Avenged Sevenfold – Hail to the King
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Avenged Sevenfold has returned with the band’s sixth studio release, Hail to the King. A7X was formed in 1999 in Huntington Beach, CA by childhood friends, vocalist Matt Sanders (M. Shadows), guitarist Zachary Baker (Zacky Vengeance) and drummer James Sullivan (The Rev). Later that same year lead guitarist Brian Haner, Jr. (Synyster Gates) joined the band and after several failed bass players, A7X finally found the final piece of the puzzle with the addition of bassist Jonathan Seward (Johnny Christ) in 2003. Drummer Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan passed away in December 2009 and after some soul-searching the band brought in Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, The Winery Dogs, Adrenaline Mob) to fill the drummer position on a temporary basis. A7X hired Arin Ilejay in 2011 to be the band’s full time touring/session drummer and earlier this year it was publicly announced that Ilejay is now an official member of Avenged Sevenfold.
Hail to the King is the first CD which does not include any musical input from The Rev and is also the first album to feature new member Arin Ilejay behind the kit. Avenged Sevenfold again enlisted the assistance of producer Mike Elzondo who was also at the production helm of the band’s 2010 release Nightmare. If you are looking to hear sounds reminiscent of their earlier releases including Nightmare, the 2007 self-titled CD or 2005’s City of Evil you are looking in the wrong direction.
Avenged Sevenfold has stripped their sound down to its musical core on Hail to the King and it’s a complete departure from the band’s previous work. I believe you should have a grasp of Metal’s history to understand where Avenged Sevenfold is coming from and if you judge this CD by today’s standards it would probably be identified as Rock/Hard Rock not Heavy Metal; but Hail to the King is what Metal was for the decades before Grunge took over in the 1990s. A7X has gone old school and taken huge influences from Heavy Metal artists such as Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Megadeath, Black Sabbath, Dio, Iron Maiden and more. They have gone back to the days when Heavy Metal was straight forward and not subdivided into 50 different sub-genres.
With their new musical direction Avenged Sevenfold has definitely shed the gruff vocals and metalcore characteristics of the past and that is evident with the first track “Shepherd of Fire.” It begins with the sound of crackling flames, tolling bells and deep horn sounds. This song gets the CD off to a good start with solid vocals, a respectable rhythm and don’t be surprised if you find yourself tapping along with the beat. The musicianship is tight and there are some really nice drum fills from Ilejay. “Shepherd of Fire’ is not the fastest tempo song but it has a subdued steady groove and it’s a potent track regardless of the pace.
“Hail to the King” is the title track of the album and was the first single to be released. This song also sticks in the mid-tempo range and spotlights guitarists Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance. Syn and Zacky are one of the top lead and rhythm guitarist partnerships I have ever heard and they make what they do seem easy and their tones blend melodiously. This is not my favorite track but I believe Avenged Sevenfold released this as a single to make a statement of their musical direction and it certainly did that.
With track 3, “Doing Time” I was pleased to hear the tempo pick up some speed. This song sounds very reminiscent of the style and song pacing of Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction with racy lyrics, Axl Rose inspired tones/screams and guitars that sound Slash meets L.A. Guns. I could have probably done without the spoken word intro but overall I enjoy this 80s inspired metal jewel and this is a great track. “Doing Time” also includes M. Shadow’s signature evil laugh and it just wouldn’t be an Avenged Sevenfold CD without that.
Next you will encounter the 6-plus-minute track “This Means War” and I know what you are going to say, it sounds like “Sad But True” by Metallica. I totally agree that there are sections during the verse and portions of the guitar work that does indeed sound very familiar and that similarity is hereby acknowledged. What does not sound like Metallica is the chorus, the guitar solo and an outstanding bridge which are the best parts of “This Mean War.”
“Requiem” begins feeling very dark and evil with a choir singing in Latin, a choir that you can imagine wearing hooded cloaks and lurking in the shadows. This dark ominous feel continues throughout the length of the song and the orchestra arrangement only adds to this unsettling feeling. This track would fit quite well on the soundtrack to a Horror movie because “Requiem” has the musical quality that make movies like The Omen or The Exorcist seem even more eerie.
I think Hail to the King starts to come to life when you reach track 6 “Crimson Day.” It begins simply with guitar and vocals; then the rest of the band comes in and completely fills out every inch of available space. This is an elegant song with strong vocals and melodies. The guitar solo is moving and the bridge is ethereal and in stark contrast to the dark feel of the previous track “Requiem.” Vocally I have never heard M. Shadows sing so ardently and if there was ever a question about M. Shadow’s abilities as a vocalist, this song blows those notions out the window. This is one of my favorite tracks on Hail to the King and I was moved by the lyrics of “Crimson Day” and their emotive delivery. “I’ve been wrong times over and I’ve been shamed with no words to find, but if the sun will rise, bring us tomorrow, walk with me, crimson day.” This song is beautiful and I don’t mind the slower pace, because that is part of what makes this such a poignant track.
On to “Heretic” which is the most Avenged Sevenfold sounding song on Hail to the King. This is also mid-tempo for a majority of the song until you hit the bridge and then the song slows down. I think this is one of the stronger tracks on the CD with stellar guitars and Johnny Christ is a stand out with his bass composition and he keeps the deep groove moving throughout the track. We also get touch more of Arin Ilejay mixing it up a tad, but just a tad.
“Coming Home” has an Iron Maiden vibe with Steve Harris inspired low-pitched rhythmic tones. Ilejay lays out some sweet drum sounds and he also takes confident control of the breakdown. Vocally I have always loved M. Shadows and he is definitely showing his range in this performance and Syn and Zacky prove yet again why they are a power duo in the rock guitar world.
Next is “Planets” which begins with a deep sounding brass section and drums and then the guitar enters and opens the song up. That low resonance stays consistent and although a majority of the song resides again, mostly mid-tempo, it does however speed up slightly in the verse sections and during the bridge. “Planets” also has some nicely displayed guitar arrangements and we get a bit of double bass action from Ilejay. The song and vocals have a hard edge and are delivered full of self-assurance and M. Shadows displays some impressive vocal control.
The last track, “Acid Rain” is slow and purposeful from beginning to end, a rousing song with understated passion. The sound is fully encompassing with every element crystal clear with a sinuous delivery. “Our day has come – it’s drawn to the sky. Don’t shed a tear now, be thankful for the time. Life wouldn’t be so precious dear, if there never was an end. Children still play in the garden. Dance as the sun slips away.” This track includes beautiful piano and string sections with guitars that emote just the right aura to entice you gracefully through the song. “Acid Rain” has a very retrospective feel and it was a savvy decision to place this song last on the CD. Well almost last…
If you purchase the Deluxe Edition (and I hope you do) you get a bonus track called “St. James.” This Synyster Gates’ penned gem completely embodies The Rev’s music, spirit and essence. “This is the story of a man, who conquered life, drink in hand, ship unmanned.” “St. James” is a celebration of who The Rev was in life and not in death. “He led with songs, they sang along, created bonds that held so strong.” This song is how we all should remember The Rev as a vibrant spirit, fearless, full of life, love, friendship and talent. “For every sorrow there is a light from our St. James.”
“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!”
Cheers St. James
I get the feeling with this CD that Avenged Sevenfold is experiencing a rebirth of sorts. This album is about finding themselves and who they are without The Rev. M. Shadows, Syn, Zacky and Johnny are ready to move on and they should be allowed to do so. No one will ever forget The Rev, but at some point you have to let go. Avenged Sevenfold has stripped the music down so they can discover who they are as songwriters and musicians. A7X is looking to what the band will be and not who the band was and that means taking chances.
I can respect what Avenged Sevenfold is doing, but that does not mean I am completely on board with every track on Hail to the King. I would like to have heard a few more up-tempo songs particularly in the front half of the album. The rhythm pretty much stays at a mellow steady speed on several songs and that can make it hard to find separation between tracks. Hail to the King does have a nice groove throughout the CD but it could use a little more balance on the tempo scale. I also wish they would have utilized Arin Ilejay more and let him out of his cage a bit. The drums seem somewhat rudimentary at times and sticking to the fundamentals with kick, snare, high hat, cymbals. I have seen Ilejay play live with Avenged Sevenfold and he is one hell of a talented drummer and he can do way more than was asked of him on this CD. I do get that they were veering away from The Rev’s larger than life style and building a new foundation, but no matter how the drum parts were written, Ilejay was going to get some flack. Arin Ilejay has shown he is not afraid to sit on the riser that once was the thrown of The Rev, so let him show the world what he can do and honestly a little bit of over the top drumming would have gone a long way in helping the differentiating between tracks.
Hail to the King is an intimate look at a band rediscovering and reimagining itself. In the beginning of the CD the songs are similar, dark musically and lyrically, but as you proceed forward track by track each song feels more comfortable and confident. Hail to the King opens shadowy, difficult, stuck while circling mid-tempo, but by track 5 they start to pull themselves out of it and by “Crimson Day” they are moving over the hump. Hail to the King is a testament of A7X’s abilities, resilience and determination to continue full steam ahead. I give Hail to the King 8.9 out of 10 stars and I can’t wait to see what Avenged Sevenfold has up their sleeves next. Definitely check the band out live if they come through your town because this is one of the best live bands there are, so undertake the A7X live experience.
Hail to the King Track Listing
You can purchase Hail to the King at iTunes or in a music store near you.