Avenged Sevenfold draw new borders for their kingdom

Getting simpler, feeling lighter, going back to being a group of buddies as much as (or maybe even more than) a band – that’s what Avenged Sevenfold have been doing, aside from touring, between the mourning album that was Nightmare and Hail To The King, their new record. A record whose aim, despite (or thanks to) this desire to make things simpler, is also to become a classic in the band’s discography, and even in metal; to be the cornerstone that will have to support the new era the band entered despite themselves with the death of The Rev, and to show that the kingdom is solid and united once more.

The start of this new chapter is also an opportunity for the band to define themselves, after being classified for so long as metalcore (a label that no longer applies) and before other people try to define them erroneously. During this interview, M Shadows, the band’s singer, helped us understand how Hail To The King will draw new boundaries to their domain, and explained what happened to the much decried first artwork for the album.

« For us it was all about the songwriting on this album. Everything else was secondary. »

Radio Metal: Drummer Arin Llejay was officially integrated in the band this year. What convinced the band that he was the right guy?

M. Shadows (vocals): We wanted to do an album with him and see his maturity on the road. We wanted to see if he would be able to handle everything, keep his head down and just play music. We knew a lot of people would have an issue with some of the drumming, some of the style changes we’ve made during this album. We wanted to see how he handled it. Then it was about asking him if he was ready to commit his life to going on the road and touring and being a member. He thought about it for a while, and then he came back and said he was ready and he wanted to do it. It was one of those things where we wanted to take our time, make sure it was the right choice.

How does he feel being in the band, and how does it feel having him in the band? Is there some sort of apprehension, especially about how he will be accepted as being the one who officially replaces Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan?

We’re definitely not concerned about how he’s accepted, besides what we feel about him. We think he’s an awesome drummer; he did exactly what we wanted him to do on this record. He’s got the maturity to be able to hold back and not overplay, and he’s got no ego. For us, it feels great.

Being the first album without any musical contribution from the late Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan, can we say this really is the start of a new chapter for the band, whereas Nightmare was the end of the previous one?

I guess you can put it that way. There were records like Waking The Fallen and City Of Evil where Jimmy didn’t write much and wasn’t very involved in the process. Then during the White Album and Nightmare, he started writing a lot more. So for us, we’re just doing what we’ve always done. It definitely sucks, because we loved his writing. I guess it is a new chapter, because Jimmy wrote a lot more, so if we’d continued with Jimmy, obviously, we’d have gotten a lot more brilliant songs from him. But now that he’s not here, we just kind of have to pick up the flag ourselves.

What was the state of mind of the band this time while composing the album? How would you compare it to Nightmare, which was kind of a dark album?

I would say Nightmare was emotionally very dark. Lyrically, it’s a very real and emotional record. This album gets more back to storytelling, metaphors, and kind of making different points with the music. It’s not as emotionally draining. So I would say this album is a little more easy listening.

Three years separate Hail To The King from Nightmare. Was it the time that was needed to get everything sorted out with the band, including the musical direction you wanted to take with this new chapter?

Absolutely. As people, we just needed time off. We weren’t looking forward to starting writing an album and going to the grind again. We wanted to reflect on the three years we took with Nightmare; the touring and, obviously, what happened to Jimmy took its toll. And then we wanted to spend some time together, just hang out together, and not really worry about being a band. So we did that. And when we felt inspiration again, we decided to go and play new music, and we wrote Hail To The King. We basically needed to recharge our batteries to get ready to jump back in the fire.

The album is called Hail To The King, after the song of the same name. So who’s the king you’re referring to? What does this title symbolize for the band?

It’s a metaphor, people can refer to whatever they want. I’ve seen people online say it’s Satan or it’s God, I’ve seen people say it’s Obama! I like the fact that this conversation exists, because it gets people thinking about the lyrics. For me though, it’s more a metaphor. It’s just the idea that humans are always electing somebody or having somebody lead them, and a lot of times, that leads to bad things.

« We had five albums with a lot of experimenting and a lot of chaos, and there’s no way we could have done anything other than that. I think a lot of people liked that about us. But I think nowadays, it’s just a little overdone. »

Various band members, including you, have said about this album that you guys wanted to make a classic metal kind of album, with Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin influences. Was it important at this point to revisit your roots and the roots of metal in general?

You know, we don’t go into it thinking: “This is what we need to do because this is best for the band”. We find out what we’re listening to at that point, and what we have interest in writing. When we say “classic album”, we don’t mean we’re trying to write a classic album for ourselves. We’re just saying the classic albums are what’s influencing us at this point in time. For us, listening to some older, stripped-back metal that was all about riffs and grooves was more interesting to us than trying to prove we can play our instruments, play a bunch of technical things and run around in circles, but not really write great songs. For us, it was all about the songwriting on this album. Everything else was secondary.

Do you think it’s important that a band like you kind of teach or point out to the kids, who might not know these bands, who the forefathers of heavy metal were? Like saying: “These bands and the style of music they played is why we’re here. This is the real deal, check them out!”?

I’m not trying to give anyone lessons, but at the same time, when I was fifteen, I didn’t care where punk rock came from. I just liked all the new bands. Same with metal: I liked the Panteras and the Metallicas, I didn’t really care about Black Sabbath or Rolling Stones or Zeppelin. But when you get older, you start realizing how great these things are. You kind of look past the recordings and the production, and you realize: “Wow, this is what my favorite bands are listening to and I understand why it’s so great”. We’re at that point where we want to write a record that reflects that, but I don’t think it’s our jobs to get the new kids caught up. They’re all gonna do it in their own time. Everyone likes to go back and try to figure out where all that stuff came from, they just need to do it in their own time.

You stated about this album that the band had to keep itself from overdoing things, in order to keep the music more straightforward. Do you have the feeling that you have complicated your songs too much in the past sometimes?

No, because I feel like that got us to this point. We had five albums with a lot of experimenting and a lot of chaos, and there’s no way we could have done anything other than that. I think a lot of people liked that about us. But I think nowadays, it’s just a little overdone. Either you’re a band that tries to write the right radio song, or you’re a band that tries to be overcomplicated. For me, we want to be the band that’s in-between. It’s still complicated stuff, it’s very cool and advanced, but it’s not necessarily overplaying.

Avenged Sevenfold is still widely considered – quite wrongly – as a metalcore band, especially by its detractors, who use this term to criticize the band. Does that bother you?

No, because people describe us in ways that are completely wrong all the time. I don’t even listen to it anymore. Maybe we were metalcore, I think we started a lot of that stuff. In 1999, we were one of the first bands that were singing and screaming. We were trying to do something new, because that’s all we knew how to do. We wanted to be a punk band, we wanted to be a metal band, we wanted to combine both. We quickly grew out of that, I think everyone has a right to grow out of things. We quickly became what we wanted to be from the beginning: a metal band, or a hard rock band, whatever you want. So I don’t really mind that people call us that. I think if they call us that still, they obviously haven’t listened to anything we’ve put out since 2005. So it’s kind of funny. But you know, there’s a lot of uneducated talk about Avenged Sevenfold, and that’s fine with me.

« I think if they call us that still [as metalcore], they obviously haven’t listened to anything we’ve put out since 2005. So it’s kind of funny. […] There’s a lot of uneducated talk about Avenged Sevenfold »

The song “Shepherd Of Fire” has recently been revealed as being one the theme songs of the game Call Of Duty: Black Ops II. This is the fourth time a song of yours has been featured in Call Of Duty. Plus you even were featured as characters in the game. Can you tell us more about the band’s relationship with this game? What’s so special about it?

I play it a lot. I’m a gamer, and I always tell people I’m a gamer. The relationship with them is pretty cool, because they love rock music, and when they heard the record, they felt “Shepherd Of Fire” was a perfect song for what they were doing on the new game. It’s one of those things where there’s a relationship between two people who love what each other does. “Shepherd Of Fire” seemed to work out, so it was pretty cool.

For the second time the album was produced by Mike Elizondo. Is it because you felt that he made the perfect Avenged Sevenfold sound with Nightmare?

No, I just respect his songwriting and his opinion on things. When we write songs, we can have outsider’s ears with him. The way he is in the studio, the tone he can get, he’s just an amazing producer. For me, when you get along with somebody, when you treat them like a sixth band member, that’s when you know you’ve found the right producer. For me, working with Mike is a very special thing, because he’s a super talented guy.

You have contributed vocals for a couple of other bands and projects, like Slash, Steel Panther or Device. It looks like this is something you enjoy doing. Do you have other contributions planned for the future?

The thing is, I will always sing on somebody’s record if they’re my friend. I did stuff with Fozzy cause [Chris] Jericho is a friend. Actually they’re all friends of mine. The guys from Device are friends, and the guys in Hell Or Highwater, Slash’s a friend. I get asked a lot to sing on records, but it’s not something I want to be known for. But at the same time, if a friend asks me, then I will definitely do it, because they’re my friend.

Have you thought about doing a solo album one day, like many singers do?

Absolutely not. I write and get every bit of creativity out in Avenged Sevelfold. I’m completely happy with just doing that.

What happened with the Hail To The King album cover? There was one that was presented with a painting by Cam Rackams, which was then replaced by another artwork originally intended for the single…

We had a great painting by Cam. We approved the cover, and then we sent it off to get work done to it so it looked good – you know, Photoshop and stuff, a couple of new colors. And when we saw it released online… We should have been more in touch with it, but we were mixing and mastering, we were doing a lot of stuff with the actual music. When we saw it online, we saw how bad the Photoshop looked on it. A bunch of fans didn’t like it, we didn’t like it, and instead of being stubborn and leaving it, we decided that we were going to have a discussion about changing it. Once we had that discussion, everyone wanted to do something more stripped down, because the album is more stripped down, and it made more sense. Instead of being hard-headed about it and just leaving it, we decided that we were going to change it. And I think we changed it for the better.

Interview conducted by phone on August, 13th 2013
Transcription: Saff’
Introduction: Animal

Avenged Sevenfold’s official website: www.avengedsevenfold.com

Album Hail To The King, out since August 27th 2013 via Roadrunner Records.

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