Even Chinese Democracy by Guns N’ Roses will be hard-pressed to be as bad as this, the sorry result of a band who caught on to some initial success and let it run away with them.
As the singles from Avenged Sevenfold’s third album City of Evil began to cross over into the mainstream in 2006, vocalist Matthew Sanders, better known by his stage name of M. Shadows, was quick to start promising to whichever glossy magazines would listen to him that the follow-up would be a masterpiece. A work that would leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that Avenged Sevenfold were an innovative powerhouse and not an accidental success.
"It’s going to be a sound that no one’s heard – kind of like when Korn came out, they sounded different than everybody. We want to do that for our own generation", he purported in Metal Hammer. Comparing yourself to a band becoming increasingly irrelevant might seem a fairly questionable move if you’re trying to anoint you and your band mates as the ‘next big thing’. Then again, this is the guy that thought St. Anger was an awesome record, and has more recently been mentioning their new self-titled in the same breath as Metallica’s The Black Album.
It’s highly likely that Avenged Sevenfold was the benefactor of a lucky MTV break and some horribly garish promotional photos make it clear that they’ve let it go to their heads. They were happy enough writing songs on City of Evil about bats and apocalyptic horsemen, but now that they’ve tried to blaze their way into the big league (whatever the ‘big league’ of rock music is these days), it becomes all too clear that the group have very little talent between them, and even less that’s worth saying. Admittedly, Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance do not make a bad pair of guitarists together, though a few of their riffs sound like technical exercises out of ‘Teach Yourself Guitar’ books ("Scream"). Kit-basher The Rev thankfully seems to know his place, and can just as easily be ignored, contributing an endless loop of some churning fills a la Vinnie Abbott. The main irk is M. Shadows. The man is a buffoon. Having left a passable metalcore grunt behind, his incredibly grating and scratchy caterwaul sounds like the bastard child of Axl Rose and David Draiman. When you’ve got a voice like that, you should keep your mouth shut if at all possible, not embark on an unnecessary self-promotion tour about how gnarly your new album is. Avenged Sevenfold is the Good Charlotte of metal.
Every second of this jumbled hard rock is trite, and more than half is insincere. "Critical Acclaim" is slyly manufactured rather than borne out of honest belief, because a band appears to have some kind of artistic integrity if they address the war in Iraq. Its five minute contents could have been spliced together off the cutting room floor, and make as much sense. The first minute is a pure, unabashed Iron Maiden-aping intro, organ and all, until it gets going. We then get a crunching nu-metal groove that never really changes chords (and who needs to when the melody is as tuneless as this?), and an overwrought pre-chorus in which the vocals are so ear-splittingly whiney you’d think that Shadows had wet himself. There is more, if you can muster up the courage, he also whispers like a cat, pulls out the best macho Phil Anselmo inside him, screams ‘Fuck you!’ His snarling Southern chops still mars any of his attempts to, uh, sing. Somewhere in this mess we’re meant to pick up a streak of blind patriotism, which flares through in random, disorganized jabs next to the screeching guitars and dissipates just as soon. And who says that song structures like rhythm should get in the way of a good old flag-waving?
"So, how does it feel to know that someone’s kid/ in the heart of America has blood on their hands/ fighting to defend your rights/ so you can maintain the lifestyle/ that insults his family’s existence?/ Well where I’m from we have a special/ salute waved high in the air/ towards all those pompous assholes/ who spend their days pointing fingers". Are you serious? There hasn’t been a lyric that hyper literate about the government since ...And Justice for All. Personally, I think Avenged Sevenfold should get out their political angst in a book instead.
Not that it matters much, as most of these numbers find themselves fighting their own inanity. "Almost Easy" feels like it goes for an age, and "Scream" is shock-rock-mixed-in-with-graphic-sexual-encounter monotony. "Relax while you’re closing your eyes to me / Relax as I set you free / With your arms by your side there’s no struggling / Pleasure’s all mine this time". Shadows, when you’re bragging about how liberating it feels to rape someone, you’re going to come off like a total dickhead no matter how unenthusiastically you moan it, so you might as well go the whole way and at least sound convincing.
The band has barely brushed themselves off after the open misogyny of "Scream" when they revert to ex-girlfriend melodrama that marked City of Evil’s lone ballad "Seize the Day", changing suits from seedy back-alley men to tender lovers without batting an eyelid. Avenged Sevenfold has long ago stopped making any sense whatsoever, but canned and performed straight-faced, the track begins and ends with an absurd symphonic interlude.
And the orchestral elements splattered in as an afterthought, far from delivering on the band’s promises of making them sound ‘more mature’, only ascertain what Avenged Sevenfold so desperately lack, restraint. It’s best not to ask who the hell thought "Gunslinger" could use a backup gospel singer in the middle of (God help us) a guitar solo, or what the reasoning was behind the inclusion of clumsy, eight-minute Disney-gone-mental soundtrack "A Little Peace of Heaven". Prolonged and funny for all the wrong reasons, the various instruments, reduced to little more than juvenile sound effects, are painfully out-of-sync with Avenged Sevenfold’s chugging attack. Come back, Metallica! All is forgiven!
Unoriginal, overlong even at a ten track setlist, and riddled with banality (the disc is even being released the day before Halloween, could it get more corny?), Avenged Sevenfold is execrable in nearly every conceivable way. The album bears the unmistakable mark of a handful of amateurs who’ve overshot their station and think that what they’ve accomplished is ambitious and mind-bending. The rest of us can do little but... well, laugh in pity.