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‘Hail To The King’: How A Dramatic Change Of Sound Became Avenged Sevenfold’s Bold Statement Of Survival
In Depth

‘Hail To The King’: How A Dramatic Change Of Sound Became Avenged Sevenfold’s Bold Statement Of Survival

With their sixth album, ‘Hail To The King’, Avenged Sevenfold sought a new way forward after the loss of drummer Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan.

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Released in the summer of 2013, Hail To The King was not the first album Avenged Sevenfold released after the untimely death of their drummer Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan, late in 2009. But whereas its 2010 predecessor, Nightmare, featured a writing credit for Sullivan on every track, this time the band had to find their way without his input. It was perhaps inevitable, then, that a change of sound would be evident on their sixth album. And what a drastic shift it was. In fact, the group embraced the very influences of a metal subgenre that largely derided the frat-boy metalcore AX7 had become known for.

Listen to ‘Hail To The King’ here.

The recording: “We wanted to make a record that slams sonically”

From the start of the Hail To The King sessions, Avenged Sevenfold figured out exactly what they wanted to do and how they would move forward. They are not a band to repeat themselves and were never ones to shy away from experimenting and challenging their songwriting capabilities, either. As bassist Johnny Christ explained to AMH Network in 2013, “We’re always trying to do something better than the last record; to do something different and evolve as a band. We really wanted to make an eclectic hard rock record that slams sonically.”

So Avenged Sevenfold stripped away their sound and went back to basics. “It’s kind of like bare bones – with a guitar, a vocal and some drums all up in your face. Huge,” Christ said. “We really studied some of the bands that had done it before, their ways and what it takes to sound sonically huge. Listening to stuff like Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, we were just listening to see just how they achieve that.” What AX7 found was that they needed to give their music room to do the talking. Christ said, “We noticed that a lot of it was the space. You really have to play with the space in a riff so it can be allowed to breathe. We wanted everyone that when listening to this record to almost zombie-like headbang through it.”

The songs: “It’s an apocalyptic call to arms”

In refocusing their energy, Avenged Sevenfold reinvigorated their hunger to emulate the success of their heroes: Guns N’ Roses, Metallica and Iron Maiden among them. “We spent some time listening to bands like Black Sabbath, AC/DC and Zeppelin,” guitarist Synyster Gates explained to MusicRadar in 2013. “The idea was to have an adventurous album where the songs were driven by big grooves and huge-sounding drums. We wanted to match a classic rhythmic feel with a very modern, progressive philosophy.”

In fact, their heroes’ influence is stamped all through Hail To The King, making for a record that sounds more New Wave Of British Heavy Metal than the metalcore genre over which Avenged once reigned supreme. A church bell strikes, ushering in album opener Shepherd Of Fire, in a nod to metal godfathers Black Sabbath, then proceeds to lift from Megadeth’s Youthanasia playbook. As Gates described to MusicRadar, “We intentionally wrote it as an intro track. The idea was that the arrangement would evoke a sense of imagery with the tribal yet primordial drums. It seemed to resonate from Hell almost. It’s something of an apocalyptic call to arms.

Elsewhere, Hail To The King’s title track doffs a cap to Iron Maiden, whose influence also gallops through Coming Home, while Doing Time could be a cut that didn’t quite make Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion double-set, and the DNA of Metallica’s Sad But True can be traced in This Means War. But that’s not to say Hail To The King is a pastiche of metal’s greatest bands. Throughout the album’s 53-minute duration, AX7 stretch their songwriting capabilities to new limits. On the song Hail To The King, for instance, Gates, inspired by his love of Django Reinhardt, incorporates some gypsy jazz guitar into the intro.

There’s a choir that leads into Requiem, giving off some spooky, 70s horror-flick The Omen vibes. As Gates recalled, “We wanted the foundation to be a metal band’s approach to classical orchestration. Matt’s vocal is more like a lead violin part, and when my guitar chugs underneath the riff, it’s almost like what low brass would do.” There’s even prog-inspired storytelling across album closers Planets and Acid Rain. “Lyrically, Planets is the precursor to Acid Rain,” Gates explained. “It’s about a meteoric, intergalactic war that results in an apocalypse and the human species aligning together to go fight something much better than us, our individual trials and tribulations.

The release and legacy: “The album is on track to out-sell all the others”

There’s little point denying that Avenged Sevenfold’s musical influences are writ large throughout Hail To The King – something frontman M Shadows acknowledged in a series of tweets in 2022. Fan C.Rod asked, “Loved the record. Still do. Although I must know one thing: was Sad But True and Enter Sandman running through your minds when recording Shepherd Of Fire and This Means War?” Shadows’ response was refreshingly honest. He said, “Yes, in hindsight we cut a little too close. But all you can do is learn and move on.” Not that it was a problem for long-time fans of the band.

As Philthy declared, “Hot take: The ‘Hail to the King’ album by @TheOfficialA7X is amazing and deserves respect. So many people chaff at the ‘simple riffs’ and classic hard rock sound, but the album has incredible complexity under the surface, if you really listen.”

Shadows was quick to back up Philthy’s sentiment with some stats, highlighting the success of what’s surely one of the best Avenged Sevenfold songs: “Hail to the King (the song) streams more than double any other tracks we have weekly. The album is on track to out-sell all the others… yet a portion of the fan base acts like it was a failure by all accounts.”

Today, Hail To The King’s title track still stands at nearly double the number of streams of Avenged’s next most popular track on Spotify. In fact, with the album having debuted at No.1 on both the UK and US album charts upon its release, on 23 August 2013, and selling in excess of a million copies to date, that’s the kind of failure most bands can only dream of.

Find out which ‘Hail To The King’ tracks rank among the best Avenged Sevenfold songs.

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