mirror M.Shadows' vocal melody lines; this song is a highlight for all members of the band, and provides the listener with trademark Synyster Gates, complemented by a piano/keyboard. Scream initiates with what can only be called a woman's scream, before Synyster plays a descending sequence to signify the beginning of the track. However, it seems a little out of place on the album. The flow of the album certainly stutters here, as is the nature of the track. Despite Synyster's attempts to redeem the track with a fluid guitar solo, the lyrics end up dragging this track down. The ability to put their own twist on Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden tradition of harmonising lead guitar parts is most clearly illustrated on Lost to great effect. Avenged Sevenfold may rely heavily on their influences, namely Metallica and Iron Maiden, but their ability to incorporate orchestral moments on this album provides some much needed energy and a unique touch to their sound.
Lyrics — 7
Unbound (The Wild Ride) also proves to be a vocal highlight of the album, with M.Shadows soaring in the melody of the choruses, typically City of Evil. Critical Acclaim is arguably a defence of US foreign policy to go to war in Iraq. "So, how does it feel to know that someone's kid in the heart of America, has blood on their hands fighting to defend your rights, so you can maintain the lifestyle that insults his family's existence? Fine, they're expressing their political beliefs, but they fail to elaborate on how the troops are guaranteeing anyone's rights, although I do applaud them for recognising that all of the finger pointing regarding the occupation of Iraq has resulted in a lack of respect for the efforts of most troops to do their job. Unbound (The Wild Ride) also proves to be a vocal highlight of the album, with M.Shadows soaring in the melody of the choruses, typically City of Evil. He strives for excellence on A Little Piece of Heaven, which wouldn't sound out of place on a Tim Burton soundtrack for its Nightmare Before Christmas styling. Furthermore, Shanna Crooks gets A7X in touch with their feminine side offering some female vocals on three tracks to break A7X's usual boundaries. Lyrically, A7X can leave a lot to be desired at times, but M.Shadow's delivery and conviction balances the equation. The one dominating failure is Scream, and that is just a case of personal taste. Avenged Sevenfold is one of my guilty pleasures, and perhaps I should be able to admit this more openly in the future.
Overall Impression — 8
Avenged Sevenfold's self-titled album is proof that they are here to stay in that they have delivered an album that has definitely seen the band progress from City of Evil's heights. It is difficult to say how well this offering shall be received by the mainstream, but expectations should be high, not because this album is more radio friendly, but because it should appeal to a wider audience than City of Evil did. If one track were to be picked out as a microcosm of the album, it would most certainly have to be A Little Piece of Heaven, an eight-minute opus including all of the best parts of the album. Avenged Sevenfold's existing fan base should be satisfied with this attempt, although one drawback is that there are only ten songs to listen to, not counting one or two bonus tracks which I hear are of old material anyway. Perhaps it won't be long before M.Shadows an co return to the studio. Find out about the Avenged Sevenfold MVI version of this release at this location.