All part of the plan
Avenged Sevenfold, with its trained musicians and classical influences, doesn’t leave success to chance.
The five Huntington Beach hard-bangers known as Avenged Sevenfold want you to think they’re sleazeballs. Skin dripping with tattoos. Cavorting with whipped cream-spattered strippers in the video for their raging 2005 hit “Bat Country.” Chugging 40-ounce beers as they retramp their old O.C. drinkin’ grounds in this year’s “All Excess” DVD.
Young rock musicians rarely radiate sanctity. But tune in to the clean power, honed chops and multi-part arrangements of their just-released fourth album, “Avenged Sevenfold.” Zoom in on their ripped abs. Scan an eightyear history packed with several Ozzfest and Warped tours, world travels and a 19-date U.S. jaunt that started Monday at the Wiltern Theatre.
Then think about it: These dudes couldn’t possibly have time for serious decadence.
As you can tell from the street-scum poses and twin-guitar attack, Avenged Sevenfold applies a streak of Mötley Crüe face paint before kneeling at the altars of Guns N’ Roses and Metallica — all gods from an era when a roll of the dice could bring talented but messed-up rockers together with messed-up youth to make messed-up millions.
Today, chance and success are virtual strangers, and nobody knows that better than A7X singer M. Shadows and crew. So they have a plan.
Trained and ready
First, not just back-alley rockers, these five are trained multiinstrumental musicians with cornucopia ears. In the midst of drum thunder and runaway-ambulance guitar riffs, the first two tracks on their self-produced new album also incorporate church organ and waltz-time bridges.
Avenged records allocate substantial space to steel guitars and mini-orchestras. Extended song structures ring with classical grandiosity: “Unbound (The Wild Ride)” spiels guitar runs straight out of Bach; the necrophiliac epic “A Little Piece of Heaven” kicks off with European accordion, calls in some sweaty horns and meanders down a largely acoustic music-hall path that recalls nothing so much as Brecht.
Or Queen. The annals of pop music attest that while not every listener tolerates beastly thud, most respond to melodic leverage; while pretending to rock you, Queen generally tiptoed around muddy blues to wallow in megawatt musical theater. Avenged Sevenfold pulls off a similar trick, consecrating a hard-driving drum master called the Rev to the service of an omnivorous tunefulness generations removed from Little Richard and Rolling Stones roots. The twin-guitar harmonies of Synyster Gates (also a virtuoso soloist in the classic mode) and Zacky Vengeance often get compared with Iron Maiden, but their sheet music would suit a string quartet.
Above it all roars M. Shadows, who has ditched his early throat scream for a wide-range power rasp trained by Ron Anderson, vocal coach to Axl Rose, Layne Staley, Chris Cornell and Kylie Minogue; Shadows marks his progress impressively in the operatic leaps of the determined ballad “Afterlife.” His approach frequently makes you flash on the mannered bitchery of Rose (without the insanity) or the chesty growl of Metallica’s James Hetfield (without the soul). But there’s also a recurrent touch of boy-band whine, which, along with Shadows’ short hair, surfer looks and gym-sculpted frame, has made him the perfect transition for kids who turned 12 with Justin Timberlake and are trolling for something badder.
Shadows’ words cast a wide net. Biblical sources make for an instant buzz: He cadged the 2005 song title “Beast and the Harlot” and the 2001 album title “Sounding the Seventh Trumpet” from Revelation; the band name Avenged Sevenfold arrived courtesy of Genesis. Lyrics skew vague enough to carry both religious and romantic connotations while sometimes, as on the new album’s leadoff track, “Critical Acclaim,” unfurling Shadows’ right-leaning political views. (“They’ve never contributed a . . . thing to the country they love to criticize,” one line snipes.)
Ring it up
Image, skills, demographics, marketable winged-skull logo — Avenged Sevenfold has checked off every box, and a ringing cash register has resulted: Its previous album, “City of Evil,” moved more than a million copies worldwide, and the new one promises more. The downsides: a calendar that barely allows for bathroom breaks (no time to be interviewed for this story), and A7X has drawn the usual grumbles of selling out. The flak can’t hurt much, though, when you’re selling out to yourself. This band seems to be doing exactly what it wants.
Monday night, the tattooed guy-cliques, the rocker couples and the teens dragging parents with them sure weren’t complaining. With restrooms orderly, bar lines short and only one plop of vomit on the Wiltern’s plushcovered stairs, this capacity crowd had come in devotion; the continuous hum of throats singing along felt like part of the orchestration.
From the opening organ of “Critical Acclaim” onward (offstage keyboards complemented several songs), a Mohawked Shadows spun across the boards, his wide-spread arms conducting the ceremonies with muscular command. The lurching “Remenissions” gave a nod to Avenged’s scream-head origins, but the group stuck mostly to the more melodic strains from “Avenged Sevenfold” and “City of Evil.” Gates and Vengeance, whether hip-to-hip or spanning the stage, ran off a number of tight and fast dual-guitar harmonies beginning with “Beast and the Harlot.”
The most obvious new hits were “Afterlife,” with its nagging refrain “I don’t belong here,” and the hard-charging yet ambivalent “Almost Easy,” which snagged ears with an unforgettable up-and-down chorus hook. What Shadows described as “30 seconds of crazy death metal” provided an aerobic diversion. After an hourlong set that seemed shorter because of the songs’ somewhat stretchy nature, chants of “ Sev-en-fold” from the crowd brought the five back for an encore highlighted by the Metallica-esque confliction of “Unholy Confessions” (“I wish I could be the one”).
Varied as Avenged’s attack was, its cohesion would have been hard to imagine without the punishing three-kick-drum pummel of the Rev, who could make a juggernaut out of a nursery rhyme.
Avenged Sevenfold is a machine, but its parts aren’t made of steel. Good luck with the maintenance.
FOCUSED: M. Shadows, left, and guitarist Synyster Gates lead Avenged Sevenfold through a set at the Wiltern Theatre.
MATURING VOICE: M. Shadows has developed a wide-range power rasp since ditching the throat scream of his early career.