Interview: Avenged Sevenfold's Zacky Vengeance Talks 'Waking the Fallen' and Early Days of the Band
By Dan Epstein
Avenged Sevenfold and their fans have been referring to this summer as the Summer of Sevenfold--and for good reason. The band is not only putting out an innovative new mobile video game, 'Hail to the King: Deathbat,' and headlining the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, they are also releasing an expanded (and overdue) 10th-anniversary reissue of 2003’s 'Waking the Fallen,' the Orange County hard-rock band’s second album. Dubbed 'Waking the Fallen: Resurrected,' the reissue is slated for release on August 25 via Hopeless Records and is available for pre-order right here.
Here, Avenged Sevenfold guitarist Zacky Vengeance--one of the founders of the band--looks back on the group's early days, A7X's evolution, and the impact of 'Waking the Fallen.'
REVOLVER Why reissue Waking the Fallen?
ZACKY VENGEANCE We feel like that album was truly a pivotal point in our career, and a defining moment in the development of Avenged Sevenfold’s sound. Brian [lead guitarist Synyster Gates] had just joined the band, and that’s when we started incorporating dueling leads and guitar harmonies. It’s also when Matt [vocalist M. Shadows] started really singing instead of just screaming—and not just on choruses or small parts here and there. So we wanted to reissue it and make people aware, and give people more of an insight into what was going on with us at the time—what was going through our heads when we were making those songs, what the demos sounded like. Basically, just giving people a chance to take a look back at our career, and remember and realize that we came from pretty humble beginnings.
What was life like for you back in 2003, when you were making the album?
It was fun! We were young, we were all living with our parents for the most part, and we were all driving our shitty cars over to Matt’s parents’ garage to have completely informal writing sessions that were basically all about trying to impress each other with the riffs we came up with, and trying to incorporate our personal influences into the songs. And afterwards, it was all about going to Johnny’s Bar and getting as many cheap or free drinks as we could! [Laughs] And then we’d wake up hungover and start the process again. It was a lot of fun. There was no pressure, and it was basically about a bunch of friends getting together and making the best music that they could.
You can really hear the beginnings of “the Avenged Sevenfold sound” on this album.
Yeah. On our first album, Sounding the Seventh Trumpet, we were listening to more obscure heavy-metal bands and hardcore bands. But this time, it was like Matt was listening to Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven, I was listening to Metallica’s …And Justice For All and Master of Puppets, and Brian was bringing in all this Iron Maidenesque stuff on guitar. It was like we were all realizing that it was okay to like these really huge metal bands, and we wanted to incorporate some of that stuff. We weren’t afraid of what our peers were gonna say… At that time, where we come from, it wasn’t cool to not be an underground metal or hardcore band, so for us to throw in the influence of bands that had actually had some mainstream success was kind of risky. But it was what we loved, man, and we were incorporating all of those things. We basically decided, “We don’t care what anyone thinks about us—this is music we love to make! Let’s do it!”
This was the first Avenged record to really feature Synyster Gates as a full member, right?
Pretty much, yeah. We re-did the intro to Sound the Seventh Trumpet and had Brian put a solo on it, but this was the first time Brian played on a whole album, and contributed to the songwriting. That’s when we started incorporating dueling leads. The first song that was written for it was “Second Heartbeat,” and that was right as Brian was joining the band. He came in and listened to the opening riff that I’d written, and he was like, “Hey, let’s add a harmony guitar on it!” All of a sudden, it turned into this Iron Maidenesque thing, and Matt and I were just blown away. I’d never been much for soloing on my own, and all of a sudden we were incorporating these awesome elements that we’d never even had before.
You recorded Waking the Fallen at NRG Recordings in North Hollywood, right? What was that experience like?
I believe the actual recording took place somewhere in Burbank, and I can't remember the name of it. It was our first time working with a producer [Andrew Murdock, A.K.A. Mudrock], and we got beat up by him—he was like, “Zack, you’re not very good at the guitar, the drums aren’t very tight, and you guys aren’t playing to any kind of tempo. And where you should have a six-minute song, you’ve written a shitty 10-minute song.” It was like going through boot camp, and we were pissed off. I won’t lie--I hated having someone telling me that what we were doing needed to be better, or that my guitar playing was sloppy, or that the parts of our songs didn’t really add up. When you’re a rebellious little shithead, you don’t want to hear anybody saying that. So it was a bit of a battle, but looking back, it was awesome. We learned a lot about recording, and it took us to a level of professionalism that we didn’t have.
A lot of young bands find it difficult to make that stage-to-studio transition.
Totally. We were up there onstage with broken instruments, trying to be as crazy as we could, but we didn’t realize that your album needed to sound good so that you could get what you’re trying to do across to people. The defining moment for me, personally—and one of the defining moments in our career—was when we all got together with the producer and engineer during pre-production, and we were playing “Unholy Confessions.” It was basically a riff that the Rev and I had written at soundcheck, and then Syn and Matt came in with a brilliant chorus and an almost groove breakdown. It started out as Matt screaming the whole time, because that was basically what we did, but Matt was like, “What do you think about me singing some of these parts instead of screaming them?” He sang this unbelievable melody in his extremely unique voice, and we were like, “That’s it—we’re incorporating singing!” We were like, “You’re a great singer—who cares what the hardcore kids think of us? You need to be singing these parts!” It added a whole new dimension.
What are some of the extras on this reissue?
With the reissue, we’re offering the demo tracks that we recorded for the album. We basically went into a small studio with zero budget [and with Thrice’s Teppei Teranishi producing], but we wanted to hear what the songs sounded like with vocal melodies and different guitar tones before we laid it down. These demos are as real and as raw as it gets—every one of them is different from the songs that ended up on Waking the Fallen. We pulled parts out of some songs, added some to other songs and dropped some entirely. You can definitely hear the evolution.
I believe there’s five demos. One of the demos ended up being a main part of “City of Evil,” and was never even used on Waking the Fallen. At that point, we hadn’t recorded a whole lot, so it was almost experimental—like, “Wow, this is what we sound like?” [Laughs] It’s just us experimenting, trying to find our own sound for ourselves. Sounding the Seventh Trumpet didn’t really sound like us, because Matt wasn’t singing a whole lot, Brian’s not in the band at this point, Jimmy’s playing on a drum set that’s about to fall apart, and my guitar playing abilities have never exactly been virtuoso. So with these demos, that was the first time we were truly able to hear what Avenged Sevenfold was capable of sounding like.
There’s also a DVD of live footage from 2003, right?
Yeah, watching it gives me chills—it shows us as these young kids basically on this quest. Not much has changed since then in our attitude, or in our desire to put on a live show, but at this time we didn’t have the instruments, crew or fan base that we have now. It’s basically us with nothing except for our attitude and desire. We’re all a bunch of skinny, malnourished kids trying to make music and dress in as much black as possible, and borrowing money from friends so we could go buy a beer at the bar. Some people only know us as this big band that plays festivals and headlines tours, but our close friends and family see this footage and they’re like, “Wow, I totally forgot about those days!”
If you could somehow meet up today with your malnourished self from back then, what would you tell him?
I’d say, “Don’t do anything differently—just enjoy the ride, man!” Those moments in life were as challenging as life can be now, but it was all an amazing experience. I hope other bands can look at this and realize that no one is handed this—it all comes with a huge price, and it all comes with a lot of hard work and extremely tough decision-making. But there’s also the chance that, if you really believe in yourself, you can take it to a whole new level. So I wouldn’t change anything, man. I believe that all of the hard decisions we made were the right ones.
MORE AVENGED SEVENFOLD: Check out our gallery of A7X, Korn, Trivium, Asking Alexandria, and many more rocking hard on the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival.
proposal during Avenged Sevenfold\'s set
Texas Hippie Coalition