Avenged Sevenfold’s bold and revelatory new album, Hail To The King, has all the goods to be a runaway success: an abundance of panoramic riffs, gargantuan rhythms, bravura vocals, a dizzyingly affective narrative sweep and a sustained, epic roar that’s built for genuine speakers, not earbuds. With so much momentum behind it, it’s a little surprising to learn that the band’s members – guitarists Zacky Vengeance and Synyster Gates, vocalist M. Shadows, bassist Johnny Christ and new drummer Arin Ilejay – decided that the best way to push their music forward was by taking a look back.
“We spent some time listening to bands like Black Sabbath, AC/DC and Zeppelin,” says Gates. “The idea was to have an adventurous album where the songs were driven by big grooves and huge-sounding drums. We wanted to match a classic rhythmic feel with a very modern, progressive philosophy.”
But while musical reinvention might have been the creative order of the day, in a very real and significant way, Avenged Sevenfold had no other choice but to be a different band: Hail To The King is their first album on which founding member and drummer, the late Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan, who passed way in December of 2009, played no part.
Asked to describe how new stickman Ilejay rose to the challenge in making his studio debut with the group, Gates says, “He really shined – got the feel, the sound and the power. It was his first big record, but fortunately he played a lot of shows with us before the recording, so that helped to clear the nerves away. And it wasn’t a one-take kind of thing, so he was able to explore the songs, get inside them and make them sound right.”
Ilejay’s chops helped to steer the course of the music during writing and demoing sessions, as well. “Being that if was a riff-oriented record, we went in for a few days and made sure we had some things that were appealing to the ear,” says Gates. “Then one of us would get behind the drums and jam it out. All of us can play drums a little bit, but we’re certainly not on Arin’s level, so he’d come in to show us what a real drummer can do and how the things would sound when played all-out. Hearing him made us either say, ‘Hmm, that riff can be a little better’ or ‘Wow, that’s amazing. We’ll definitely base a song around that.’”
Producer Mike Elizondo (Dr. Dre, Maroon 5, Mastodon), who manned the board for Avenged’s previous full-length, 2010’s Nightmare, returned for the new set. The versatile hit-maker ratcheted up the band’s already pulverizing sound, making it more direct without sacrificing nuances, and even while adding such elements as a choir intro here and a string arrangement there, he has an unforced, naturalistic sensibility.
“Mike brings direction to the band in times when we really need it,” Gates says. “His sense of musicianship and his awareness of orchestration are pretty valuable in that he contributes so many colors and textures to the music.” He laughs, then adds, “Plus, he’s just a good dude to hang out with. That always helps.”
On the following pages, Synyster Gates discusses Avenged Sevenfold's Hail To The King track-by-track. The album will be released in Australia and New Zealand on 23 August, in the UK on 26 August, and in the US and Canada on 27 August. To pre-order the album, click on this link. For tour dates, visit this link.