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Interview: Avenged Sevenfold

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Like them or not, the past four months have been nothing short of fantastic for Avenged Sevenfold.

Avenged Sevenfold

Back in October 2016, the hugely popular five-piece shocked the world when their seventh studio album, The Stage, dropped quite literally out of nowhere.

In the age of social media – in which bands love teasing new releases as much as possible in order to get some sweet pre-order cash – the Californians defied all convention not only in how abrupt their record’s delivery was, but also in the music itself. Supplying over 70 minutes of pure metal, with some tracks alone clocking in at a quarter of an hour long, The Stage may have been the surprise of the year for metal fans worldwide.

And, much like an immense rock dropping into an expansive lake, its effects are still being felt long after the initial impact. This year, The Stage led the way to Avenged headlining a trailblazing arena tour across the UK with support from fellow rock darlings Disturbed and In Flames.

Before his band’s penultimate show of the tour at a sold-out O2 Arena, guitarist Zacky Vengeance reflects on the success of the record that led him and his four brothers in arms to this point.

“For us, it was about surprising our fans,” he recalls.

“Because, for [the band’s previous album] Hail to the King, we did the three-month roll-out and we could sense the boredom in our fans: ‘Oh, Avenged is trolling us. They’re doing the campaign and doing scavenger hunts, just release the fucking songs already! We just wanna hear the album!’ This time, we gave them nothing and then we gave them the album, like, ‘Here you go. Make up your mind!’

“Album sales weren’t as good, but at what point do people critique success on how many fucking albums you sell in a week rather than how big your balls are? So for us, I think we had some pretty big fucking balls and we did some exciting shit. I think the fans appreciate that too,” he concludes with a laugh.

One of the defining factors of The Stage has been its concept and central ideas: the entire record tackles themes of artificial intelligence, the human condition and looking to the stars for answers.

“We were looking at and reading about stuff about outer space and the universe,” says Zacky.

“I sent Matt [Shadows, lead singer] an article about artificial intelligence and thinking about taking that and running with it, and he had been sending me a lot of articles about, you know, Bill Nye and his book, Undeniable, talking about evolution and our place in the universe, and reading Carl Sagan’s book, Cosmos. So my mind was already focused on outer space and artificial intelligence, and I came up with the [artwork] and the centrefold for the album. We just wanted to tie technology and the universe and where we fit in in the grand scheme of things.”

The sheer creativity of The Stage exists almost in direct contrast to its predecessor, Hail to the King (2013), which was very clearly inspired by classic metal acts such as Metallica and Guns n’ Roses.

“Obviously you can tell the heavy-handed influence on Hail to the King,” Zacky admits, but explains that, when it came to The Stage, “Matt would listen to some obscure hip-hop and then come back with a drumbeat that he could convey to Brooks [Wackerman, drummer] that was somehow metal, but was inspired by some wacky hip-hop riff or something. I wouldn’t even be able to decipher that it came from hip-hop. Everyone’s mind works differently.”

He continues: “We were so inside our own heads in search of trying to create a new style of heavy metal or hard rock by incorporating crazy drumbeats and long, ambitious songs. Our influences were as far off the beaten path as they’ve ever been.”

For both the album and its follow-up UK tour, Vengeance also states that the “visuals are just as important as the music”, with the six-string shredder pulling double-duty as Avenged Sevenfold’s art director, creating a very elaborate and engaging stage design for the arena-level trek.

“I went through more artists than I care to mention in the hopes that they could take my vision, take what I was trying to give them,” he grins.

“No one was able to do it, so finally, at the end of the day, I did it myself, with the help of my brother, and designed the album cover [and] the ‘spaceman’ visuals. You know, there were a few artists that were able to do what we were looking for with that stuff and, then, same thing with the music video [for the single, ‘The Stage’]. I just had an idea and wanted it to be perfect; we were very fortunate to have Chris Hopewell from the UK because he had the same vision. He stepped into my mind and it was fun!”

As great as The Stage has been for Avenged Sevenfold creatively, it hasn’t been without its fair share of controversy. As speculation was piqued by the unveiling of the record’s title track as a single in October, the band’s ex-label, Warner Bros. Records, threatened to derail the entire thing with the release of a “greatest hits” album allegedly designed to block The Stage and confuse casual fans.

“As far as our old label is concerned,” Zacky says, “we had no idea they were even going to attempt any of that. We didn’t know about that until the album was coming up; we actually thought it was quite hysterical when they were misled by a fake tweet that [Fozzy singer and close friend] Chris Jericho sent out, and that just kind of shows what kind of a label they were in the first place that they were led on by that rumour. And that’s, obviously, why we wouldn’t want to be with a team of people that were – I mean, I hate to use the word ‘imbeciles’ but I’ll go ahead and use the word – imbeciles.”

Regardless, Avenged Sevenfold continues to be one of the biggest rock bands of the 21st century, and the experimental and unpredictable The Stage could very easily prove to be a career highlight.

At least, if the shows on their UK tour are anything to go by.

Avenged Sevenfold’s new album, The Stage, is available physically and digitally now via Capitol Records. Read our review of it here.

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