Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Avenged Sevenfold's 'Hail to the King' - Album Review

It has been an uncharacteristically good year for metal albums in the Official UK Album Charts. Black Sabbath's 13 topped the chart way back in June (which I failed to mention in my review of that album), and now Avenged Sevenfold have done the same with their sixth album Hail to the King. This is their first album in three years and their first without the enigmatic songwriting contributions of deceased drummer Jimmy 'The Rev' Sullivan. It also marks a slight change in style for the band, although I feel the band were always destined to produce an album in this vein. Gone, mostly, are the large theatrical pieces of previous albums and what we have instead is a more stripped-back sound that relies heavily on groove and simple melodies. Imagine if you will an even rawer version of their 2007 self-titled album combined with the early 1990s sound of bands like Metallica and Megadeth and you can probably imagine what Hail to the King sounds like. While some fans might not approve of this change, I feel that they have pulled it off and could go a long way to increasing their fanbase even further. It will certainly help to turn around those that might have been put off by the band's metalcore beginnings. The production is excellent and Mike Elizondo has done a great job getting this more streamlined approach from the band. This is an album that really focuses on the basics of songwriting and relies on well-crafted hooks and grooves as opposed to the big sound some of their earlier work had. It also feels like an album created in tribute to the band members' original musical influences. While this works in the band's favour, it has also brought them some criticism as a few moments of the album are not so much tributes but near-plagiarism. I think the band have gotten away with it here, but they should be careful in the future as having too many more incidents like this could start to erode at their reputation. That being said, this is still a great album and one that is likely to bring a smile to the face of many a metal fan. This is also the band's first album with drummer Arin Ilejay who aquits himself well here.

The album gets started with one of my favourite tracks Shepherd of Fire. After a classic build-up of pounding drums and simple riff, things get going at a nice headbanging pace with a snaking riff backed up by some occational double-bass patterns from Ilejay. M. Shadows sounds great as always. His voice has always been very distinctive and he works hard on the chorus here to make it sound huge. There is also an excellent solo from Synyster Gates, a future guitar legend in the making! The album's title track and lead single follows and this is another groove-fest with an excellent guitar lead throughout and some huge bass from Johnny Christ. The solo here is one of the song's best assets. It is neo-classical in style and very memorable. I also like the simple guitar and vocal part that follows the solo that mimics the song's intro. Doing Time is up next and picks up the pace slightly. This is very similar to songs from the band's self-titled album. It is another highlight of the album with some Axl Rose-esque vocals from Shadows during the verse. This Means War follows and this is where the plagarism accusations come from. It is clearly very similar to Metallica's Sad But True, both musically and structurally. I can understand why this annoys lots of people, but I still feel that This Means War is a good song. It's a shame it will always be shrouded in controversy. Requiem seems a little like the album's black sheep. The latin choir in the intro just sounds out of place on this album and sounds poor compared to the things Epica and their ilk create. The song itself is pretty good, but the choir just sounds tacked on and silly.

Crimson Day is up next and starts off slowly with nice clean guitar before evolving into a power ballad. Shadows has a great voice for ballads I think, and sounds very heartfelt here. Delicate strings in the background help to create a nice atmosphere and there is an extremely melodic solo from Gates. He is so much more than just a shred-machine and proves it in spades here. Heretic follows and this another real belter. The grooves are back up front and it has another very catchy chorus. Some nice keyboards make their presence felt here and add something to the song. There is some excellent duel guitar work too between Gates and Zacky Vengeance. Coming Home is up next and this speeds up the pace again a little. This is a little more 'epic' than much of the material on this album and seems to be a nod to their past. It would not have sounded out of place on 2005's City of Evil. Again, the guitar work is stellar with some more twin-leads before an explosive break from Gates. Speaking of guitar, Gates' Dad makes his traditional cameo in this song's outro with a melodic solo of his own - like father like son! I feel overall that Planets is the album's weakest song. It is not bad per se, but certainly the least memorable. Still, it is a solid metal track that sounds chunky enough to be enjoyable. There is another incendiary solo from Gates, that seems to make good use of the whammy bar, and some big riffs. Hail to the King really is a guitarists album and Gates has excelled himself on it. He should be proud of his skills and his work here! The album closes with Acid Rain which is a piano-led piece that has a haunting yet slighty upliftng atmosphere. The strings make a welcome return and again have a lot to offer. Avenged Sevenfold have always made good ballads and this up their with their best in my opinion. Despite the fact it seems to be slighty in contrast with the stripped-down heaviness of the rest of the album, it still remains a fitting closing track for the album. Overall, Hail to the King is a really great album that will appeal to lots of people. Die-hards might accuse the band of selling out, but I feel that this is an album that band were always going to make. A worthy addition to anyone's collection who likes their metal basic and groovy!

The album was released on 23rd August 2013 via Warner Bros. Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Hail to the King.

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