It’s been a while since Avenged Sevenfold put out their self-titled album (roughly seven years). Since then Avenged Sevenfold has lost one of its founding members, drummer James “The Rev” Sullivan, to an overdose and recorded a horrible mundane album in 2010 featuring ex-Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy. So when they put out a new album Hail to the King I thought it was going to be just as bad as Nightmare, their previous album. I was quite surprised when the opposite happened.
The album from the beginning has a similar sound to a mixture of Metallica’s black album and their self-titled album. “Hail to the King” features insanely good guitar work that leaves you wanting to replay the solo. “This Means War” has a very distinct “Sad but True” by Metallic sound to it but is different enough to stand by itself. “Requiem” has a very similar sound to “Unbound (The Wild Ride)” with the choir backing vocals mixed with spoken parts of the song “Repentance” by Dream Theater. The album comes together with great powerful songs mixed with some ballads that bring in a slower, more stylistic sound that doesn’t distract you from the heavier parts.
With the addition of new full time drummer Arin Ilejay the drum instrumentation has a very distinct sound that harkens back to The Rev’s style. On the song “Heretic” the drumming is very similar to that of their song “Beast and the Harlot.” This, of course, was very important to the band when finding a new drummer. Emulating The Rev’s style is quite important because it fits so well with all the other pieces that makes up their albums.
The album harkens back to the albums before The Rev’s death, which is great because their sound is such a refined mixture of a lot of styles found in bands that predate A7x. This album puts them back on top of my recreational listening pile.
Maybe the problem isn’t that Metallica aren’t putting out good albums anymore. Maybe the problem is that even a good Metallica album wouldn’t work in 2013. We’ve come a long way from Ride the Lightning. It’s an unsolvable mystery, but Avenged Sevenfold have proven one thing: a bad Metallica album in 2013 is still very much a bad Metallica album. Hail to the King, the group’s comparatively mature 6th studio effort, is an hour’s worth of unabashed Hetfield worship. When the songs come this close to actual thievery though, it’s just going to end up angering Metallica purists and Avenged Sevenfold fans used to things like intensity and invention.
What ultimately ends up happening is that you spend the album wondering where all the cool parts originally came from. “This Means War” is the most serious and obvious offender: it comes off as an almost note-for-note copy of Metallica’s “Sad But True.” “Shepherd of Fire” has an “Enter Sandman” vibe that is made 1000000x worse by an incredibly corny and ridiculous voice-of-God spoken-word narrator. These obvious grabs make it hard to appreciate otherwise interesting sections like the acoustic guitar balladry on “Heretic” or the fret board heroics that make “Planets” one of the best songs on the album. You just end up spending all of King wondering if you’re actually listening to Avenged Sevenfold.
On the technical side the album fares a bit better, but only barely. The production is surprisingly meaty, with some tasteful overdubs and a generally enjoyable sense of space and separation in the instruments. The orchestral groundswell “Acid Rain” manages to avoid becoming an overloaded mess, and the emotive guitar solo actually plays off the strings rather than overtaking them. Technically though, the drumming is incredibly boring and faceless: King is the first studio album featuring replacement drummer Arin Ilejay and he obviously hasn’t found his comfort zone quite yet. Lead signer M. Shadow’s vocals are mildly tasteful and perfunctory when he isn’t adapting a completely stupid old-man growl (with plenty of added “-uh”s. Tomorrow-uh!).
So ignore the musical repurposing and the weak drumming and the stupid vocal tricks and you’ve got a pretty listenable modern metal album. There’s nothing on King that is offensively bad, and that’s more than I thought I’d be able to say about a band with a guitarist named “Synyster Gates.” The second half even has a few memorable moments tucked in-between the rudimentary thrashing. Unfortunately, those moments don’t add up to a memorable album.