It's been said that metal will never die and with Avenged Sevenfold carving the path for an entirely new generation of metalheads and metal musicians alike, truer words have never been spoken. The award-winning, SoCal band has spent over a decade delivering their unique blend of hard rock, pop-punk and of course, heavy metal, to an ever-growing fanbase, transforming their once-small, high-school band into full-blown metal stars.
Bassist Johnny Christ, lead guitarist Synyster Gates and rhythm guitarist Zacky Vengeance were all attending high school in Huntington Beach, Calif., when Avenged Sevenfold were formed in 1999. To date, the band has released five studio albums and sold more than 8 million units worldwide. Coming off the heels of the recording process for their sixth record, Christ, Gates and Vengeance affirm that their new material will take the Avenged Sevenfold sound in a new direction.
"[Expect] to be surprised," laughs Christ, spending the morning with Gates and Vengeance at a rehearsal session in Hollywood. "[The new record is] another evolution of Avenged Sevenfold. We went in there and we wrote the record that we felt we needed to make. We're very proud of it, and we're just really excited to get the feedback from the fans." Gates adds, "[Fans] can expect better songwriting. We really focused on the craft of songwriting on this one. There's still a lot of crazy guitars and gnarly stuff going onâ€”amazing drums. We [tracked drums] with Arin (Ilejay, who joined the band in 2011), and he just absolutely killed it. It was a really cool thingâ€”he really got the vibe, got us and was able to integrate his own stuff on it."
"It's definitely not in the same direction as 'Carry On,'" says Vengeance, referring to the Avenged Sevenfold track featured in the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops II. "That song was more to suit the video game-'cause we do enjoy the game, and it was a lot of fun. For this album, we knew that we couldn't make the same album that we made with Nightmareâ€”even if we tried, we'd never be able to do it. So, we just tried a completely different approach to [our] songs. It's definitely a departure from what we've done, but we're all really excited about it-it's the right place and the right time, I think, for somebody to take the lead and try something different in the state of heavy metal these days."
In addition to Avenged Sevenfold's new approach to songwriting, the band has also once again partnered with Schecter to develop two brand new pieces of gear for 2013â€”the Johnny Christ Signature Bass and Gates' signature Hellwin amplifier.
"[Schecter] wanted to start doing amps, and they asked me if I'd help them design one of my own, and help with theirs, and I was absolutely honored," explains Gates. "It's obviously a dream of any guitar player's to have a signature guitar and a signature amp-I never thought the signature amp thing would happen, but it did, and I got to go in there with one of the greatest amp engineers and designers, James Brown, who worked on the [Peavey] 5150. I was a huge fan of the 5150-I owned one until I had to sell it, like a year before we signed to Warner Brothers, when I could have kept it," he laughs. "So, long story long, he came in and we designed an incredible amp to my exact specifications, and a huge part of that, to me, was getting great clean sounds. I wanted the amp to be as well-rounded as possible, and we got a clean tone unlike any other hard rock or metal amp that I've ever heard. And there's two voicings-you can thin it out and get this American-style voicing or a U.K., real rich [tone], so it was a huge thing to get some really cool depth with some clean stuff and have some variety, so I'm really stoked on that. It's all-tube, and we've got Celestion Vintage 30s in the cab, all-birch-I just think it gets more of that rock tone, and doesn't have that crazy bass chunkiness, but to compensate for that, we put a focus knob in, so you can get that real thuddy boom if you wanna dial that in. And another cool thing is that I put a [noise] gate on it, on the front. And it's a great gate, we really worked on the curve-the resonance and the decay are perfect. We just did a blind taste test, amp shootout with 15 different combinations, and we actually chose my amp with my cabinet, which is pretty crazy. James Brown is a genius."
For Christ's signature bass guitar, he was adamant that his instrument needed a truly aggressive sound and supreme playability. "I've always loved playing the Music Mans I was playing before, but I [wanted the chance] to add a little something to it, to be able to build something from the ground up," says Christ. "The guys at the Schecter Custom Shop are so awesome that they can literally do anything. So, I came up with a couple of very vague ideas, and at the end of it, we honed it in and ended up with that bass. I got to pick the wood-the northern ash that goes into the body, the shape of it-everything to a tee. To me, it's a great-sounding bass with a lot of options-putting a guitar pickup, the EMG 81 [in the neck position] really offers a completely different tone that a lot of people wouldn't even think would work with bass. I wanted to add something that was gonna make it more aggressive, some kind of growl, something that would pick up the attack of your pick or your fingers and really give it kind of a 'clunk' soundâ€”that old, classic Rickenbacker sound. We went through several different pickups trying to find that, and we really thought we were just gonna have to wind one up, and make a custom pickup. And then one of the guys at the shop said, 'Why don't we give this a try?' It was the EMG 81 and it did exactly what I wanted it to do."
Having worked with the Schecter brand for more than 10 years, Vengeance explains how their relationship got started. "We were on tour, doing our first tour in the U.K. ever, and at that time the band was relatively unknown, and I only had one guitar at the time, and while we were playing our last show in London, that guitar got broken while we were on stage. And we came back to the States, and I had no guitar and no money," he laughs. "So, I desperately reached out to Schecter because I loved the look of their S-1 model guitar, and I loved the fact that they had an amazing custom shop, and I loved the fact that they really took care of left-handed playersâ€”which a lot of companies just don't. So I reached out to them and I basically begged them to check out our band, and help me out because we had a big gig coming up in Hollywood, and I didn't have a guitar, I didn't have any money, and being left-handed, I had nobody that could loan me a guitar. And [Schecter was] super cool. They checked out our CD and they said, 'Yeah, sure, we'd love to give you a guitar.' And we went, played that show, recorded our 'Unholy Confessions' music video, and they've been nothing but supportive ever sinceâ€”watching us grow, and vice-versaâ€”they had faith in us in the beginning, and that was the [start of] a really cool relationship."
As far as what's to come for Avenged Sevenfold in 2013, "Get done with this recordâ€”that's number one," says Gates. "Then go tour, and feed our kids again. We've been out of the game for a while, and it's really cool to see all the familiar faces after you've been [away]â€”we take a lot of time off to write a record, and for family stuff, you know? We really haven't toured for about two years, so we're itching to get back on stage."
Written by Brian Ruppenkamp / Photography by Ryan Hunter