16 Years Ago: Avenged Sevenfold Start to Define Their Identity on Self-Titled Album
Avenged Sevenfold may be modern day titans of heavy music, but in 2007 they were still trying to make a name for themselves. With their self-titled release, issued Oct. 30, 2007, they took a major stride forward in showing exactly what they could do and who they were musically.
During that time they were coming off the breakthrough success of their third album, City of Evil. The group had started winning over fans thanks to the video for "Bat Country," which was quickly followed by "The Beast and the Harlot" and "Seize the Day." But that initial MTV push, which resulted in a Best New Artist win over primarily pop competitors, gave them some new fans that might not have been ready for what the band was all about.
"There's people that have never heard our album," explained guitar Zacky Vengeance to MTV. "The most they've seen is either our video on TRL or our picture on the cover of magazines. Every show we play is going to be a battle. Until you see us live and experience it firsthand, I don't expect you'd be a believer. After they see us, I think it won't leave any doubt in their minds that we're anything other than a metal force to be reckoned with. We go out there every night, and we fight the battle. We don't care about people who don't think we're true metal. We hope to change their minds. I have total faith."
Over the course of the next couple of years, between their touring choices and the success of their fourth, self-titled album, that faith would would turn to reality.
The group started coming up with ideas for new music as early as April 2006 and by the time their touring in support of City of Evil was complete, they had a good jump on where the next album would go.
While metal, and to some extent metalcore, had loomed heavy over their first three records, Avenged Sevenfold were an evolving band with more influences starting to seep in to their sound.
"The last thing we're going to do is write City of Evil part 2 or Waking the Fallen part 2," M. Shadows told MTV. "It's not going to be a thrash record or old-school or anything like that. I know it's going to be a sound that no one's heard — kind of like when Korn came out, they were the first ones to start that whole scene and they sounded different than everybody. We want to do that for our own generation."
What that meant was working on an album that wasn't just limited to their metal influences. There were songs that had a hip-hop groove influence, a track that leaned a little country in its approach, but still the band kept the heaviness in place while adding these extra ingredients to continue their evolution as artists.
"We wanted to make a record we'd be really proud of, and the biggest difference with this record is that it's all groove-oriented — no more machine-gun drums going 120 miles per minute," Shadows added in a separate interview. "It's very 'one-two, one-two,' where you're just banging your head the entire time. It's not as sporadic. We're making a good record for our fans, and they're the only ones who count."
The band was asked to meet with several producers though they had thoughts of self-producing the record. As guitarist Synyster Gates revealed to Prime Video Magazine, when schedules couldn't match up with producers they liked, they took it upon themselves to oversee the album.
"We pretty much were confident in the fact that we could do it. We’ve been studying different records and different production elements for a long time and [M. Shadows] produced a record so we were into it for a long time and we wanted to do it," explained the guitarist. People wanted us to check out different producers so we did and with time restraints and all that stuff and different schedules people couldn’t do it, so we just got excited about getting into the studio and doing it on our own.”
While admitting there was some uncertainty, Gates was thrilled with the results of the experience. He told The Pulse of Radio, "We've always claimed that we were this fearless band, with the utmost fearless approach to writing music, but in a way, this was like the self-realization that we sort of hadn't. And this album, all boundaries were just torn down and we just went absolutely crazy, and we really made a pretty eclectic and, as far as we're concerned, not to sound too cocky, but a flawless album."
Avenged Sevenfold, "Critical Acclaim"
To whet the appetite of fans, the band shared the album opening "Critical Acclaim" as the first piece of music from the record. Starting with an organ definitely signified a change, with the song eventually giving way to some soaring guitar work and eventually some hard-hitting drums. M. Shadows also threw a little of everything into the track, showing both melodic and screaming vocal approaches and even preaching a rant a few times in the song. Though the track didn't chart, it did become a fan favorite.
"Almost Easy" really served as the lead single for the album, and it arrived a little over a month ahead of the record release. Speaking about the decision to choose it as the lead single, Shadows told Prime Video Magazine, “We just felt that our first single back out we wanted something that had balls to it and kicked ass and was palatable enough with a catchy chorus that it could catch on. We felt that that song, even though it might not be the best radio song, it’s one we feel our fans will be thrilled to hear on the radio and it kicks ass.”
Avenged Sevenfold, "Almost Easy"
The song was written by the band's drummer, James "The Rev" Sullivan, but really turned out to be a group effort with all of the members chiming in on vocals at one point. The track almost had some extra pull early on as it was targeted for use in the 2007 Transformers soundtrack. However, the band didn't finish the song in time, so it later turned up on the soundtrack of the film's sequel.
"Almost Easy" gave Avenged Sevenfold a great start for their album release, peaking at No. 3 on the Mainstream Rock chart and hitting No. 6 at Modern Rock radio.
Sure enough, a month later, the self-titled Avenged Sevenfold record debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 Album chart, something that was a bit surreal for the band at that point in their career.
It's kind of funny to wake up and see the words Avenged Sevenfold at the No. 4 spot on the Billboard top 200, right next to the Eagles and a Britney Spears / Carrie Underwood threesome," said Vengeance of the album's opening week tally. "I don't know about you, but it puts a smirk on my face just knowing that our fans tattooed it right on the foreheads of everyone who would quickly disregard the name Avenged Sevenfold (like we aren't a fucking force to be reckoned with, Haha). So once again thank you from the bottom of our hearts."
Avenged Sevenfold, "Afterlife"
With the record doing well, Avenged Sevenfold pushed forward with "Afterlife" as the next single in January of 2008. The track was one of the more ambitious pieces on the record, including the addition of an orchestral string part that caught the ears of listeners. In fact, fans voted "Afterlife" as the best song off the album in a poll at the band's website.
Vengeance revealed that the song was about a man who dies early and finds himself in heaven. Upon entering, he realizes that he has too many things to do on Earth and to go back and make it right, he must escape from the afterlife. Though it didn't fare as well as "Almost Easy," it did climb to No. 11 at Mainstream Rock and No. 20 for Modern Rock.
Avenged Sevenfold, "Dear God"
"Dear God" would come next, but didn't chart for Modern Rock or Mainstream Rock, due in part to the style of the track. Showing their versatility, "Dear God" had more of a country feel. Bassist Johnny Christ revealed that the strummy, pedal-steel featuring track came out of the band's friendship with country superstars Big & Rich. In fact, Muzik Mafia member Shanna Crooks can be heard on backing vocals.
Avenged Sevenfold, "Scream"
The final single from the record was "Scream," which brought things back to the heavier side. The tension building rocker arrived close to the end of support for the record, with the band announcing on Halloween, 2008 that fans were invited to make their own videos for the song as part of a contest. Even with the extra attention, "Scream" fared well on its own, climbing to No. 9 at Mainstream Rock radio.
Though not released as a single, the band did create a video for the epic and experimental track "A Little Piece of Heaven." The track showed the band once again expanding the boundaries, adding brass and strings to the Broadway-inspired track.
While the self-titled album did its part in building the band's identity and allowing them to continually evolve, they also landed some pretty major tours during the album's run which added to their metal cred. Heading up the Taste of Chaos tour, opening for metal legends Iron Maiden and sharing stages with other top rock and metal acts of the day made people mostly forget that TRL tag they were concerned about going into the record.
Plus, this album cycle also provided fans with the Diamonds in the Rough b-sides set and their Live in the LBC release further ensuring fans knew exactly what the band was about. By the end of the album cycle, Avenged Sevenfold were being pegged by many as the potential next-gen successors to the heavy music throne.