It’s 2007. Bush is President. Blockbuster is entering its death throes. St. Anger is Metallica’s newest album. The world is in a precarious place and people are unsure of what will happen next, but there is at least one thing most people have an opinion on: Avenged Sevenfold. Some say they are overblown trash, some insist they are the younger generation’s Metallica, while others simply brag that they can beat “The Beast and the Harlot” on Expert mode in Guitar Hero II. Ten years later? Not a lot has changed (except maybe that part about Guitar Hero. Rot in peace, plastic instruments!).
A decade ago today, Avenged Sevenfold would release an album that would coincidentally mark a pivotal point in their careers. Riding off the heels of City of Evil‘s critical and commercial successes, Avenged Sevenfold’s eponymous follow-up saw a slight shift in direction towards a more mainstream hard rock sound, while experimenting with a more varied sonic landscape than its predecessor through use of orchestral components (“Afterlife,” “A Little Peace of Heaven”) auto-tuners (“Lost”) and even a flat out country/blues anthem (“Dear God”). Whether or not these attempts at creativity helped or hurt the record is a debate that still lingers on within certain circles of the group’s dedicated fan base, but today you can join two friends as they celebrate everything about this album…good, bad, and ugly!
Reese Burns: Avenged Sevenfold’s self-titled is ten years old. That’s kind of crazy, right?
Jared Mullis: Definitely! It’s funny to look back on, because at the time of its release, this album wasn’t exactly ‘embraced’ by everyone; the critical response was lukewarm to say the least. Even I have no problem admitting it’s not their greatest effort.
RB: Big time. City of Evil was pretty much the perfect way for Avenged Sevenfold to sort of…bow out of the whole metalcore scene, and it’s an album that’s really beloved by fans and non-fans alike. So when they followed up an almost NWOBHM-style album with the more straightforward self-titled, it was sorta tough for people to swallow.
JM: Interestingly enough, this record was my first real taste of Avenged Sevenfold. I knew the big songs of course: “Beast and the Harlot,” “Chapter Four,” “Bat Country,” but unlike much of the public, this would be the only record that defined my perception of them at the time. It’s weird to see how different this album is when compared to the rest of their discography. There are a lot of growing pains. It’s probably the most ‘transitional piece’ out of them all.
RB: That said, there is some weird, experimental stuff on this album. It was my first taste of metal – way back in 2013 – and it was a cool starting point, since it had songs that were kind of all over the place. Take “A Little Piece of Heaven” for example, that song is nuts! They managed to make a weird, quasi-orchestral metal song work, and carry the concept for almost ten minutes.
JM: Undoubtedly a fan favorite. Just watch their performance of it on Live In The LBC! I think that is something about the self-titled that has sort of become a treasure – the amount of unabashed love from avid fans for songs like “A Little Piece of Heaven,” but also “Dear God” and “Gunslinger.” Songs that step out of A7X’s usual mold musically yet still embrace the aspect of this band that people tend to enjoy: their theatricality.
RB: This is probably the band’s most mainstream sounding album, but at the same time, there’s a lot of odd stuff on here! Like the kid’s vocals at the end of “Unbound (The Wild Ride),” what the hell was that about? They just threw a bunch of curveballs like that out there, and tried a lot of cool stuff, for better or worse. And the material here is only the tip of the iceberg. If you look at that B-side album they put out in ’08 there’s a ton of cool out of the box stuff on there like “Tension,” the alternate version of “Afterlife,” and “Until the End.” It goes to show how creative they were getting during the writing sessions for the self-titled. Fuck, I’m still pissed that “The Fight” didn’t make the final cut for the album. Imagine that song with a proper mastering job….
But of course, there is also a sort of ‘safeness’ to the album. While there’s a lot of creative stuff here, it’s not a crazy heavy album, and it certainly has some moments on it that are mainstream, for lack of a better word.
JM: Agreed, and honestly, I think it was those mainstream flourishes that sort of kept me away from this one for so long after I began listening to their older stuff. Going back to my point earlier, I look at this album as Avenged sort of coming to grips with their fame. Waking the Fallen got them recognition, City of Evil launched them into the MTV-realm’s upper stratosphere, what comes next? That, to me, is this album’s fundamental flaw, but also its most interesting component: sometimes it seems like the band doesn’t know.
RB: Just building off what you’ve said there about the mainstream flourishes, it was this album that kind of solidified them as a “mall band,” you know? You go to any mall in North America and there’ll be a sketchy dude selling bootleg band tees at a kiosk, and A7X will always be there.
JM: (Laughs while looking at collection of ill-fitting bootleg A7X tees) You’re definitely not wrong!
RB: Another thing that became established on this album was that Avenged Sevenfold were serious about making music. The band themselves have said that around the time of City of Evil, all they were after were more and more drugs (laughs). But on this album they really focused on being songwriters more than rockstars. And you know, there’s positive and negative side effects to that. The album is a lot more polished and professional, but a lot less energetic, as well.
JM: You mean “Dear God” isn’t bouncing off the walls with raw energy? (laughs) That vibe does come across pretty consistently here. City of Evil has a lot of long winding tracks that try to be as epic as possible, which is great and all, but it definitely seems like the band stripped that aspect of their music back, in part at least, to have more concise tunes. “Almost Easy” and “Scream” come to mind, the way the motifs never really change but still are made into fleshed out pieces.
RB: It’s also important to acknowledge that this was the band’s last outing with their late drummer, The Rev.
JM: Sadly, yes. There is a lot to be said there. As a young teenager finding my passion for the drums, The Rev’s body of work had a serious impact on how I approached playing. This was the album I actually jammed to a LOT when I was starting out; I spent a lot of time nailing those fills in “Almost Easy” or keeping up with tracks like “Lost,” which was basically just a speed-endurance test for a thirteen year old kid who could barely keep a beat. It’s been said a million times before but I’ll say it again, that guy could demolish a kit. For me to hear about his passing so shortly after becoming a HUGE fan of the band was a serious blow. He had a lot more to do with this album as far as vocals are concerned as well, which is almost eerily fitting.
RB: You’ve probably already heard all of the rumors and speculation by now, but some people say The Rev knew he was dying by the time of this record. I really think that reflects in the songs he wrote. “Afterlife” is pretty self explanatory, but “Brompton Cocktail” is the one that really gets me. It’s a song about doctor-assisted suicide through drug overdose. The creepy part is, that’s not too far removed from how he did end up going.
JM: I can’t say I’ve kept up with any rumors about the way he went; there is always skepticism regarding these matters, and while I get where people are trying to come from, I find it a little disrespectful. Just looking at some of the internet-gossip swirling around about Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell earlier this year makes me feel a little sick. Regardless, I think it is safe to say that his contributions to this album were among his best with the band and can still be felt on it to this day.
RB: Absolutely. Portnoy had some big shoes to fill on Nightmare. One of the things I appreciate so much about that record is that, while it’s very much a continuation of the sound they established on Avenged Sevenfold, Portnoy never tried to emulate The Rev’s playing-style. Sure, there were some cool nods to the way he played (like that signature bell on “Natural Born Killer,” or the opening drum fill on “Welcome to the Family,”) but The Rev was a monster behind the kit, and Portnoy never tried to one-up him at his own style.
JM: I’m picking up what you’re throwing down; The Rev is honestly all over Nightmare. I don’t think they could have come up with a better tribute than for him than that record. I understand that most of the album was near completion by the time Portnoy stepped in, and I feel like it especially shows when you look at the more back-to-basics approach of Hail to the King (which saw Portnoy step down from drumming duties) in comparison.
RB: Just to sort of bring things back to Nightmare and the self-titled, Avenged Sevenfold have always had a thing for transition albums. For example, Sounding the Seventh Trumpet was a rough blueprint for how Waking the Fallen would sound, and the self-titled really laid the blueprint for what would become Nightmare. Nightmare is my favorite album of all time; I know it in and out, and it really feels like a natural extension of the sound they built on the self-titled. They took that everything-but-the-kitchen-sink songwriting approach that was adopted for this album to the next extreme on Nightmare. So more than anything, I really appreciate this album for what came after it, if that makes sense. You following me? I’m trying to follow me.
JM: While too much time in the Indy Metal Vault-dungeon appears to have scrambled your ability to write fully coherent sentences, I think I’m following you, Reese.
RB: I’m my only companion in the dungeon, and after a few years of talking to yourself, your conversational skills degrade.
JM: Moving on, I do think this album laid the groundwork for what the band would become today (which is pretty friggin’ sweet) and coming in a full decade ago, I don’t think anyone could imagine where this band would go on the wild ride that this album would kickstart. A lot has happened to Avenged Sevenfold in the decade since this album’s release, but if you were to travel back in time and hear it, even with some of the differences in tone, you can still hear the same band on the surface: one concentrating on their craft and image.
RB: Hur hur. “Wild Ride.” Hur hur. But you’re right. And that’s sorta the point of any good self-titled album: it’s a mission statement just as much as it’s an album. It really shows where the band was at during that point in their career, and I really think it was on the self-titled that they grew out of being just a bunch of kids doing drugs and jamming out and matured into a band that was ready to headline shows and join the ranks of the heavy-hitters. There ain’t a whole lot of bands who can claim they got to play with Metallica and Iron Maiden while only touring on the back of album number four. It’s far from my favorite Avenged Sevenfold album, but it’s certainly one of their most important, and was the album that shot them into the stardom they’re enjoying now.
JM: At the time of its release, there was a review online where the writer begs the question, “the disc is even being released the day before Halloween, could it get more corny?” For years I’ve waited to directly respond to this question, and I can finally say yes, it can: try a 10th Anniversary piece of an album that came out the day before Halloween…the day before Halloween!
RB: Y’know, I actually read the article you’re talking about! (laughs) Doesn’t that guy know that the only opinions that matter are ours? I couldn’t gel with any of what he was saying. Sure this album’s got some iffy moments, but it’s still a clear winner to me. Oh well. WE’RE saying it’s a good album, so that’s what counts, eh?
JM: Whatever you say, Reese. Now back to the dungeon, you go!
RB: I’ll meet you there.
To fully celebrate what Avenged Sevenfold has to offer, we have posted several single artworks and their respective music videos for songs from the album below. Enjoy!