AVENGED SEVENFOLD, Avenged Sevenfold
by Simon Reynolds
Avenged Sevenfold caught ears and eyes beyond the headbanger heartland with 2005’s heavy-rotation video “Bat Country”. Its mixture of campy Goth and Eighties Sunset Strip-style debauchery was matched with a refreshing postmodern metal sound that fused Synyster Gates’ florid Slash-wannabe solos with the nail-gun frenzy of The Reverend’s almost-industrial drumming, while vocalist M. Shadows shifted effortlessly between an Axl Rose snarl and a Thom Yorke croon. True metalheads scorned A7X as mere pop (the singer sings rather than screams!). But as far as nonbelievers are concerned, metal is improved when it goes pop.
On A7X’s self-titled follow-up to the million-selling City of Evil, “Scream” is the closest thing to a “Bat Country”-style breakout. From the sexual predator lyric with its video-friendly werewolf imagery to the snakehipped groove, the song showcases the Huntington Beach, CA band’s charms (a sense of fun rare in metal these days) and strengths (considerable chops, especially in the rhythm section). Unfortunately, A7X believe in the Album as Artwork. Producing themselves for the first time, they indulge their Danny Elfman fan side with movie-score style embellishments: cellos, choral singing, woodwinds, even steel guitar (on the maudlin homesick road song “Dear God”). Such pretensions to majesty and variety make much of the album more Bat Out of Hell than “Bat Country”. But even Meatloaf (over-)producer Jim Steinman would flinch from perpetrating a ghastly farrago of polka, ska, and 1920s jazz like “A Little Piece of Heaven.”
Ultimately, A7X’s real problem isn’t risky stylistic over-reach, it’s their tame idea of wildness. This brand of tattooed loveboy metal has been a highly conventionalized form of pseudo-rebellion since Motley Crue. A7X are conservative in another sense too. On the opener “Critical Acclaim,” they come across like some ungodly hybrid of Ann Coulter and Sebastian Bach, spouting incoherent rage that conflates limp-wristed liberalism, lack of patriotism, and deviant lifestyles: “how does it feel to know that somebody’s kid in the heart of the America has blood on his hands fighting to defend your rights so you can maintain the lifestyle that insults his family’s existence.” It’s the album’s fiercest tune, perhaps because it’s the most heart-felt (the band sell Stars and Stripes T-shirts that read “America: Love It Or Die”). In A7X’s muddled worldview, guns, God and groupies are what make America great, and family values is when your dad (in Shadows’ case) gave you the cassette of Appetite For Destruction the week it came out.