FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 25: Avenged Sevenfold – City Of Evil

FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 25: Avenged Sevenfold – City Of Evil

FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 25: Avenged Sevenfold – City Of Evil

This is the twenty-fifth entry of my blog series ‘First Impressions.’ In each entry of the series I write about discovering an influential or genre-classic album for the first time and then write about that experience in a semi-planned, semi-stream of consciousness manner that is less helpful than a traditional album-review, but which does contain more personal flavour.

I prefer my actual reviews to be serious and informative. ‘First Impressions’ allow for a more director’s commentary approach. I can be silly and talk bollox, or make points that only a handful of people will understand. Usually I will deliver insights into my history with similar music as well as into how my mind works and how both of these things change over time. You will have to either possess a fairly detailed understanding of Rock and Metal history and Subgenre conventions or have a second tab open at Wikipedia to fully follow every single point that I make, but don’t let that put you off…I’m not honestly expecting you to know every single riff or tone I’ll point out off by heart.

First thing is first, regular readers. I know that I said in the last edition of First Impressions that the next edition of First Impressions would be a guest blog written by my bestest pal, Magnum Valentino but I got bored today and so have written one to squeeze in just before that. Unpredictable.

Unpredictable like the music of Avenged Sevenfold. Seemless link. Learn from the pro.

Ok. At this stage in these articles I usually explain my history with the genre and the band etc.They are a bit genre-defying to be perfectly honest but I suppose the genre is technically Metalcore, so, oh just look through my reviews. I like Metalcore quite a lot of it. I used to hate it when it was new, but got used to it around 2009 and have been catching up ever since.

The band, I’ve always ignored. They’re filed away in my brain as ‘beginner stuff’ like Linkin Park, Disturbed, Drowning Pool, Bullet For My Valentine, Paramore and a few other artists popular with people who get into a bit of rock and metal but never go down to nerd like levels like I’ve done. Real people I guess. Popular bands I guess. Popular bands, that people who like obscure bands don’t like unless they got into them before those people turned into obscurity-hunters.

I don’t think you ever like Avenged Sevenfold AND The Rotted equally if you loved The Rotted first. Admittedly that’s just an absolutely uniformed suspicion that I have, but still, I think there’s a barrier in getting into the world’s Bullet For My Valentines if you already left the ‘beginner stage.’

Fuck me that sounds snobby. I guess that’s because it is. That’s the thing about Metal. Snobby, trainspotter-esque extreme metal nerds breed into people a snobbery. Its hard to overcome. Even when you act normally a lot of the time it seems to crop up when you don’t expect. I guess I still wouldn’t like to listen to Black Veil Brides even though I like to think of myself as open-minded. Just goes to show.

Anyway. I’m going into this trying to be open minded at least.

So what do I know about the band? I know that my friend loves them and gave me this album to try out. I know that a lot of people I go to Uni or share a building with either love them or at least like their ballads. I know people on podcasts that I like like them. I know that this album has become a classic album right under my nose.

If you are one of the aforementioned snobs you’ll probably disagree with that notion. But tough. Its happened. Better luck next time.

I also know that a lot of people complain that the band “sold out” and have changed their sound from a more metal sound to a more rock sound. I remember around the time of Waking The Fallen, magazines claiming that they were “the saviors of real metal” due to their use of guitar solos, around the end of the Nu Metal era when guitar solos were apparently uncool. It was a similar time to when everybody liked Chimaira, (which everyone still should) and around the time when the music that is known today as Metalcore was known as ‘The New Wave Of American Heavy Metal.’

It’s a bit stupid really, because the whole guitar-solos-are-gone or metal-is-dead idea is an entirely fictional construction. I’ve made this point many times before, but people, when grunge became popular acted like metal was dead despite the fact that the entire time between the death and repolarization of metal, nearly all of the world’s most beloved Black, Death, Melodeath, Doom, Power and Progressive Metal albums were released. Dream Theater and Gamma Ray for example spent the entire of that time blazing away with impressive guitar solos and playing music that often sounded like the “true metal” that was supposedly gone.

Anyway, recycled rants aside – This is the album on which they “sold out” and is supposedly less like the metalcore I’m used to and more classic rock influenced, apparently. There’s supposedly no death growls or harsh screams. So maybe I won’t like this one. Maybe I should’ve tried that Seventh Trumpet one instead. Well, that’s not the one I got given so bear with me.

So what do I know about their music? To be honest, I’ve not heard many Avenged songs all the way through, because I was never interested enough to give a song a fair chance, I’d hear a bit and switch it over because I wasn’t invested in them enough to try.

I have actually heard their entire Nightmare album before though, as when it came out, a friend who was a drummer and who liked Dream Theater gave me it to try out since Mike Portnoy played on it. Because their own famous drummer had died and was a gigantic Dream Theater fan and it was a cool ‘make a wish’ scenario that was really interesting. I give the album a chance. I’m not a massive fan, I’ve listened to it five or six times but never really massively committed to it. I remember that ‘God Hates Us’ is a fairly decent song, and one of the songs has an interrupting piano that was amusing. My brother hated the tone of it though and that put me off a bit. Yes I am easily swayed.

So now I guess I’ll try out the album I’m actually talking about. [Go go gadget City Of Evil…]

The album contains the band’s two most famous songs (as far as I’m aware) ‘Bat Country’ and ‘The Beast And The Harlot.’ ‘The Beast And The Harlot’ opens up the album with double kicks, a fast pace and a little bit of lead guitar. It contains the album’s title in the lyrics, which is a cheesy touch I always enjoy.

It actually seems like a good song until a chorus which takes a stylistic turn that I dislike. Then it goes between good and bad. Its funny, because I’ve been enjoying a lot of cheesy-as-hell stuff recently. Gamma Ray and Children Of Bodom play some stuff I would never, ever have liked in my teens, but that chorus is even too cheesy for me on first listen.

I’ve heard this song once before now that I think of it but was distracted by the video, I also know it was in a Guitar Hero, but the only Guitar Hero I owned was 3 and it wasn’t in that. Funnily enough, I recognize the part I don’t like, but never heard the ‘good parts’ before. Just goes to show the old prejudice there.

I remember I saw they had that whole sleeze/glam image that I used to dislike a lot as a teen (the metal press still hadn’t gotten over slamming glam and I was impressionable and stupid) and a lot of the people I personally disliked socially like them, so I always associated the band with twats and so never gave it a fair chance. Yes. I was a dick. I always hear in the podcasts that I listen to now, or read online about people who just write off excellent bands like Bring Me The Horizon because the band members look or act like idiots, instead of due to an actual assessment of the music. Its interesting to think I was one of those people too. Well, at least that means that maybe those people will grow out of it too.

Next up is ‘Burn It Down’ it opens up fairly heavy, and between the two songs already, I can really see why Jimmy ‘The Rev’ Sullivan was so commented-upon as a drummer, his style is very distinctive and uncommon. He’s almost like Vinnie Paul in a way, in as much as how much his feet and wrists stand out.

I don’t think much of the production on the record though. The guitars are very farty, in a Fieldy’s bass sort of way, and the drum mix is very bassy for my tastes. It also feels like all the bass guitar and regular guitars are sucked diagonally in, so they are thinly spread at the front corners of the cube and string backwards towards the fat drumkit at the center of the cube, with the vocals sat between the kit and the cube’s front facing panel. The back panel and sides of the cube are curiously empty. I suppose they’re just trying to draw attention to the uniqueness of the drums and you probably get used to it… but this is a first impression, and it’s a pretty distracting mix.

I have to admit, the guitar quality is a lot better than I expected. The riffs so far never work in a way which I like, but the guitar solos are exemplary. I actually find a lot of the lead guitar work really entertaining indeed. Sometimes it evokes a Kerry King direction and sometimes it comes across like Brian May. Its an interesting mix. Plus they solo really frequently, which I appreciate.

The next track is the six-and-a-half minute ‘Blinded In Chains,’ which is all over the place in tone and tempo. I couldn’t really describe it at all. It covers a hell of a lot of ground and takes a fair bit of concentration. I guess “Progressive” would be the most apt description then, because no other music sounds quite this way. The way the vocals work reminds me more of the Nightmare album than the first two songs did.

The next song is the famous ‘Bat Country’ which I’ve also heard once. Wait, one and a half times to be honest. I saw half of a music video. I also listened to it through once because I used to be in a band called Bat Country for half a year and wondered at one stage what the song sounded like. Not like the band I was in it turns out. Makes me wonder why they chose the name to be honest, but that’s another point.

The song reminds me of ‘Illusions era Guns N’ Roses in parts and like Megadeth in other parts. The drum fills and lead guitar are good. Notice a pattern?

Yeah. I’ll be honest I can see why people would like them. They’re over the top, cheesy and in your face. They’re upsettingly stylized and there may even be a cynical degree of attention grabbing, but damn it, they are immensely talented. And a lot of music I like is cheesy and attention grabbing… L.I.M.P Bizkit is right here!

Next up is a song called ‘Trashed And Scattered’ which could easily be a Gamma Ray or Stratovarius song. That’ll do. The chorus is actually catchy in an 80s Dio/Ozzy way too. The best on the record so far.

Sometimes it gets interrupted by ‘wacky’ bits in the way Annihilator or even Anthrax would do on the late 80s stuff, but I’ve come to accept that its just what this band does.

I don’t know what to think of the singer. M Shadows may have a silly name (but so does Hell Commander Nattlefrost, snobs) and a weird voice, but he has the same talent as a great singer with a better voice. He can sing remarkably well indeed, he’s as good at singing as a guitar virtuoso is at solos. I just don’t like his voice. That’s just personal taste. If you liked the voice and got the talent too, this would be amazing. I still think they’re damn lucky to have him, because his voice is so furiously unique. You wouldn’t mistake him for anyone. The second you hear that voice you’d be able to identify the band. That usually equals money. Which I guess it does, since they’re a massive, massive band.

I alluded to earlier how I basically haven’t found a Metal fan under the age of 21 who doesn’t like this band, or who didn’t at least like them for a while before they decided they were too cool (L.I.M.P Bizkit was right there, remember when all the Limp Bizkit fans started liking Nile and Behemoth instead ?) and every single person I’ve met since I moved to my current city residence who likes any rock music at all likes them. My Girlfriend even likes them and she doesn’t like anything too heavy at all. And when my friends or acquaintances have talked about them, they’ve alluded to other friends or acquaintances of theirs who like them.

It seems weird to me, as I chose to live in a bubble and deliberately ignore them (and I guess Bullet For My Valentine too, for the same reasons, and both Killswitch Engage and Trivium too at the start, but I succumb to them in 2009) I imagine anyone else who deliberately chose to ignore them too in a way I did (which a lot of the same got-into-metal-before-Metalcore-was-big-but-after-grunge-wasn’t-so-big generation may also have done) may be equally surprised to look up from the bubble and find out this band is giant, beloved, and has a classic album. It is surprising. Isn’t it?

The next song is an up tempo, jangly ballad called ‘Seize The Day’ which is decent, and has a guitar solo that really brings to mind ‘November Rain.’

‘Side Winder’ is next. It seems to be more of a normal Metalcore song, apart from the massive vocal choirs. It reminds me of Shadows Fall, Rise To Remain and Trivium. Not the thrashy stuff they do, but the mid-tempo mid-album tracks (you know, like ‘And Sadness Will Sear’). Apart from the little Dream Theater bits it throws in. They remind me of Dream Theater. Obviously. They don’t remind me of L.I.M.P Bizkit… in case you were wondering.

The acoustic bit at the five-minute mark is genuinely great. It reminds me of Ill Nino. Not that many Scream Bloody Gore fans will take that as a recommendation, but hey, I like it. The Spanish sounding guitar solo is terribly good fun. It sounds like a scene in an American teen comedy where they shy guy finally gets laid in Hawaii at a beach-campfire-beer party.

Next up is ‘The Wicked End’ which sounds heavier to begin with, and has a lot of Prog Metal style riff interruptions. It goes into a slow, melodic, mid paced clean section that kills the pace somewhat but then goes all virtuosic again after and then drops a bit of thrash in. When the slow melodic bit comes back, its not as jarring since I’ve gotten used to it. Four Minutes in and it turns into a piece of orchestral, cinema score sort of stuff. I didn’t expect that. Well played, Avenged Sevenfod, well played. Wow, these guys really do like Dream Theater don’t they?

Stupid of me, but I never put two and two together that that famous association would actually translate into how bloody unique, spazzy and progressive A7X actually are. My ‘look at that sleeze band that twats like’ mentality made me assume this would be really dull, simplistic music for WWE background music, popular for imagery and not talent. God I was a prick. You make these decisions once when you’re 15 and never question them again (well, I suppose I questioned it now… but you get what I mean. Its easy to be less of a prejudice prick for new information, but its harder to get rid of all the bad assumptions you already made. I suppose it because you aren’t confronted with all of them, so you work through it upon each confrontation…maybe. What am I, a vet? …I mean psychiatrist. I think. Neurologist maybe? I don’t know who would deal with this sort of issue. Not a vet. Unless you are a horse. Hey. HAY – which horses eat, innit bruv? Look; I never said I WASN’T a horse now, did I ?)

Ok. I’m not a horse. But you know who rides horses? Horse-shagging porn starlets. Oh wait, not rides in the Irish slang way, rides in the actual usage. Cowboys. Cowboys ride cows. Horses. Cowboys ride horses… and the next song, ‘Strength of The World’ opens up with some cowboy music.

It then turns into a very Shadows Fallsy type song. Its cool. Shame the lyrics weren’t about horses. The lead guitar at 5.22 sounds like victory in a Megadrive game.

The album closes with the double punch of ‘Betrayed’ and ‘M.I.A’ which are an amalgamation of everything that’s happened before. They’re all over the place (with the confines of the bits the other songs have set up – it doesn’t turn into Gangsta Rap or anything) and a bit confusing and hard to concentrate on. And that’s coming from a giant prog fan. …but then I suppose you never really “get” most prog first-pass anyway. It’s the kind of thing you dedicate multiple, multiple listens to and really unravel.

This album is a difficult one to write a first Impression for since it really requires a lot of acclimatization, boundary overcoming and serious attention paying (which is a bit hard when also writing.)

For all the wank talked about this band, by people like me, who never really gave them a fair chance, they are admittedly very interesting, original and talented. They’re beyond cheesy, odd and garish as all hell, but so is a lot of the stuff I listen to.

I can’t admit to liking this all that much at first listen, but I respect it a lot. It doesn’t suit my palate just right, but its close. I don’t imagine I’ll become a fan and rush out and buy all their albums (like I did with Queensryche, undisputed champions of the First Impressions series) but I will stop skipping their songs when they come on, and I’d go see them live with the mate who gave me this album should the opportunity arise.

Overall opinion: removed from ‘beginner’ file, re-filed under ‘respect but not “mine.”’

[…and if, like my album-gifting mate, you’d like your own First Impression article, just make a suggestion in the comments, I’m happy for the hobby.]

[Also, next time, as promised (if rescheduled) look forward to Magnum Valentino doing this, but funny, and better than I can.]

Ps. Limp Bizkit.

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