Over the years, Avenged Sevenfold have made almost as much of a name for themselves for having a hard-partying lifestyle — particularly on tour — as with their music. It’s an image bassist Johnny Christ doesn’t deny.
“In the past there’s been a lot of talk about that, and the bottom line is we’re five best friends,” Christ says. “We all grew up together, and we all live within a block radius of each other. When you take five best friends in their 20s and take them across the world, we’re going to have fun.
“We know when to have fun and when not to have fun,” he adds. “We’re very disciplined about our shows. We don’t want to cheat the fans,” he adds. “If we were out there doing what a lot of those magazines said, we would have a lot of upset fans.”
Sevenfold’s heavy work ethic was more than evident during the making of the newly released, self-titled album. The project found the members — Christ (John Stewart), singer M. Shadows (Matt Sanders), guitarist Synyster Gates (Brian Haner), guitarist Zacky Vengeance (Zach Baker), and drummer the Rev (short for Reverend Tholomew Plague, alter ego of Jimmy Sullivan) — buckling down first of all for an intensive stretch of songwriting.
When it came to the actual recording of Avenged Sevenfold, the group chose to self-produce the album, adding a major layer of work that wouldn’t have existed had the group brought in an outside producer. Christ says they had several objectives for the CD, including a very direct sonic approach to the recording that reflected how they sound on stage. They also wanted to be free to branch out stylistically. This sort of thinking culminated in a pair of songs titled “Dear God” and “Gunslinger,” both of which have a distinct and unexpected country influence.
“We had things that sort of bordered on doing that on City Of Evil, but we never took a full song and made it country,” Christ says.
With the song “A Little Piece of Heaven,” Avenged Sevenfold took a step even further out on the stylistic limb. Teaming up to create string, horn, and choir arrangements with Steve Bartek (formerly of Oingo Boingo) and Marc Mann, the band created a multifaceted track with a theatrical flair that’s whimsical yet slightly sinister.
“A Little Piece of Heaven,” “Dear God,” and “Gunslinger” will surprise fans that have followed Avenged Sevenfold since they formed in 1999. Their first two releases, 2001’s Sounding the Seventh Trumpet and 2003’s Waking the Fallen — put the band at the forefront of the emerging metalcore/screamo scenes. On 2005’s City of Evil, they took a stylistic turn, ditched the screamed vocals, and emphasized its heavy metal and melodic influences.
The move could have alienated Avenged Sevenfold’s audience, but the album connected with the rock audience and produced the rock radio hit, “Bat Country.”
The new album figures to further distance the group from the screamo/metalcore scenes. Aside from the stylistic side trips, most of it continues to mine the melodic metal territory of City of Evil, only with a heavier accent.
“We feel this is our breakthrough record right now,” Christ says. “It’s essentially why we wanted to self-title this record. We felt this is very much the pure form of Avenged Sevenfold, and this is who we are now.”