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Anthony Morgan
January 2017

Avenged Sevenfold (l-r): Synyster Gates, Zacky Vengeance, M. Shadows, Johnny Christ and Brooks Wackerman

Huntington Beach, California-based metal group Avenged Sevenfold issued seventh full-length studio album The Stage – their first for the Capitol label – in October 2016. A January 2017 trek to British shores has witnessed the assortment perform arena dates, with support from the likes of Disturbed and In Flames. Metal Forces spoke to rhythm guitarist Zacky Vengeance on Avenged Sevenfold’s tour bus ahead of their performance on the night of the 19th at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff, Wales.

“Basically, we come up with ideas on our own,” Zacky reflects, discussing the songwriting process for The Stage. “We play with our instruments and see if anything kind of sticks, and then we kind of conceptualise the ideas of where we would like to see the album headed, like which direction we would like to go in. For us, this album was really about incorporating unique drumming – like we did on albums when Rev was with us, like City Of Evil (June 2005) – and then expanding on that. Then from there, it’s just getting together and writing and really trying to perfect everything, and then taking it to the studio. It’s a long, gruelling process (laughs).”

The Stage marks the recording debut of former Bad Religion drummer Brooks Wackerman, whose appointment was revealed on November 4th, 2015. The firing of sticksman Arin Ilejay had been confirmed on July 23rd of that year. “One of things that always set us apart was having a drummer like The Rev (James Sullivan) with us,” the axeman submits. “After he passed away, we knew that it was gonna be really hard to fill that void. We brought in a young kid named Arin to tour with us, and he played on the Hail To The King (August 2013) album. He’s a brilliant drummer, but doesn’t have the same… I guess way of writing that The Rev had.

“We were just really missing that element of our songwriting, and Brooks was always a drummer who we were fond of for his unique style, coming from the punk rock scene and a famous family of drummers. We asked him if he would be interested, and he was interested. We jammed together, and it was definitely a perfect fit for us musically.”

The Stage happens to be Avenged Sevenfold’s “most creative affair,” Zacky reckons. “I feel like we have a lot of albums that are very diverse, but I feel with this album we’re literally taking all of the styles of metal and hard rock and doing our own spin on it, which hasn’t really been done. Incorporating drum beats that haven’t really been used to fill up verses, and doing time signatures that a lot of rock bands stay away from.

“That gives it more of an almost progressive feel, but it still maintains a lot of listenability which is hard to achieve, because there’s so many metal bands just doing the same thing – one or two beats fast, double-bass, screaming on top of it or singing on top of it – and there are bands that do it so well. For us, it was trying to really step out and kind of create our own place within the rock and metal world, and not try to do anything that’s already been done.”

Avenged Sevenfold’s musical preoccupations are a conscious pursuit. “It’s always been a conscious thing for us to do whatever will separate us from the pack, and make us happy musically,” the composer reveals. “We really wanted to try and come up with something very creative at a time when a lot of bands rehash riffs over and over again, though. With Hail To The King – our last album – we obviously wore our influences on our sleeve, and it was a blatant attempt to turn on our younger generation of fans to more classic sounding metal. With that, it kind of got their attention. It was almost like the gateway drug to heavier, more melodic music, so we had a plan and it seemed to work.

“With this album, we wanted to really show off our instrumentation and time signatures, and long, adventurous songs. Once you can get a fan to listen to an album a handful of times and really have a lot of substance for them to grasp, then you’re looking at having a fan that really appreciates what you do for life, and can appreciate coming to see it live. That’s what bands like Pink Floyd and bands like Rush and even the Metallicas of this world have, which is long, ambitious songs that pull in all different directions.”

Recording sessions for The Stage were helmed by Joe Barresi. “He’s great,” Zacky enthuses. “He’s a cool cat, man. He’s definitely calm and collected, and really passionate about organic tones, fucking with pedals, and just sitting there and playing with a plethora of different amps. Everything with him, he wants to make it as natural and organic. In a day and age where all albums are cut and pasted and sampled… Every metal band album you listen to now has samples placed on every drum. It’s like ‘What’s the point of playing on a real kit and going to the studio when you can just play on an electronic kit?’ For us, working with Joe, we said ‘We want drums that are real drums. Mike them, put them in a good room, and make them sound good. That’s how they’re gonna be, and if they don’t sound perfect, that’s alright because that’s what they really sound like.’

“We didn’t want any of that, just overproduced bullshit that you hear so much of. To me, it just makes me kind of sick nowadays. Iit was cool to be the first band to have a polished sounding album, but when every band sounds the same? We wanted to take a step in the direction of Led Zeppelin-era bands and Black Sabbath-era bands that had a little more dynamics.”

One wishes to be sonically heavy, and yet not so raw that the respective tracks sonically resemble demo outings. “It’s difficult, and it takes many, many months in the studio,” the axe-slinger shares. “Recording albums, it’s a very difficult process to make a professional sounding album when you’re doing things organically. You need a good team of people, and you need good musicians and players. It’s more difficult. When you look at the Led Zeppelin albums and stuff, those things took a long time to make. A lot of bands nowadays go into the studio, and they can have an album done in two or three weeks. For us, it was spending a lot of time, and really trying to make every song it’s own creation.”

Zacky isn’t as enamoured with the technical aspects of music, per se. “For me personally, it’s whatever gets the job done,” he reasons. “What makes our band so unique is that we have a crazy dynamic where Synyster’s rig is as high tech as it comes. He’s got all of the pedals, and all of the different amps and processors, and all that shit. For me, I have barely any of that. I keep it really, really simple, because I’m pretty punk rock. For me, I think less is more, so we have two very different philosophies, but that’s what gives us something unique I think.”

A science fiction concept was lyrically devised for The Stage. “Basically, it’s kind of taking our place in the world,” the musician details. “It talks about where humans currently fit into this universe, and what’s happening in the world of technology, and where we’re headed, and our resilience as a race of people to look back at history and try not to repeat it. It’s basically kind of like the album cover; just taking our small planet, travelling out a thousand light years, and looking at how our planet is small and insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things, but yet how important we are to all of it at the same time.”

The Stage’s October 28th, 2016 arrival was a surprise release, the platter lacking a marketing campaign prior to its issue, or any forewarning for that matter. “It was about doing something for our fans in a day and age when music has gone so far away from what it was when I was growing up,” Zacky divulges. “We used to go and hang out at the record store, me and Matt our singer, every day after school. We would scrounge up whatever money we could have, talk to the person working at the store, look at the album covers, read the song titles, and look at how long the songs were, and decide on which album we were gonna take home and listen to for that month. We didn’t have a lot of money. Once you bought an album, you were stuck with it; you had to listen to it, and fall in love with it.

Avenged Sevenfold (l-r): Zacky Vengeance, Brooks Wackerman, M. Shadows,
Synyster Gates and Johnny Christ

“Nowadays, record labels throw a single out three months before an album comes out. If that doesn’t stick, they throw another single out, and then they throw a fan single out, and then they throw another song before an album comes out. So, then half the album’s out. We wanted to give our fans a representation of the album from beginning to end, leaving no multiple singles. We wanted them to take it home, and be the first people to have an opinion on it.”

Of The Stage’s track selections, favourite compositions have emerged for the guitarist. “My favourite two songs, and they have been for a while are…,” he begins. “I love ‘The Stage’ and I really love ‘Angels’. I think that’s a great representation of what we’re aiming to accomplish with this album, which is really just trying to have a smart, ambitious, very musical and thought-provoking album that captures our performance in the studio. I think those songs really do that, and kind of capture where our heads are at lyrically and visually – just us humans trying to figure out our place in this world and in this universe. I think the songs are a good representation.”

Where Avenged Sevenfold will venture and how much further Avenged Sevenfold can venture from hereon in is uncertain, the metallers having achieved considerable success already. “We’ve always set our sights far, far in advance,” Zacky muses. “For us, there’s no cruise control. There’s no moving backwards; the rocket ship is taking off, and there’s only one choice but to keep moving up. I have no interest in backtracking. I wanted to make crazy songs and put on the best shows for our fans, and I want those fans to grow with us and be a generational band where their kids can enjoy it. There are bands that are capable of doing that, but it’s difficult.

“Only time will tell, but look at a band like Black Sabbath. My dad saw them in concert, and then I have seen them in concert, and I saw them with my dad. I’d love for nothing more than my son to grow up loving them as well, and I think that’s what’s so great about heavy metal as a genre. There’s not a whole lot of pop acts that do that; there’s not a whole lot of multi-generational pop bands. For us, it’s always looking forward and doing the best that we can, and putting on the best show that we can by any means necessary, and never looking back.”

The Stage was released on October 28th, 2016 via Capitol Records.

Interview published in January 2017

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