Artist: Avenged Sevenfold
Album: Hail to the King (Deluxe Edition)
Let’s go back to 2002, when metalcore was in it’s infancy stage. Even then, Avenged Sevenfold was turning heads with the release of their incredibly heavy debut album, “Sounding the Seventh Trumpet”. It’s been 11 years and the band has released 5 albums since then, each displaying a new sound and new form of progression. 2004’s “Waking the Fallen”, which featured crowd favorites “Unholy Confessions”, “Chapter Four” and “Second Heartbeat” could possibly be one of the most iconic metalcore albums ever put out. With the rise of active rock, 2005’s “City of Evil”, which featured major radio hits such as “Seize the Day” and “Bat Country”, saw a completely new side of Avenged in the form of big melodies, insane duel-guitars and more of a rock feel. In 2007, “Avenged Sevenfold”, boasting such massive tracks as “Afterlife”, “Almost Easy” and the morbidly comedic “A Little Piece of Heaven” made way for a more operatic Avenged sound with the first vocals from “The Rev” making their way into the music. One of the most underrated albums they’ve ever put out came in the form of a CD/DVD called “Live in the LBC/Diamonds in the Rough”. This album contained one of the best covers of “Walk”, the angry, anthemic Pantera track that I have ever heard. It also contained songs like “Crossroads”, “The Fight” and a cover of Iron Maiden’s “Flash of the Blade”. This was where we really started to see A7X pull in a new direction. 3 years later, the band released “Nightmare”, which features the sad ballad “So Far Away”, the title track which is monolithic in itself and tracks such as “Welcome to the Family” and your church’s favorite “God Hates Us”, which was the final release to see Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan’s extreme talent on the drums with his passing in December of 2009. Oddly enough, this album was the first to hit #1 on the charts and remain there for several weeks. After the tour promoting the album, the band almost called it quits. However, once they sat and reflected, spent some time with family and got back into the groove of things, they were ready to once again unleash their brand of chaos upon the masses. Fall 2011, we got our first taste of some new A7X with the release of “Not Ready to Die” which was put on the popular multiplayer FPS Call of Duty: Black Ops. After this, we didn’t hear much from the band and many assumed that was it, however almost a year later, we got another new track in the form of “Carry On” which was featured on Call of Duty: Black Ops II. It wasn’t too long after this that we received word that the band had finally started writing for their new album. Months went by, again nothing, until April of 2013. The band released several teasers in the form of studio clips, cryptic messages and even some song clips…never revealing a single hint. Finally, July of 2013, A7X unleashed the stadium anthem “Hail to the King”, which quickly hit the top of the charts and has remained there since its release. Many were skeptical on the new sound, due to the simplicity and stripped-down nature of the track. Did A7X sell out? Did they finally give in and conform to the mainstream community? No! A little over a month after the release of the track, the band streamed their entire new album “Hail to the King” via iTunes and it was one of the most talked about albums of this decade! Fans have called it the “Black Album” of its time, referencing the iconic album Metallica released that has been a pinnacle in their career. So does the band have what it takes to sit atop the throne that bands like Metallica, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and so many other monumental rock bands have sat on for so long? Well, the simple answer for ME is yes. The band has went back and picked through what makes their favorite bands sound the way they do and even further back then that and they have created something that fans of every age will love.
Now, despite Avenged being my favorite band, I would not boast something that I don’t 200% believe. Everything on “Hail to the King” earns them the right to headline the biggest festivals and claim the throne they have so righteously sought after for so long. Let’s visit the throne room and find out what makes this album the milestone the band has been after for all these years!
Instrumentation: Instrumentally, this is the biggest album the band has ever done. The drums hit harder, the solos are blazing fast and stand alone, the bass lines drive the entire album and vocalist M. Shadows has really honed his craft to perfection. Every bit of this album has something to prove. Loss is a tough thing to deal with and even harder to come back from being in a band, but they’ve pulled it off in a way that no other band like them could. My favorite riff in the entire album is the main riff in “This Means War”, which is one of the parts of the album that the band decided to tease us with prior to announcing the release of the album. It has a slight “Sad But True” feel to it but it remains true to everything that embodies Avenged Sevenfold. The rest of the album is no exception, let’s take “Requiem” for instance, the band has found a way to incorporate latin chants, orchestral parts and make the track feel like it was pulled straight from the depths of hell. “Crimson Day” is another favorite, being that it’s one of the softest songs that the band has ever written and has a melancholy, yet hopeful feel to it. “Coming Home” is one of those epic tracks that you’d expect in the years of being a Deathbat in that you get your dueling guitars, your epic chorus lines, your catchy hooks and that headbanging quality that only A7X can pull out of their hats. “Planets” and “Acid Rain” make up what is arguably the most perfect end to an album that the band has ever produced. “Planets” is dark, epic and feels like it could be straight off of a Star Wars soundtrack. Then you have “Acid Rain”, which is a love song during the end of days. I don’t believe that either of these tracks could exist without the other, as they transition so perfectly and fit so perfectly in with each other. Put simply, the instrumentation on this album is on a level that you couldn’t fathom for sounding so simple on the surface.
Lyrical Content: Lyrically, the band has outdone themselves. As most of you know, a lot of the composition in the previous A7X album has been contributed to “The Rev” and for them to pull something like this out of their hats really says something. We’ll start off with “Shepherd of Fire”: “Well, I can promise you paradise. No need to serve on your knees and when you’re lost in the darkest of hours, take a moment and tell me who you see..” Throughout this album, we see a lot of references to hell and to the devil, making it easily some of their darkest material ever written. This track is about the temptation that the devil can offer you and how easy he can reel you in. “Don’t you see… I am your pride, agent of wealth, bearer of needs.” He is offering you everything and more in exchange for nothing more than serving under his reign, even through writing this it sounds tempting, does it not? Let’s move on, “Hail to the King” is a track about usurping a tyrannical king from his throne. It doesn’t get much simpler than that, right? Typical rock track? Typical lyrics? It may seem that way, but the way that Shadows describes the scene really paints the portrait in your head and helps you to see what he was seeing when writing this track. Isn’t that what music is all about? Painting a scene within the mind to go along with what you’re hearing? Next, we’ve got “Doing Time” which is about serving time in the dungeon for going against the tyrant’s reign. “I maintain an addiction, been known to take it too high. I got an itch with a loaded hair trigger and a one-way ticket to fly.” These lyrics speak of a killing spree that, I expect, the character went on in order to catch the attention of the evil king. “I don’t need no lessons, after all, everybody’s doin’ their time.” He shows no remorse for his actions and would do it again, if given the chance. Next, we jump into one of the subjects that A7X likes to hit on most: War. “This Means War” opens with a simple riff and some really heavy, cave-man like drums, we hear 2 pounding deep bass drums almost like a heartbeat and then it explodes into one of the most memorable riffs on the album. This track talks about what it’s like to be in war and not wanting to be there any longer. “I can’t go on this way, not as I am today. The ugly side of me is strong. Take aim a loaded gun – pull back on all who run. A coward’s truth inside the wrong. This Means War.” We also hear references to the mental battle that ensues during these times and the suffering that children endure while caught up in it. The track ends and we’re lead into haunting latin chants: “Prodigia comploratus, silens oro. Regnet exitium” Which I’ve tried deciphering and comes up something like this “Mourning wonders, I pray silently, reigning destruction.” As most know a “Requiem” is a call out to God to save us in our time of need. However, this particular “Requiem” is a cry out to the devil to grant the strength to conquer enemies and to reign down destruction to all those who oppose you. “Nature quaking, Prophets aching. I kneel, faithful. Damnation cracks the sky. My heart, fiction. Superstition. Your grace, deathless. Give life to my last breath.” The most memorable part of this track, though, comes a little further in after the second set of latin chants. “Rise from ashes, violent clashes. My soul, vacant. Cleanse me of all this sin. I stand guilty, I bleed filthy. Born of fire, savor this final hour.” Could it be that our protagonist regrets his actions? Possibly, but I think this is more remorse in the fact that his army of undead most likely took innocent lives in order to obtain the heads of his enemies. This, along with the entire album, is up for interpretation. Next, we have the ballad “Crimson Day”, which is one of the saddest tracks that the band has ever written, but gives a light of hope somehow as well. “Dark years, brought endless rain. Out in the cold I lost my way. But storms won’t last to clear the air for something new. The sun came out and brought you through. A lifetime full of words to say, a hope that time will slow the passing day…” You feel your eyes watering already, don’t you? Much like “Seize the Day”, “So Far Away” and “Fiction”, I can’t listen to this track without shedding a few tears. What is it about a song that manages to pull the heart strings in a manner such as this? It’s the personal experiences with which you connect to these songs, which bond you to the song in a way you didn’t think was possible. The solo in this track even had me crying, due to it’s melancholy feel. Once this track ends, “Heretic” begins which is a track that is self-explanatory with its title. “As they search for blood, all eyes descend on one. Honest man in chains but that don’t matter anyway… My judgement day!” This is one of those tracks that shows how truly wicked these times were. Men passing judgement on the innocent, no trial, no way to share their stories, just put to death. Much with tales like the “Salem Witch Trials” and other gruesome tales of that nature. Putting saints, witches and “traitors” to death for no reason other than to watch the blood shed. Truly sickening and A7X has found a way to make it come to life and turn your stomach as well. “Coming Home” is a tale of travel, hardship and the strength found to overcome all the world has thrown at you. “I’ve stood in hell, where many had to suffer. I stared the devil in the eyes. Walked many roads to witness ancient idols and found the great gates of fire.” After you hear these words, some dueling guitars grace your ears and Shadows continues to describe our hero’s journey. He’s finally coming home after all he has been through. “Planets” tells the tale of the end of days and how planets will collide and end all life as we know it. “Take heed the violent march is closing in. You can’t fight defeat them on your own. Weapons are loaded for the final stand and they’re all aimed at you from heaven. Planets collide” This track, as mentioned earlier and in interviews with Shadows, has a Star Wars feel to it. There are lots of big orchestral parts that bring this one to a close. “Acid Rain” begins and it tells the tale of two lovers who, despite the world ending, still have each other. “There is no death, no end of time when I’m facing it with you. Children still play in the garden. Dance as the sun slips away. Not even stars last forever, cleanse us acid rain” Perfect end to the album, right? I think so, anyway. Now on to the bonus track, a celebration of “The Rev’s” way of life: “St. James” The day I first heard this track, I found myself wondering how the band could find a way to describe his life so perfectly and make a track that I know he is proud of? Spending the better part of their lives with Jimmy, they knew him better than anyone possibly could have. Anyone who knew him, knows it’s no secret that he liked to drink, but for them to make a song that truly captures the essence of what the man was about is absolutely stunning. I will leave you with this quote, which came with the download code for the track: “St. James” is the light to “So Far Away’s” dark. “St. James” is a celebration of Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan’s heart and color and should be listened to with your favorite beverage!” I couldn’t have said it better myself, what a perfect way to describe this track and, while I don’t drink, I can imagine this would be an amazing song to enjoy a cold one to!
While everyone seems to want A7X to go back to their metalcore days, that simply will not happen. As years go by, people grow up and grow intellectually, musically and lyrically. This is a simple fact that people need to get through their head. Avenged Sevenfold would not be the band they are today if they didn’t take that extra step to do something different with every record. “Hail to the King” epitomizes all that the band represents and will become a cornerstone and pinnacle in their career. Whether you think they sold out, got stale or whatever the case may be for some, consider this: This album now sits on the #1 spot on iTunes and the Billboard charts making it their 2nd album in a row that has hit that mark. They’re definitely doing SOMETHING right. For me, I went into it expecting a whole new sound, as I do with every record. It helps you to enjoy the album for what it is. This is, without a doubt, my album of the year for 2013 top contender. I’m sure I’m not alone in this thought. But don’t just take my word for it, go and pick up your copy of “Hail to the King” and kneel at the feet of the new Kings of Rock!