What The Hell Happened To... 01.12.09: Avenged Sevenfold - City Of Evil
Posted by Dan Marsicano

This week, Dan Marsicano takes a trip to the City Of Evil and Order of Ennead is this edition's band you should be listening to!

The Introduction

Today is another glorious Monday because I have for all you 411 readers a brand spanking new edition of What The Hell Happened To… As always, I'm your host, Dan Marsicano, and I appreciate your eyes and possibly ears for the next 10-60 seconds (depending on how far you actually read into the column).

I recently got a gig with the Heavy Metal section of About.com and am also currently still writing at Metal Underground (under the alias heavytothebone2) and SMN News. Don't worry; I haven't forgotten about the loyal readers at 411. The column will still be around, but there will be fewer reviews from me. It's time to give my metal crown over to guys like Matt and Hags, who know way more about the genre than I do anyway.

This week's edition highlights an album I was initially unsure about discussing. Theoretically, City of Evil did quite well for the band, and Avenged Sevenfold is still around and kicking as of this writing. Even with these facts in front of me, I felt like the album deserved to be analyzed and critiqued; the album sales may not have shown it, but the band's fan base was severely divided when City of Evil came out in 2005. After a few years of introspection, is City of Evil a positive or negative turning point for Avenged Sevenfold's career?

The Band

M. Shadows-Vocals, Piano
Synyster Gates-Lead/Rhythm Guitar, Piano, Backing Vocals
Zacky Vengeance-Rhythm Guitar, Backing Vocals
Johnny Christ-Bass, Backing Vocals
The Rev-Drums, Backing Vocals

The Track Listing

1. Beast And The Harlot-5:41
2. Burn It Down-4:59
3. Blinded In Chains-6:35
4. Bat Country-5:13
5. Trashed And Scattered-5:53
6. Seize The Day-5:33
7. Sidewinder-7:01
8. The Wicked End-7:11
9. Strength Of The World-9:15
10. Betrayed-6:48
11. M.I.A-8:46

The History

Avenged Sevenfold, or A7X for short, came into fruition in 1999 in Huntington Beach, California. At the time, neither Johnny Christ nor Gates was in the band. Those two would join shortly around the release of Avenged Sevenfold's first album, 2001's Sounding the Seventh Trumpet (Gates only played on the opening instrumental "To End The Rapture," which was on the 2002 re-issue).

("Unholy Confessions" Official Video)

The band toured with little to no help, slowly building a reputation amongst rock and metal fans. 2003's Waking The Fallen would be the first sign that the band had something interesting to give to the general public, with an album that elevated the band's game quite a bit. While they were still engulfed in the metalcore genre, hints of progression were sprouting to the surface, including slower melodies, clean vocals, and a heavier lead guitar presence throughout the album. "Unholy Confessions" was the band's first big single and Waking The Fallen got the band a hardcore following, a group of fans that would be tested with A7X's upcoming album…

The Analysis

With the success of Waking The Fallen, Avenged Sevenfold got the attention of big-time labels. The band signed with Warner Brothers after the release of their sophomore album and released City of Evil two short years later. The band's ditched the screaming vocals and went for a punk/metal hybrid sound that leaned towards the commercial side. "Bat Country" became the breakthrough hit for Avenged Sevenfold, as MTV played the video to death and the mainstream was beginning to wake up and take notice of the five guys from California.

With the increased popularity came disdain from the fan base that had previously supported their through their earlier years as a band. "How could the band go from Waking The Fallen to City of Evil?" was a question a lot of fans asked. The answers ranged from M. Shadows' needing surgery for his throat to the band not wanting to retreat into familiar territory and to let their true artistic vision come into realization.

All these answers could be right, but what about Warner Brothers? I mean, the band signed with a major label, and got all this money and promotion behind them. That doesn't necessarily mean that the band went in a direction the record label wanted them to; not even close. Avenged Sevenfold took the backing of a label and went along with it, crafting an album that matched their true ambitions that couldn't be met under Hopeless Records, their former label.

Extravagant orchestrations, the ever-present acoustic guitars, and even an entire choir are utilized to Avenged Sevenfold's discretion in order to craft an album that is both bombastic and daring. City of Evil is not a perfect album; it pales in comparison to its predecessor for several reasons, which will be outlined in a little bit, and some of the tracks are over-extended to the point of nausea. Nestled deep within the plastic disc containing the 75 minutes of music are moments of sheer genius and artistic splendor that showcases a young band putting both feet on the ground and showing that they could sit at the big boys table along with all the other top-name bands.

( "Bat Country" Live From Live in the LBC & Diamonds in the Rough)

Before I get in-depth with City of Evil, I felt it would be wise to mention the one major discussion point amongst fans about the album: the vocals. On Waking The Fallen, Shadows had a fantastic clean singing voice, as evident on "I Won't See You Tonight (Part 1)." If he would have used that same pitch and tone on City of Evil, there would have been less resistance from long-time fans. Instead, M. Shadows goes for a mix of the nasally-sounding vocals made famous by Axl Rose and a harsh style that reminded me of a young James Hetfield.

On City of Evil, Shadows seems to be unsure about what direction to take his vocals. At times, they are powerful and driving, matching the frantic pace of the music. When the acoustic guitars come out, or a ballad is around the corner, the shortcomings become more apparent. Poignant moments like the emotional ending to "M.I.A" and the extended acoustic outro on "Sidewinder" are ruined by Shadows' ham-fisted vocal performance. His high notes were quite weak, possibly a side-effect of the throat surgery or not enough time spent with a voice coach. The aggressive material is fine, but the melodic moments are sub-par due to Shadows' lackluster singing.

With a loud scream out of Shadows' mouth, "Beast And The Harlot" kicks things off with a bang. A hard-hitting opener with a solid solo after the first chorus, "Beast And The Harlot" was a good decision by the band to start the album with. The first three songs are actually interconnected in the sense that there are no breaks into the tracks, essentially blending one-fourth of the album together. None of the tracks give the listener a chance for a breather, at least until the bass-led breakdown at the end of "Blinded In Chains."

"Bat Country" was the single that got them noticed by the general music public, leading some metal fans to knock the song as nothing more than pop metal. While definitely a track favoring mainstream appeal, there weren't many songs played on MTV that had a minute-long guitar solo that included Gates and Vengeance dueling with each other for the spotlight. Say what you will about MTV and Avenged Sevenfold, but you won't hear a song like "Bat Country" on that channel very often in the future.

The second half of the album was where the real challenge laid for the average Avenged Sevenfold fan. With the ballad "Seize The Day," the band began to expand their horizons and look to add in influences from all over the place. Some of it works well and others seemed forced. The ballad can be placed in the latter category; it sounded like a B-side from Use Your Illusion. M. Shadows does his best Axl and Gates pulls out a solo that just screams "Slash in ‘November Rain.'" I don't mind when a band attempts to pull out a ballad similar to a band, but when you copy the sound directly so much that you can't tell the difference, that can be a problem.

"Betrayed" and "The Wicked End" are also in the mediocre category, both suffering from being too long and having too much cluster in them, especially in the latter's case, with a strings section and choir boggling down the music. While giving off a dark vibe that accentuates the atmosphere, the other band members are seemingly pushed to the side to let the symphonic elements into the proceedings. The former song is dedicated to Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell, who was shot on stage in 2004; a touching tribute, but one that is lacking in the melody and structure to justify its almost seven-minute running length.

("Burn It Down" Live Rock AM Ring 2006)

At points in the second half, the experimentation does work to the band's benefit. "Sidewinder" is a mid-paced monster that builds to a fantastic flamenco conclusion, complete with extended acoustic solos that fight for the ears' attention, and tribal percussion. At over nine minutes, "Strength Of The World" is the longest Avenged Sevenfold song to date, a highly entertaining track that tells the story of a boy who fights to defend his fallen families honor. Complete with an intro straight out of "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly," the song successfully places the listener in the Western-era, sympathizing with the son seeking revenge on those who did his family wrong.

Avenged Sevenfold had a good thing going with Waking The Fallen. A lot happened in the two-year span between their 2nd and 3rd album, and that greatly influenced how City of Evil turned out. The band did well with this new direction, and while most preferred A7X as they were in their early years, Avenged Sevenfold tried something different and for the most part, it was a success. City of Evil was a positive step forward for the band, at least until their self-titled album, but that's a whole other story.




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