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The ‘curveball’ is that Hail To The King is a record so steeped in classic metal you half expect it to include a foil-wrapped trouser cucumber.
Avenged fans are used to change, but this is a big evolution. The songwriting is infinitely more mature, the solos more refined and the production, courtesy of Mike Elizondo, more fierce and dynamic than ever before.
“We knew right away that we wanted to make a riff-based big-sounding record,” explains Synyster. “We’ve done it all with the duels and that was cutesy, progressive, whatever – we just wanted to have fun with it – but this time we wanted to really make a serious heavy metal rock record.”
As Syn and Zacky mention records such as The Black Album, Number Of The Beast and Back In Black, it becomes clear that the benchmarks the band have set themselves are astronomically high. Identifying the common threads in those albums is a difficult task in itself, but the challenge was exasperated without The Rev (who passed away during the writing of 2010’s Nightmare).
“Previously, we’d have Jimmy throwing in his three or four songs and they’d be perfect and take a huge weight off,” says Synyster. “But we didn’t have that [this time]. We were supposed to go to the studio on 1 January, but it got pushed back [to April] because the workload was significantly harder.”
Although the band work as a team on everything, M Shadows and Synyster have always penned the bulk of the band’s material, but the guitarist says the Rev’s knack for a single (he penned tracks Welcome To The Family, Almost Easy and Afterlife, to name but a few) was “outside of everyone’s wheelhouse”. Eventually, bassist Johnny Christ started to chip ideas in and having agreed to be “extremely, brutally honest” with each other, the group decided to gut both their sound and their approach to songwriting.
“[In the past] you would come up with something outrageous and you could stick it in anywhere,” admits Syn. “Certain parts could become almost interchangeable and that’s the last thing we wanted with this album. What we wanted is if you hear one measure of a song, you’d know exactly what it was right away.”
“We were trying to shed the layers,” says Zacky. “We’re notorious for laying guitars upon guitars and stacking vocals upon vocals, but it takes away from the true power of what we aim to do for this record.”