Thursday, September 5, 2013

Album Review: Avenged Sevenfold Takes Old-School Metal Risk With Hail To The King

On the day that Avenged Sevenfold released their long-awaited new album, Hail to the King, Halestorm's Lzzy Hale tweeted that there hasn't "been a metal record like [Hail to the King] in years."

We assumed she was referring to the quality of the songs on the album.  But, after giving Hail to the King several listens, we think she could have easily been referring to the style of the music or even the actual melodies, notes and chords of the songs themselves. 

What do we mean by that? 

Well, we couldn't help but hear some classic hard rock and metal songs in our heads as we listened to the first several tracks.

For example, the opening track, "Shepherd of Fire" is based around a looping, one-measure riff that is quite similar to Metallica's "Enter Sandman."  Then, the title track's open string pull-offs set against a power chord tapestry and bass drum hits on beats two and four calls to mind "For Those About To Rock" by AC/DC.  The next tune, "Doing Time," begins with singer M. Shadows channeling his inner Axl Rose with a crescendo scream that segues into a raw guitar riff and octave vocals that, together, are more than just a little reminiscent of the Guns-N-Roses classic, "You Could Be Mine."  Then, if you weren't paying super-close attention, you wouldn't notice that "This Means War" was actually not a cover of another Black Album opus, "Sad But True."  And though decidedly more modern metal in sound and production than '70's rock, "Requiem" clearly draws its orchestra-accompanied rhythm from Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir."

Finally with "Crimson Day," the band got to a track that wasn't so easy to compare.  This gentle ballad featured a beautiful melody from M. Shadows and a nicely-phrased guitar solo from Synyster Gates.  Perhaps a little spooked by the half-dozen soundalikes that kicked off the album, I started thinking that the drums-bass-and-vocals of "Heretic" sounded a little like "Someone Like You" by Bang Tango, but after later listening to that hair metal hit, I decided it was more my imagination and, with that out of the way, got to appreciate the song, especially the nice symphonic arrangement of the bridge of what is actually a pretty slamming tune.

Though "Coming Home" still had a slightly retro sound, it contained more of those A7X trademarks fans have grown to love:  extended guitar solos, impressive drum fills, and those catchy high-tenor range choruses.  "Planets" continued to propel the album forward, complete with its very-much-current double-bass-driven chorus and what sounded like a horn section at the end - quite a unique idea for a metal jam!  The California quintet brought its latest effort to a satisfying conclusion with the six-plus minute shuffle-beat ballad, "Acid Rain."  This closing number featured some of the most melodic, expressive solo guitar work heard in metal in recent memory and capped off what may very well be remembered as a showcase album for Gates.

Pondering the album as a complete work, it felt refreshing that only the first half toed the line of sounding a little too familiar.  Those looking for Avenged Sevenfold to explore new territory certainly got their wish with the second half.

So, if you think that music has gone downhill in recent years and long for the days when the Black Album and the Use Your Illusion series owned the charts, Hail to the King may just be the album you've been waiting for all of this time.  If your appetite is more for invention rather than destruction, this album may not satisfy you on your first listen.  But once the initial "Hey, that sounds like..." shock wears off, Hail to the King offers a lot to like for fans of both old-school and new-school hard rock and metal.