Avenged Sevenfold : The Nightmare Interview

Avenged Sevenfold, since the 28th of December 2009, is the story of a tragedy. A story that managed to hurt and move thousands of metal hearts. It’s also a story of helping hands, of compassion and support. It is the story of a band of buddies who wanted to honour the memory of another friend, who tragically passed away, by finishing a work that they had started together. It’s also the story of an idol who decides to reverse roles, to borrow the seat left vacant by his admirer, and to sit in his shadow to in turn admire.

It is often said that masterworks emerge from pain. Even if the word is a little strong in this case, one has to admit that Avenged Sevenfold gave birth to its best work so far, an opus forever coined with an aura that only pain can create.

There were so many topics that we could have discussed with Zacky Vengeance, rhythm guitarist, founder of the band, but above all friend of James « The Rev » Sullivan. The interview could have been deeply captivating, but it ended up with a bitter feeling that we were just flying over an abyss without diving into it. The conditions of our interview with Zacky were indeed catastrophic: after a 2h-postponement of the interview and 15 minutes delay, there was crackling on the phone-line and three cuts. Finally, the manager announced that there were only two minutes left after just 9 tedious minutes of interview. Big machines can also be, sometimes, slaughterhouses.

Let’s not fear big words, this interview was a proper nightmare to conduct. What a lucky coincidence! It’s precisely the theme of Avenged Sevenfold’s new album: Nightmare. So all in all, we can say that we fitted the topic pretty well!

Radio Metal : The « Nightmare » tour began not so long ago. These are your first concerts without The Rev who sadly past away last year and with the legendary Mike Portnoy who replaces him for this tour. How’s it going?

Zacky Vengeance (rhythm guitar) :Everything is going as good as it could, given the circumstances. We’re lucky we were able to finish the album and it’s doing very well. The album came out last week in America and is already number one in the country, which is very exciting. We just played the first few shows, without the Rev. Mike is nice to help us, and plays all the concerts with us. The shows went really well, the fans were incredible. All in all, it’s been going pretty well given the context.

I guess playing with you guys gives Mike a second youth; he actually sounds very enthusiastic about it. But do you sometimes feel a kind of generational gap between him and the band while on the road with him? Do you sometimes kid each other on the age difference?

I think Mike has got so much energy, and he loves music so much. It’s really great, his fans have been very loyal and have followed him for a long time. It’s the same with our band, we’re really younger but our fans respect us. From the time we started, it’s taken us so many years to gain their respect. I think they are very similar types of fans. The fact that he plays with us really bridges that gap: he’s older than us, but he loves music, rock’n’roll and heavy metal- He goes out there with so much energy, and we have so much fun! It really feels good, there’s a lot of good energy going on.

The band produced the last record but for your new album « Nightmare », you asked Mike Elizondo to be your producer. Why didn’t you self-produce the record this time?

We produced our last album ourselves and it was a great experience, but this time we wanted it to be something different. We wanted to make a very unique album, very uniquely Avenged Sevenfold. In order to do that, you just can’t go and hire a producer that makes us sound like Metallica or who’s produced a Guns N’Roses album. We don’t want to sound like them. Those bands sound great, because they do their own thing. In order for us to do that, we wanted to bring somebody in that had never done a heavy metal album, but that had a great understanding of music and a huge appreciation for heavy metal bands. Mike Elizondo loves Metallica, Megadeth and Iron Maiden, but he’s also a musician and artist, and he’s never worked on a rock album- so it seemed perfect, because we wanted to come up with something new and creative.

« We were attempting to write a very dark album, and when Jimmy died, it became real. »
I’ve read that from the start you wanted to make a darker album. What in today’s world pushes so many musicians to evolve towards the darker side of their music?

We wanted to make a very long, adventurous, dark album that people could relate to. There is a lot of stuff going on in the entire world that needs to be addressed. People are certainly feeling a very heavy weight on their shoulders. We were attempting to write a very dark album, and when Jimmy died, it became real. There was a dark undertone over the whole recording process, it was very sad. But something kept us moving forward: our love for music, our love for Jimmy and the fans, and pushing heavy metal and rock forward in a new direction- I think it’s great.

It sounds like most, if not all, of the songs on the album deal with death, murder and loss. How deeply has Jimmy’s death affected the music and lyrics in the final version of the album?

All the music was written before we lost Jimmy. He helped us writing all the songs, he was always there. He took a part in everything until the music was entirely written. When he died, he left us a gift of all the music he had worked on. After he passed away, it was our job to finish it. The lyrics that Matt wrote are just very honest, from heart, straightforward. They represented how we were all feeling, the heartbreak that we were enduring: we captured all that. So basically, Jimmy made us a gift of incredible music and our gift to his legacy was finishing the album and working so hard to let everyone in the world know about Jimmy and his music- that made for an incredible album.

Can we say that without Jimmy’s passing, the album wouldn’t have been exactly the same?

Absolutely. Jimmy’s been in the band since the beginning. He wrote so much on the last couple of albums- Musically the album really feels like Jimmy’s part of it, because obviously he is. I don’t know what it would be like if he was not there, I don’t think we could have written another album. If the album had not already been written, I don’t think we would have been able to write another album without Jimmy at this point. That’s why it still gets to us, because if he was not there to help us write the album and finish it, there is no way we could go out there right now and try to write an album on our own, without him. Everyone in the band is a very good writer, very capable of writing. There are several albums, like « City of Evil, » where Jimmy did not write too much, but his drum parts were always very exciting. In this last album, he really wrote a lot. That makes it very special, and it could not have been any other way. Jimmy’s such an important part of the band, it’s like a family. He was an incredibly talented musician and incredible drummer. He was a great person and our best friend, we can now show the world how important and talented he was, and I think people are starting to realise it. As long as we can continue to move forward, Jimmy will always be a part of everything that we do. I’m still proud that me and the rest of my band were able to finish the album and that Jimmy has an album that is number 1 in America.

« We’ve always been really inspired by covers of bands like Iron Maiden. They’re awesome, and you really do remember that album forever. »
The cover art by Travis Smith is beautiful. I even think it almost could have been an Iron Maiden artwork. In that regard, and even though I’m sure it contains some computer processing, it looks like a painting and I think it follows a sort of tradition in heavy metal artworks that kind of got lost at some point with modern technology. What can you tell us about it?

We really take a pride in all our artworks. We really want to paint a picture not only musically, but visually. We want to express how we’re feeling. And we’ve always been really inspired by covers of bands like Iron Maiden. They’re awesome, and you really do remember that album forever. It creates an image that’s larger than just the people in the band.

There’s no doubt this tour must be at the same time very special and strange for you. Do you plan on recording some of the shows, maybe for a live album, in order to have a kind of souvenir of these quite emotional times?

Yes, we’ll be touring all over the world. I think it’ll be great to do some stuff that will allow all our fans around the world to see us play. With Mike on drums, we’ve played a few shows, and it’s been a lot of fun. Our fans have been so supportive. It will be great to document some of that stuff. You cannot change the fact that Jimmy’s not here, but Mike is certainly a very real chapter in the book of Avenged Sevenfold. You can’t hide that fact, and there’s nothing you can do to change it. But we think of our fans now, and they’ll want to see the show, or a videotape of the show. We’re doing our best together with our fans to keep our head up and to try to find a sort of happiness, knowing that we’re continuing. We can only become stronger as a band.

Interview conducted by phone in August 2010.
Myspace Avenged Sevenfold : www.myspace.com/avengedsevenfold

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