All part of the plan

Avenged Sev­en­fold, with its trained mu­si­cians and classical in­flu­ences, doesn’t leave suc­cess to chance.

Los Angeles Times - - Calendar - By Greg Burk

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.

Pho­to­graphs by Ste­fano Pal­tera For The Times

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.

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