Sound — 9
Avenged Sevenfold was formed in 1999, releasing their first album, "Sounding the Seventh Trumpet," two years later in 2001. This release was more metalcore than the straightforward metal sound they've come to be known for since. This was due in part to M. Shadows wanting to move away from screamed vocals, going so far as taking vocal lessons from the same instructor that had been used by Axl Rose and Chris Cornell. By the time their third album, "City of Evil," was released the screamed vocals had almost exclusively been replaced by actual sang vocals. This also resulted in the musical sound of the band to change, with more guitar solos and less metalcore breakdowns. Their next release, which was self-titled, showed another step away from metalcore. The drummer, The Rev, passed away in 2009 because of a drug overdose and was temporarily replaced by Mike Portnoy (formerly of Dream Theater) for the recording of the next album, "Nightmare." Despite The Rev passing away before the recording of the album had completed, he was still involved in the creative process of the album, so through this his last work with the band was released posthumously. "Nightmare" proved to be the band's most successful album to date. Soon after the band decided that Mike Portnoy was not the best fit as a full time replacement for The Rev and began a hunt for a permanent replacement. They settled on Arin Ilejay in 2011. "Hail to the King" will be the first album where Arin participated in the creative process and recorded with A7X, and will also be the first album with no creative input from The Rev. "Hail to the King" was recorded in early 2013. There are 10 tracks that clock in at just over 53 minutes. The title track was the first single from the album and made available in July. Shortly after in August the album was made available to stream in iTunes, as well as the track "Shepherd of Fire" being used as the theme song for the "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" map "Origins." The album opens with the track "Shepherd of Fire," which has an old school (think early Metallica, especially with the bell tolling such as from the beginning of "For Whom the Bell Tolls") vibe, especially in the intro. "Shepherd of Fire" quickly shows it has its own identity as you listen further into the track. The next track is the title track, "Hail to the King," which is a fairly slow tempo track for a metal song but it makes up with some solid melody and some gang vocals. The solo also has an almost neo-classical feel to it. The track "This Means War" is another song with a very "hook-y" riff going on, but the song doesn't really start to shine until the solo and afterwards. "Requiem" starts out with some Latin chanting but when the instruments come in, this is probably the track with the strongest groove on the album. "Heretic" was another standout track to me, starting out with some interesting lead guitar and then when the song gets into full swing it sounds like something Megadeth might have recorded in their prime. The album closes out with the track "Acid Rain," which actually has a piano running through the song and a very interesting melodic lead guitar line. While "Acid Rain" is much "lighter" than what you would expect on an A7X album, it somehow works and is a great song to close the album out with.
Lyrics — 8
M. Shadows has really impressed me over time as he has shown himself to be able to consistently provide some of the best non-screamed vocals in metal today. There are no absolutely no complaints I can make about his vocals they are really immaculate in the context of A7X. The lyrics are pretty much standard fare for metal, and as an example here are some lyrics from the track "Heretic": "As they search for blood/ All lies descend on one/ Honest man in chains/ But that don't matter anyway/ My judgment day/ My flesh will feed the demon/ No trial, no case for reason/ I been chosen to pay with my life/ Mad men, they find what matters/ Turning witches and saints to ashes/ Rising masses marching to find heretic blood/ Impose your will on me/ Till fire sets me free/ The flames of hell burn bright/ My fate decided by their lies/ Final demise." Pretty standard lyrics for metal, but still interesting in their own right.
Overall Impression — 8
I know people hate comparisons with bands, but at the end of the day "Hail to the King" reminds me of what Metallica might have sounded like if they didn't take that sharp left back at the "Black Album." Of course, they aren't quite as heavy and not quite as adventurous as early Metallica, but A7X have definitely figured out how to write a solid metal album. I think there is a desire amongst a lot of metal purists to have A7X, but at the end of the day what they're producing is very worthwhile. One thing they're doing is pushing the idea of the guitar solo back into popular music, because at this point Avenged Sevenfold might be the most well-known metal band to the general public (with the exception of Metallica, or Led Zeppelin if you want to call them metal). My only gripe is at times I feel like they were making a special effort to keep their music "radio friendly," but that goes out the window when you realize the vast majority of the tracks are over 5 minutes each. I would be hard pressed to choose my favorite tracks from the album, but the first few that come to mind are "Heretic," "Shepherd of Fire" and "Acid Rain." Personally, this album is immediately my favorite Avenged Sevenfold album released to date.