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Songbook: How Avenged Sevenfold's Unpredictable Rock Path Led To 'Life Is But A Dream'
Avenged Sevenfold's eighth studio album is arguably their most eclectic yet. But looking at the hard rock band's full discography, the experimental, genre-bouncing LP might not feel like such a dramatic shift.
Originally hailing from the Orange County punk scene, metal chart-toppers Avenged Sevenfold have always pushed their personal and artistic boundaries, embracing new school sensibilities while pulling inspiration from classic bands. Their latest album, Life Is But A Dream… takes all of their influences and penchant for genre-bending songs and blends them into a bold new sonic landscape.
The 11-track LP — Avenged Sevenfold's eighth — features long running times, experimental compositions and occasional orchestral accompaniment. While its swift genre-switching makes it a challenging collection, it also makes the album stand out among other works by mainstream rock bands.
As Life Is But A Dream… suggests, Avenged Sevenfold's willingness to experiment is what has kept the band active and vital for nearly 25 years. They've also not shied away from complex topics in their lyrics, delving into fantasy themes, broaching social and political issues, and getting emotional on songs about death, existence, and mourning the loss of their late drummer, The Rev.
While they've served up several anthemic hits like "Bat Country" and "Hail To The King" along the way, the deep cuts are what have kept their music intriguing. Combine all of that with the potent vocal presence of frontman M. Shadows, searing leads of guitarist Synyster Gates and their interplay with guitarist Zacky Vengeance, the rhythmic power of bassist Johnny Christ and their late drumming powerhouse The Rev, it's no wonder the group have retained a loyal following since the beginning. The result has been five platinum-selling discs, two No. 1 albums and a GRAMMY nomination.
As Avenged Sevenfold release their eighth album, GRAMMY.com took a deep dive into the band's catalog to examine how keeping an open mind and ears has led them down rewarding musical paths.
Sounding the Seventh Trumpet (2001)
Avenged Sevenfold's debut was recorded under primitive conditions. Initially a quartet — Shadows, Vengeance, bassist Justin Sane, and drummer Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan — the band had a $2,000 budget to play with. The Rev would immediately solidify his cred as a drumming force by recording every song in one take, and the band recorded everything else over those tight and often hyperactive tracks.
Avenged sounded utterly ferocious on thrashy songs like "Darkness Surrounding" and "Thick and Thin," then contrasted that with the piano ballad "Warmness On The Soul" and the melodic punk of "Streets," a tune ported over from Shadows' previous band Successful Failure. Unlike so many later epics, most of the tunes fell into the 4-minute range (the first and last time for an Avenged release), other than the melancholic 7-minute closing track "Shattered By Broken Dreams." The song starts in the vein of an acoustic ballad before transforming into an elegiac electric jam, combining many of their influences together in one composition.
Another one of those influences is seemingly their hometown of Huntington Beach, California, which the band has noted has a very diverse, eclectic population. The songs on Trumpet reflect that, combining elements of metalcore, punk, and classic metal into a raucous — if at times uneven — effort. Though they were all still teenagers when they recorded the project, it showed promise right away.
Waking the Fallen (2003)
Lineup changes after the release of their debut resulted in the arrival of shred king Synsyter Gates on guitar in April 2001 and Johnny Christ on bass in September 2002. Signing with Hopeless Records, who reissued their first album, A7X immediately showed how the revamped band gelled more and possessed increased confidence in the studio with their next effort, Waking the Fallen. Having two six-stringers increased the heaviness and their songwriting potential, and it was great for unleashing big guitar harmonies.
Godsmack producer Andrew Murdock (aka Mudrock) came onboard as co-producer and pushed the band to go further. He purposely reined in The Rev's drumming to balance chaos with control, and the group encouraged Shadows to sing more and not just focus on screaming, particularly in light of his vocal surgery around 2002 that took two years to fully recover from. While this singing shift would deeply influence their next album, it wouldn't sit well with some of the band's earliest fans. But it helped open up their music more. The singles "Eternal Rest/Chapter Four" and "Unholy Confessions" blended their new and old-school influences well.
The track "Remenissions" was among those that hinted at the multi-dimensional mentality to come, meshing aggressive metalcore with unexpected acoustic guitar work. The two-part, 13-minute "I Won't See You Tonight" is one of the album's most compelling pieces, both for its subject matter — detailing Shadows walking in on Sane attempting to take his own life, from Sane's perspective — and for its progression from an epic power ballad to the roaring second half, which invokes Shadows' reaction to his friend's suicide note.
It was clear from Waking The Fallen that Avenged Sevenfold were maturing fast. Their music and regular touring, including the Vans Warped Tour, set the stage for the big breakthrough.
City of Evil (2005)
With Murdock in the producer seat once again, the band's third album represented a turning point. Shadows worked with a vocal coach to have a gritty metal quality, but not blow out his voice the way he had when he was younger. He still tackles many screams live, but he took on a far more disciplined vocal approach on recordings, with grit and power that eschewed outright screaming. (Johnny Christ took over handling some of the other screams live.)
The video for the anthemic second single "Bat Country" really set the tone for the new Avenged Sevenfold — devilish Vegas imagery, lingerie-clad models, and lots of (digital) bats. The timing for this transition worked out well, as the nu-metal boom had ended and metalcore was peaking. With a classic '80s hard rock and metal revival in full swing, the time was ripe for a younger band to take those influences — Iron Maiden, Guns N' Roses, and Metallica among them — and shape them into a new sound. Avenged Sevenfold had arrived, heavy riffs and majestic guitar harmonies in tow.
Perhaps the metalcore mayhem was gone, but listen to the rapid fire riffs and pummeling double kicks on tracks like "Blinded In Chains" and "Burn It Down," and it's clear they still could bring the thunder. At the same time, their musical worldview had expanded. The melodic metal of "Sidewinder" featured Spanish guitar work from Gates' father, Brian Haner, in the song's extended Latin coda. "Seize The Day" recalled classic power ballads. The last three tracks veered into mid-tempo melodic metal including the galloping, Maiden-esque closer "MIA" about the horrors of the battlefield.
Avenged Sevenfold (2007)
Fourth time was the charm for the group's self-produced and self-titled album. Opening with the aggro assault of "Critical Acclaim" — which included criticism of keyboard warriors who whine about social problems but do nothing to solve them — the album traversed a truly wide range of sonic territory. "Scream" served up more groove metal intensity, "Rise" delivered high velocity power metal, and "Gunslinger" featured some bluesy acoustic work.
The Rev particularly came into his own on this album. He reportedly wrote 60% of the project himself, and he also provided co-lead vocals on half the songs. It's rare that a rock drummer gets that much input into their band's music, but he certainly provided plenty of artistic fodder to match his percussive propulsion.
Avenged Sevenfold closed out with two unexpected tracks. First was the 8-minute epic "A Little Bit Of Heaven," conjured by The Rev and inspired by Tim Burton, Danny Elfman, and Oingo Boingo. Featuring mostly orchestral instrumentation, the quirky track spun a gleefully morbid tale of murder, necrophilia, undead revenge, and a killing spree. In contrast, "Dear God" closed things out with a slow, country-leaning ballad of loneliness and longing on the road. (The video recalled Journey's "Faithfully.")
Leave it up to these guys to deliver a one-two punch without metal bombast.
This was originally meant to be the group's first concept album, but the tragic death of The Rev from an accidental overdose in December 2009 left the band facing an unexpected crossroads. The large void left by their 28-year-old drummer was immediately impactful, and the group enlisted then-Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy to finish recording their next album (building on The Rev's pre-planned drum parts) and join them on the subsequent tour. The choice made sense; The Rev represented the next generation of powerhouse players like Portnoy, and the duo had previously bonded personally.
While the original conceptual approach to Nightmare was abandoned, it became somewhat conceptual in that many of the songs addressed the band's despair and pain over the loss of their bandmate. The Rev's fingerprints are all over the album, which frequently favored slower and melodic songs than previous efforts. But there were also thrashier tracks like "God Hates Us," which served up a metalcore flashback for the band.
The first of two albums to be produced by Mike Elizondo (Eminem, Mastodon), Nightmare is arguably the most emotional album from Avenged Sevenfold. Many of the lyrics expressed the sorrow and grief that they felt, such as on "So Far Away." The piano-driven eulogy "Fiction" (originally called "Death,") was written by The Rev and finished three days before his passing. In retrospect, it was eerily prophetic, with lyrics like "left this life to set me free" and "in the end I gave my life for you."
Hail to the King (2013)
Following the album and tour cycle with Portnoy, Avenged Sevenfold brought in former Confide drummer Arin Ilejay for touring starting in 2011, and then creating their sixth studio album. Ilejay faced a daunting task — filling in for two big sets of shoes behind the drums.
Hail To The King was a different sort of album. A majority of the tunes had a mid-tempo stomp or slower, with insistent grooves which gave it an '80s heavy rock feel. It's not been uncommon for some thrash bands to shift focus (think Metallica and The Black Album), and the change of pace produced some memorable tunes.
While Ilejay tackled The Rev's faster, more thunderous parts live, he focused on strong, heavy grooves on Hail To The King. There was more consistency in approach for the band here, and the spirits of Metallica, Maiden, Megadeth, and other classic and thrash icons loom large over the album. Many bands have done cover albums or songs, Avenged included; here, they offer more of an homage record.
The Stage (2016)
In true A7X fashion, the follow-up to the streamlined music on Hail To The King turned into the group's first true concept album, but more thematically rather than utilizing a linear narrative. It revolved around artificial intelligence and humanity's place in the world and the universe.
While the prog tag had been tossed around in relation to the band before, The Stage really did live up to that term, as the group experimented with alternate time signatures and more complex arrangements. It was aggressive progressive metal. Producer Joe Barresi (Coheed and Cambria, Bad Religion) came onboard this time, and Christ recently explained that Barresi never says no to what they aspire to do — he just finds a way to make it happen.
The fourth Avenged album to open up with Gothic vibes — in this case, a keyboard intro in the spirit of Ozzy Osbourne's "Mr. Crowley" — the pounding tom work heralded the arrival of the group's fourth drummer, Brooks Wackerman, following the dismissal of Ilejay from behind the kit. Wackerman left his longtime gig with punk icons Bad Religion for A7X, who they felt was a better fit for the musical path they were on. He certainly unleashed powerful fills and kicks to attest to his worthiness to their drum throne.
The Stage was driven by a lot of fire and fury, but the band also chilled on ballads "Roman Sky" and "Angels" and the 15-minute, genre-hopping "Exist." That mammoth track opened with ambient mystery, erupted into power metal majesty, and churned through lots of guitar histrionics, with Shadows' subdued vocals arriving halfway through. Then the band wrapped it all up with a spoken-word passage from acclaimed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson — metaphorically and literally reaching for the stars.
Life Is But a Dream… (2023)
And now we arrive at the album that Avenged Sevenfold have been threatening to make for nearly their whole career. Inspired by the likes of Mike Patton and his experimental band Mr. Bungle, A7X channel an "everything but the kitchen sink" ethos into their newest compositions.
When M. Shadows announced that the band would be working with an orchestra, many people probably had visions of Metallica's S&M or a sweeping neo-classical album. But the band defied expectations by taking the opposite approach, and half of the songs are half as long as typical Avenged songs. (In other words, they run three to four minutes.) Even the barebones, black marker depiction of Death on the cover is a stark contrast to a lot of their more colorful past album art.
Shadows has stated that Life Is But A Dream… explores existentialism and absurdism, and it is inspired partially by the philosophical writings of Albert Camus as well as the use of psychedelic drugs by himself and Gates. The highly eclectic album is a study in wild contrasts, with its frequent tempo and dynamic shifts and avant-garde approach to songwriting.
A breakneck thrash pace dissipates into a gentle flute, piano, and acoustic guitar section on "Game Over," or into monotone vocals and atonal industrial sounds on "We Love You"; hypnotic horns and emotional vocals crescendo through guitar dissonance on "Cosmic." The last four tracks alone invoke elements of Broadway, funk, jazz, Sinatra-esque balladry, and, at the end, a neo-classical piano instrumental.
The latest Avenged Sevenfold platter circles back to what the band has shown from the start. By pushing themselves and their audience, one never knows what to expect from a new A7X album — or what kind of mark it will leave on its listener. How this latest epic will stand up over time remains to be seen, but Life Is But A Dream… proves that Avenged Sevenfold won't rest on their laurels. That's what's driven them all along.
Photo: Rebecca Sapp/WireImage.com
Metallica, Anthrax Guests Join Ghost On "Dance Macabre"
A rousing dance with friends pumps up the GRAMMY winners' latest release
GRAMMY winners Ghost are having an exciting time under Cardinal Copia, their new leader as of April, on their Rats! On The Road tour, which began earlier this month ahead of the June 1 arrival of their latest studio album, Prequelle. On May 18 the group released "Dance Macabre" from their anticipated LP, joined by friends for the middle ages' most unifying celebration — the Dance of Death.
GRAMMY winners in the festive throng include Metallica's Kirk Hammett and Deftones' Chino Moreno. Nominees partying out with the Cardinal and his ghouls include Phillip Anselmo from Pantera, Charlie Benante from Anthrax and 60th GRAMMY Awards nominee M. Shadows from Avenged Sevenfold. Shout-out to Bethany Cosentino from Best Coast for joining in as well.
"Dance Macabre" is Ghost's second single teasing Prequelle. Their first — "Rats" — was released on Friday the 13th in April and peaked at No. 16 on Billboard's Hot Rock Songs chart, their highest charting single to date.
Under the group's prior leadership by Papa Emeritus III, their single "Cirice" won Best Metal Performance at the 58th GRAMMY Awards. Ghoul bandmembers have shared with the Recording Academy how it felt to receive their first nomination as well as insights into the making of "Cirice." Now Cardinal Copia has his work cut out for him, leading his Unnamed Ghouls to greater extremes. They're off to a good start.
Photo: Harmony Gerber/Getty Images
Avenged Sevenfold Plot Tour With Prophets Of Rage, Three Days Grace
Hot off a sold-out run of dates, A7X returns to the road for The End Of The World tour
GRAMMY nominees Avenged Sevenfold will hit the road this summer headlining their new The End Of The World tour featuring Prophets of Rage plus Three Days Grace. The party starts July 22 in Mansfield, Mass., and runs through the top of September.
“We’re proud to tour with Prophets of Rage and Three Days Grace this summer across America,” Avenged Sevenfold vocalist M. Shadows said in a statement. “We see this tour as an opportunity to create an event with special bands and different generations of rock fans. From the moment you arrive at the venue until the last note is played, we’re hoping to give you the time of your life.”
Shadows and A7X are hot off the road for their sold-out tour in support of their seventh studio album The Stage, which recently earned the band their first career GRAMMY nomination for Best Rock Song for the album's title track at the 60th GRAMMY Awards.
We're hitting the road this summer for the "End of the World Tour" with @prophetsofrage plus @threedaysgrace and very special guests @Ho99o9 on select dates. Dates & details: https://t.co/ggcnN1M01Q pic.twitter.com/s3QWN6wHTO— Avenged Sevenfold (@TheOfficialA7X) March 5, 2018
Prophets of Rage bring their defiant, outspoken brand of rap rock to the lineup, featuring co-frontmen Chuck D of Public Enemy and B-Real of Cypress Hill, along with former members of Rage Against The Machine Tom Morello, Brad Wilk, and Tim Commerford.
"Awful pop dominating the airwaves? Political chaos across the land? Wanna fight back? Well The End Of The World Tour is here,” Morello says in a statement. “Prophets of Rage & Avenged Sevenfold have always played absolutely uncompromising music. If you want your summer loud, raw and fearless we'll see you in the pit."
The full list of tour dates and ticket info for The End Of The World tour can be found at Avenged Sevenfold's website.
Photo: Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images
All Time Low, Simple Plan, 3OH!3 On The Bill For Final Warped Tour
Kevin Lyman’s long-running pop punk package festival has announced its final lineup
June 21, 2018, will mark the first show date of the last summer of Warped Tour, Kevin Lyman’s long-running nationwide package festival that has been helping introduce young rock and pop-punk fans to bands like Paramore, Deftones, Fall Out Boy, Avenged Sevenfold, No Doubt, Green Day, and countless others since 1995.
Topping the billing for Warped’s final curtain call are 3OH!3, All Time Low, Bowling For Soup, and Simple Plan, joined by several mainstay acts from the tour’s early years, including We The Kings and Mayday Parade.
THE FINAL VANS WARPED TOUR LINEUP
collector ticket on sale now
️regular tickets on sale March 8th
️additional special guests TBA#vanswarpedtour #warpedtour #foreverwarped pic.twitter.com/QDr1vcIjde
THE FINAL VANS WARPED TOUR LINEUP
While Warped Tour is closing the curtain in its 24th year, festival founder Kevin Lyman did confirm in the announcement of the festival’s retirement that there was a special event of some form in the works in development to mark Warped’s “historic 25th anniversary” set for an unspecified date in 2019.
Tickets for the swan song summer of Warped Tour will officially go on sale on March 8. Full lineup details, show dates and venues can all be found on the festival’s official site.
Photo: Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images
Avenged Sevenfold's "Craziest Record" Earns GRAMMY Nomination
Guitarist Synyster Gates on how the band's 'craziest' record of their entire career earned them a GRAMMY nomination
After nearly 20 years, seven albums, numerous awards, painful tragedy, and multiple musical evolutions, the members of Avenged Sevenfold have earned their first GRAMMY nomination for Best Rock Song for "The Stage."
Progressive, sprawling and epic, "The Stage" is the opening and title track on A7X's seventh studio album, which saw a surprise release on Oct. 28, 2016, and launched the quintet's sound in a bold new direction.
"This was definitely a really crazy record to write," says guitarist Synyster Gates. "'The Stage' in particular is a super-long, thematic, building, progressive opening track that excites you as an artist and it excites you to introduce it to your fans, but you don't think GRAMMYs or radio."
Gates continues, "The irony of this, our last record, Hail To The King — I wouldn't say we were trying to make a sell-out record, but we were trying to make a super-concise, one vibe a song, because we'd never done that before, and so it's got tons of these three-four-minute bangers that seem maybe a little bit more radio palatable, and nothing for that one. But we write the craziest record of our entire career and that's when we get the GRAMMY nomination."
For The Stage, the band enlisted GRAMMY-nominated producer/engineer Joe Barresi (Melvins, Queens Of The Stone Age, Monster Magnet, Tool) for the first time. True to the LP's title, Barresi pushed the band to get the feel of their exhilarating stage show.
"Joe Barresi brought a lot of new things to the table," lead singer M. Shadows revealed on Full Metal Jackie (as told by Blabbermouth). "And one thing that I had never done was to do full-song vocal takes, where you sing from the very first lyric all the way to the end of the song, and as your voice starts straining, and as it gets a little more tough on the vocals, you get that live feel."
Exploring uncharted territory in the studio can be exhausting and time consuming. But in a world where many successful bands feel pressured to restart the album cycle with regularity, taking the time to craft the new album was a conscious decision.
"We kind of reached this point in life where we don't really want to put out anything just to put something out," Shadows told Rolling Stone. "We really don't want it to be like, 'Two years are up. You've had your break; now do another record and get it out there.' We needed to wait until something really inspired us, and that's why the record took a long time to get done."
Definitely worth the wait, "The Stage" gives Avenged Sevenfold their first crack at a GRAMMY win the 60th GRAMMY Awards on Jan. 28. A7X are currently on tour in the U.S., headed for Europe this summer, and they continue to push themselves musically, recently releasing their first acoustic recording, Live At The GRAMMY Museum.