Up until 2 days ago, all I knew of Avenged Sevenfold were the 2 songs regularly played on Kerrang! TV here in the UK. I liked those enough that when I was wandering through the local HMV store, I noticed that the self-titled CD was on sale and decided to treat myself. And what a treat it has turned out to be. First of all, if you like your metal loud and screaming, non-stop and unintelligible, then this CD may not be for you. Granted there are a couple of tracks that roll around like a thunderstorm caught between two hills, but this CD has much more to offer. Lyrics that at first listen sound innocuous enough but on deeper reading become very dark and vicious, juxtapose wonderfully with soaring guitar work and M Shadows' gravel-in-honey voice. And right when you think they are a full-blown metal gatepost, you are sidelined with the gorgeous lament of being far from home and missing your girlfriend. Genius!
In an age when most bands actually want to be labeled as a certain genre, Avenged Sevenfold seem perfectly at ease with doing whatever comes to mind. They look metal. They can write with a goth sorrow. They can be as sarcastic as the best punk offerings. The orchestral arrangements add so much to already full songs, and the musicianship and production are polished and swaggering. M Shadows struck me at first glance as another Chester from Linkin Park; he still does but if anything his vocal range is greater and smoother, this guy can sing and growl as required. He is also by far the best eye candy of the quintet, though none of them are shrinking violets and are sure to have their fair share of groupies.
The CD opens with the bitter and twisted "Critical Acclaim", setting the goth tone with an intro on a church organ. The cover notes don't say which of the band write the songs, but M Shadows gives it perfect credence with his ranting in mid-tune. Hot on it's heals comes the single that broke the band in the UK, "Almost Easy". It's melodic riff and broken pace is commercial enough for the accountants but distinct enough to do the business. Track 3 is "Scream", a mix of gothic and bluesy vocals with a chorus that reminds me of old Bond themes, there is something sinister about this song that surfaces again later on the CD. Another great guitar segway leads into a manic chain-saw reminiscent moment; perhaps the band have been watching American Psycho?
The second single from the CD arrives in a funereal mourning of strings full of of false pretenses as "AfterLife" launches into more fast-paced guitars and drums. As M Shadows laments that he shouldn't be there, the listener is never quite sure if he is the damned or the devil, his voice has such a dangerous edge. By now we know the lad can sing, but track 5 is a wonderful diversion from the metal noise we've had so far. "Gunslinger", perhaps inspired by the Stephen King series "The Dark Tower", begins with an acoustic blues air as if it's sitting out on the porch with the sun setting over a dusty plain. Shadows cant keep his voice in check for more than a verse though, and everyone else wants in on the action, lifting the song to classical proportions. This could be the next single; it is certainly commercial enough and shows the band's range. It feels like an Guns and Roses effort, but with less whining from Axel and more soul from Shadows. "Unbound" brings us back to familiar territory with busy guitars, but wait, is that a piano? Younger British rock fans will feel at home with this track as it strongly echoes the rocksters Eliot Minor with lots of intricate scales rising and falling on a bed of frantic drums. The child-sung bridge is a little unnerving, but it is probably meant to be: Avenged Sevenfold seem happy to make you as uncomfortable as possible while lulling you into parting with your time and money willingly. If I had to pick one track as the filler for this CD, "Unbound" would be it, but only if I absolutely had to pick one.
Another strange twist comes with "Brompton Cocktail" and yes, those are bongos. After wanting to leave the After life earlier in our travels, M Shadows seems to have changed his mind and is now embracing his own end. The title suitably refers to a gothic era, and there is something very Evanescence about this track. Is Shadows the male equivalent to the delectable Amy Lee? You decide. With "Lost" the band return to the opening theme of not being happy with their leaders. This is an anti-war song that assaults the ears with the power of a stealth bomber. And yet more unusual sounds, as Shadows' vocals are fed through a distorter for the chorus, in case the song needed any more edge. Which it doesn't. Track 9 is a romp to rival any dark Victorian-style horror show; if you don't read the lyrics sheet then it is a good quirky song, but delve into the words and you will find a gruesome and violent story with a manic-sarcastic lilt that buffers sickness with humour. As Shadows tells us "She was never this good in bed ~ not even when she was sleepin'" you just know he is serious. It really is a masterpiece but not for those with a delicate disposition, and I imagine Tim Burton being desperate to get his hands on the contract for the video for this one.
The CD ends with another gorgeous ballad, "Dear God". Coming directly after "A Little Piece of Heaven" the contrast is welcome and jarring at the same time. Leave 'em wanting more has always been the motto of the best entertainers, and with this Avenged Sevenfold have surely succeeded.