Sound — 8
Avenged Sevenfold is a band that I grew up with. My thoughts are going to be completely different than, say, somebody who grew up with Iron Maiden or Metallica or Megadeth. Or, hell, all three. They are my metal band, and were my favorite band of all time up until earlier this year. Up until early 2013 It was all A7X and Rise-core (I, thankfully, grew out of that phase rather fast... 6 months) and the only two "classic" metal bands I gave a rat's a-s about was Metallica and AC/DC. A real life portrait of Beavis & Butt-Head over here. I obviously knew about Ozzy, Sabbath, Pantera and, though more hard-rock than metal, Guns N' Roses, but I never really got into any of them aside from a handful of singles. Then I bought "Number of the Beast" and "Appetite for Destruction" in their entirety. That led me to buy the rest of Iron Maiden's discography (over time of course) and "Use Your Illusion I" & "II." Next up was Ozzy and Megadeth. Before I knew it I was hooked on '70s and '80s metal bands (which are what broke me of my Rise obsession). I was listening to my main influence's influences. Then I read an article that was released around November of last year that stated, in preparation for this new record ("Hail to the King") A7X were doing what I've been doing for the past couple of months - going back to their influences' influences. Seeing what made those bands' records work. That got me pumped and eager to listen to this new record. In June. Two months before it was released. A whole month before the first single was released. So I went back and listened to my favorite A7X record, "Waking the Fallen," and much to my surprise I wasn't enjoying it nearly as much as I used too. I thought some songs were too slow and/or too boring. Some of the solos seemed uninspired. Less about the mood it created and more about how fast they were being played. It was in no way a bad experience per se. Just strange and a bit unexpected. I didn't think anything of it, however. It's happened to me before on "Waking the Fallen," albeit not to this degree. So I did what I usually did - ditched the metal-core sound for a more straight forward hard rock sound that 2005's "City of Evil" had to offer. A record that I never get tired of and have since promoted to my favorite A7X record, just above WTF (a title Avenged Sevenfold would be ecstatic to hear, I'm sure.) But by the end of the record the same thing happened. I was bored and a bit underwhelmed. That's something that never happened to me before. I just assumed I wasn't in the mood for music. The next day, however, it happened again to an even greater degree with their self-titled and 2010's "Nightmare." I was criticizing every song for one reason or another, some of which I couldn't even get through entirely. I couldn't believe that I was thinking this of my once favorite band. Today, those feelings aren't as strong, but they are still there and the reason I told you this story was to tell all of the A7X "haters" that I get it. I never used to, but now I get it. They simply put, are nothing special. At least not to '80s metal-heads. I love them, and will continue to defend them to anyone who just blindly bashes them, but I now understand how underwhelming they may sound to a hardcore Metallica fan or Megadeth fan. You've heard it all before and you've heard it done better. I've now heard it done better. Needless to say I was still anticipating this album like the second coming of Christ (ya' know... if you believe in that crap), but I was a bit more cautious, and less willing to dive right in. I wanted to see if they accomplished their mission on making a classic metal album. I wanted to see if this was a true evolution of A7X or just another mind-numbingly bland "experimentation" like their self-titled. On my first listen, through the iTunes stream (I couldn't help it), I was very, VERY impressed... for about 15 minutes. Than the rest of the songs started to blend in and bore me. I was upset and very disappointed. I got through the rest of the album with two of the most disappointing songs I've ever heard in "Planets" and "Acid Rain." I then went to bed, but as I was lying down I couldn't get the riff of "This Means War" out of my head. I fell asleep thinking that, like most of "Nightmare" this would take a couple of listens to grow on me, but eventually (or hopefully) it will. The next morning it was "Doing Time" that was stuck in my head, as I've been on something of a Guns N' Roses kick lately. I then listened to 5 of the songs again ("This Means War," "Doing Time," "Requiem," "Shepherd of Fire," and "Planets") and much to my surprise they were all a lot more enjoyable the second time around. Which was both, a comforting and scary thought. Much like their self-titled, I was enjoying these songs, but separated. On their own. I thought that, maybe, the record didn't have the right flow or that it sounded like several different records in one, in which case, they failed their mission. Then I streamed the album through iTunes again and it came off a hell of a lot better the second time around. Then, a third time and a fourth time and a fifth time. Needless to say, after multiple listens I just accepted the fact that I was addicted to this record and was starting to get a different feel for each song. Fast forward to August 27, the official release of "Hail to the King" here in the US. I just got done listening to it again. Some of the songs have been played nearly 30 times already (I'm obsessive when it comes to music) and I can safely say that, for the most part, Avenged Sevenfold have succeeded in what they set out to do, in creating a balls out, grooving, heavy metal record that's going to be stuck in your head for days, if not weeks. This is an album that will most likely be remembered twenty years from now. "Hail to the King" is easily the most focused album since "City of Evil" and probably their best since then as well. I'll have to wait a couple months before making that statement as my appreciation for "Nightmare" has since come back as "Save Me" is incredible on ac- high. Is incredible high... on acid. Anyway, this record is everything it needed to be and more, and is, for sure, a solid foundation that Avenged should and, hopefully, will build upon instead of doing another 180 next time they head into studio.
Lyrics — 7
Lyrically, this album is good, but just good. I found the lyrics to be a bit too exaggerated this time around. More focused on telling these big epic stories, as heard in "Planets," then on something more rooted in emotion, as heard in "Waking the Fallen" (which still contains some of A7X's best lyrics, in my opinion.) Here, we have stories of the devil, corrupt kings, intergalactic war, and the end of days. It all seems very big and very metal, but I do have to question the lasting appeal these lyrics will have. After all, Iron Maiden's songs have some of the cheesiest lyrics imaginable, but they still hold up beyond well in the year, 2013. Difference is they're whole stories. By the end of "Dance of Death" I feel as if that story was complete. Here, the songs are left open to interpretation with no definitive ending. If you want to tell these big, epic stories that's fine, but make sure they are big epic stories. Not just words thrown around to create the impression of a big epic story. Basically, what I'm saying is that Iron Maiden's lyrics are "The Dark Knight" of the metal scene, Avenged Sevenfold's are more of "The Dark Knight Rises." It's good, it gets the job done, but with a few missing pieces here and there, it falls short of what it could've been and from what some might have expected them to be.
Overall Impression — 9
Since I gave you all the big speech up top, I don't really know what else to say, aside from just a few closing thoughts. I guess I'll give you a track-by-track song impression before I get to that: 01. "Shepherd of Fire": Lyrically, it's the coolest and most metal of the ten main tracks. Musically, it is what it needed to be. It's nothing too crazy, or unique for that matter, but it's a big opening that plants the seeds for what's to come and has you pumped to hear it. I definitely recommend it for those who haven't bought the album. 02. "Hail to the King": The title track and first single. Despite being one of the more underwhelming songs on the record, I still feel it has quite a bit to offer. The gypsy jazz-styles guitar Syn toys with, the bridge (which is the coolest part of the song, imo), and M. Shadows' vocals throughout. He sings with such power and raw emotion that you can't help, but love it, even if musically it is a bit over-simplified. 03. "Doing Time": This is one of the first songs I went back to listen to again as it was stuck in my head. It gives off a serious GnR vibe, with an intro that is very reminiscent to Rev Theory's "Hell Yeah" (weird), but as the rest of the album started to grow on me and get better with each listen, this track stayed I the same place throughout. It's a good song, but I can't help but feel as if it's the stereotypical out-of-place A7X song that they have on every record. "Nightmare" has "Danger Line," and the self-titled had a handful of them. It's a solid song on its own, with a sleazy/cocky vocal and lyrical vibe to it. It's just a bit misplaced. 04. "This Means War": First thing's first: it sounds extremely similar to "Sad But True." This is fact. There's no denying this. That being said it's not the exact same thing and can still be appreciated on its own merits. Much like "Doing Time," this is one of the first tracks a re-listened to after my first listen. However it has since dipped in quality, for me. I just don't think this song has too much of a lasting appeal, aside from a kick-a-s bridge and a pretty sick guitar riff. However, if I ever wanted to listen to this again, I would just play the song that (VERY) heavily inspired it and I think you would too. You know it's sad, but true. 05. "Requiem": Avenged Sevenfold have never been afraid to get a little cheesy. "A Little Piece of Heaven" is proof of that. This song has Latin chants, horn, orchestra, and a bridge that seems to have been pulled from an B-list horror movie. This could have been downright terrible, but it turns out to be the best song this album has to offer so far. It's easily the heaviest with some really cool guitar parts and some heavy as hell drums. Shadows, as usual, turns in a fantastic performance that, much like the title track, really elevates this song beyond what even they may have thought it was capable of. You can tell this is a song that's going to come off a hell of a lot better live than in studio and that is a very exciting thought. 06. "Crimson Day": The typical A7X ballad. This is something of a staple for them. Every album has one. And much like the rest of them you're either going to love it or hate it. I, for one, love it. Lyrically, it was, at least in part inspired by the birth of Matt's son, River, as noted by Johnny Christ. It's definitely the most heartfelt song on the record and more of what I wanted out the lyrics as a whole. If you aren't a fan of ballads then don't bother. This isn't for you. If you are, however, then this is going to be a true highlight on an album that has many highlights. It's my second favorite song on the album. It's also the turning point for the album as a whole. The first five songs are kind of the same in the sense that they are these really heavy riff-oriented songs that grab you and don't let you go, for better or for worse. They kind of stay on the same level, throughout. This is the song that kicks it into next gear. 07. "Heretic": Starts off eerily reminiscent of "Symphony of Destruction" by Megadeth. Then, as it gets going, starts to sound like a classic A7X song. Shadows, once again kills it, and the dueling guitars are a real treat for hardcore A7X fans. Drums are loud and demand you turn up your speakers to 11. Not as strong as the previous track (though, very obviously different), but a solid song nonetheless. The bridge is really cool and is followed by a pretty sick guitar solo. 08. "Coming Home": Heavy Iron Maiden vibe. Not so much to pinpoint an exact song like the previous track or "This Means War," but you can definitely hear the influence. I've seen comparisons to "Number of the Beast," but I don't hear that at all. This is my favorite song on the album. It runs at the perfect length, the structure of the song is smartly put together, the guitar work is some of the best the album has to offer and Shadows channels his inner Bruce Dickinson which, if that doesn't sell this son, I don't know what will. 09. "Planets": This took some time to grow on me, but holy sh-t has it. I'm still a little iffy on the chorus, or rather just the line "Planets Collide" as I feel it's too simplistic and that not even Shadows' voice can make it anything special, but the rest of the song is fantastic. Some smartly placed orchestra really helps set the mood and musically, everything is turned up. The guitars, drums, and bass are all on full display here, and it creates what is the most massive song on the record. Third favorite of mine behind, "Coming Home" and "Crimson Day." 10. "Acid Rain": Another ballad. Not as strong as "Crimson Day," imo, but good nonetheless. It's something of a "Dear God." Some will love it as the album's closer, others will hate it. Nothing you can do about that. Lyrically, it's a follow-up to "Planets" and it's about being cast out into space with your loved one to die. I was hoping for a more "metal" ending, but it works. Solid way to end the album. 11. "St. James" (*Bonus Track): I have to talk about this song. It's the second song Syn has wrote the lyrics for. The first one being "So Far Away" on "Nightmare." It has been described as the light to "So Far Away"'s dark. Lyrically, its some of the best this album has to offer. It has a nice sound, and I honestly feel as if it should've been included on the main album, instead of the bonus track. In a recent interview, when asked what songs they were looking forward to playing live, A7X responded "All of them!" I really hope this gets a chance to shine live and isn't another "Victim" (unintentional, I swear) It's a really beautiful song, lyrically and musically. As mentioned above, I feel as if this is the most focused album since "CoE," and hope that they continue to build upon this sound. Maybe a little more "Planets" and less "This Means War" and then maybe we'll finally get the definitive A7X album. Also, I would love to see Syn have a little bit more influence lyrically next time around. He's 2/2 right now and I would love to see what else he is capable of.