Avenged Sevenfold is bringing back the good old days, when metal ruled the world … and they’re taking us with them.
Welcome to Bat Country
It’s two hours before the doors open at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Los Angeles for Avenged Sevenfold’s sold-out performance, and a dark-haired dancer in tight, low-slung sweatpants and black high heels is hanging upside down on a pole with her legs spread. She holds the pose, suspended, while another dancer steps back and looks her over with curiosity. Then she throws both legs on top of a metal cage, dangles upside down, and shakes her head back and forth. Behind her, stagehands wrestle with a series of backdrops and a technician struggles with a fog machine. Suddenly, a second fog machine spews a dense cloud, covering the stage, and a strobe light ﬂashes intermittently.
Somewhere amid the fog and strobe lights roam the members of Avenged Sevenfold. Bassist Johnny Christ, with his hair freshly dyed flamingo pink, runs through lines on his bass while guitarists Zacky Vengeance and Synyster Gates noodle on their guitars and prowl the grated metal ramps that wind around their drummer, the Rev.
Among the empty seats, Avenged front man M. Shadows stands with his tattooed arms crossed and a black baseball hat cocked low over one eye. The six-foot-five former high school basketball player scans the stage like a gym teacher watching warm-ups. He looks concerned. “We’re the kind of band that wants to do as much as we can to put on a big show,” Shadows explains. “We’re of a generation where kids don’t get to see those big rock shows. We try to pack an arena-size show into a club.”
Shadows and the rest of Avenged operate under the belief that today’s effort is only a warm-up for the day when they will fill arenas. They’ve studied the moves of Mötley Crüe like scholars. They’ve incorporated the pyrotechnics and levitating drum risers into their own sets, and the band regularly throws around stagehand jargon. They’ll also admit to sacrificing cash that could have been spent on booze and strip clubs to make a concert for 6,500 people feel like one for 65,000. “We want the biggest show possible within our budget,” says Shadows. “We played with Iron Maiden and Marilyn Manson in Europe, and they do it right. It was a big deal when those bands came onstage.”
Getting to see Avenged play a giant venue might not be just a fantasy. The group’s latest album, City of Evil, landed on the Bill board Top 40; videos for “Bat Country” and “Beast and the Harlot” are in heavy rotation on Fuse and MTV; and tonight the band will receive gold record plaques, marking more than 500,000 sales of City of Evil.
Back onstage, the entire operation has begun to feel like opening night at a high school play. As Avenged howls through “Burn It Down,” a professional string quartet wanders in, lost in the fog and strobe lights, looking for their seats high above the drums. A tape machine breaks down, causing a moment of panic. The machine contains the band’s encore intro music—a western-themed acoustic guitar medley played by Gates’s father, Brian Haner Sr., a musician who performed with Frank Zappa and Tower of Power. Swapping out the machine causes bickering between the soundman and members of the Avenged stage crew. To break the tension, Gates suggests a song. “We’ll play ‘Bat Country,’” he says. “It’s a fun song to play and probably the best song ever written.”
The band speeds through their hit single, which is an ode to the late gonzo journalist and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas author Hunter S. Thompson. By the time the five-minute metal epic comes to an end, the stage show has been sorted. The string quartet has settled into place, the fog machine is operational, and the pole-dancers have synchronized their routines. Behind his drum kit, the tall and lanky Rev laughs. “God-fucking-damnit!” he yells. “Are the girls gonna dance or what?”
Backstage, Vengeance and Shadows discuss the early days of Avenged. “We were crammed in a van like sardines, loading our own gear, eating ramen, and sleeping at bus stops,” Vengeance says. “We had no money, but we still had a lot of fun. We’d go out and drink the headliner’s beer and get smashed.”
Back then, Avenged was another band in Southern California’s growing metal-core scene. The band had been at it since 1999, when the four members holed up in Shadows’s parents’ garage—but not before sending out fliers to warn neighbors about the noise. They released a series of albums and yanked Christ out of high school to hit the road, playing gigs for $50 and getting stranded when their van broke down.
“We had a one-dollar-a-day allowance for each band member,” recalls Vengeance. “We did a month-and-a-half-long tour and our goal was to never spend money on a hotel room, which wasn’t hard because we didn’t have the money anyway.”
What the band did have was a following, which has been growing steadily since the release of their 2003 album, Waking the Fallen. That album was fueled by a brutal metalcore sound, lightning solos, and Shadows’s scorching scream. MTV2’s Headbangers Ball picked up on the group’s video for “Un holy Confessions,” and soon record executives began circling. The band had just signed with Warner Bros. when they reached a crisis: Shadows couldn’t scream anymore.
According to doctors, years of screaming had aggravated Shadows’s voice and caused internal bleeding in his throat. The singer and the rest of the band decided it was time to take Avenged in a new direction, but the change caused a backlash from die-hard fans.
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As performers, Avenged Sevenfold are willing to put forth the effort of an arena for a much smaller venue. And when it comes to the business side of things, they aren't afraid to embrace the direction provided to them.
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