Review: AVENGED SEVENFOLD make dreams come true at triumphant tour kickoff | Revolver

Review: AVENGED SEVENFOLD make dreams come true at triumphant tour kickoff

Inside A7X's first L.A. headlining show in over a decade
avenged sevenfold 2023 APPLEFORD, Steve Appleford
photograph by Steve Appleford

The chanting began even before the lights went down Friday night: "Sevenfold! Sevenfold! Sevenfold!"

The anticipation was understandable, as the return of Avenged Sevenfold was a very long time in coming, following the release this month of the band's first new album in seven years, the euphoric and divisive Life Is but a Dream... The show unfolded at the Forum in Inglewood, California, and was the first to showcase the full stage production of this hugely popular metal band reimagined and reborn.

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They entered in the dark to the gentle pre-recorded acoustic plucking that opens the new album, and singer M. Shadows took a seat in a chair low to the stage, wearing a black ski mask and faded Black Flag T-shirt. A7X kicked immediately into the frantic hardcore beat and roaring guitar riffs of "Game Over," which opens Life Is but a Dream... Shadows stood to rant and rasp, then closed the song with lyrics of existential malaise, singing with a dreamy melodic lilt: "Toss a rope over the branch and fall into the night/And here I swing, from my family tree/Say goodnight."

The night marked their first Los Angeles-area headlining show in at least a decade, and the closest they've had to a homecoming. "I've been to a lot of shows here, but we have never played the Forum," Shadows announced early on, referring to a venue that has hosted generations of legendary rock performances, including the final live sets by Slayer. "So many family and friends, I have to admit we probably know half of you here." (The arena tour continues June 23nd at Madison Square Garden in New York, then July 18th in Camden, New Jersey.)

The night's setlist stretched across Avenged's two-decade career, but the central material of the concert was the new album, which collides A7X's core metal identity with wild experiments in pop, prog, hip-hop, electro dance music, jazzy piano flourishes and smooth Sinatra-style crooning. The soundscape is accompanied by lyrics on eternal questions about modern existence, with deep dives into absurdism and psychedelics. Life Is but a Dream... is the most dramatic step for a band that chose a long time ago to not simply repeat the grinding euphoric metal from their first tastes of success nearly 20 years ago.

While their last release, 2016's The Stage, was also an ambitious statement that pushed hard against the boundaries of heavy metal, the new album operates with no boundaries at all. Life Is but a Dream... is weird and avant-garde by design, a challenge both to the band and any fans who still only want more wild-eyed "Bat Country"-style anthems from their favorite metalcore dudes from Huntington Beach, California.

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The sound was no less schizo as A7X ripped open the new album's "We Love You" with a tough, industrial-strength riff, as Shadows chanted a litany of human desires: "More sex/More pills/More skin/More shills/Build tall/Build higher…" The song ended with a gentle outro, with Zacky Vengeance strumming a gypsy acoustic rhythm while Gates plucked an expressive bottleneck lead, as Shadows' final wail ended with a sound deep and mournful.

There was also "Mattel," an intense, hard-hitting breakdown on increasingly artificial human existence, and "Nobody," the album's lead single and the first glimpse anyone had of the band's unexpectedly weird new LP. Throughout the night, Avenged skillfully recreated the sounds of a complicated new album that took years of work, delays, the Covid-19 pandemic, and at least one childbirth. At the Forum, the band was back in full force.

Spread out on a mostly barren flat stage (with a couple of simple risers on the sides) were Shadows, guitarists Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance, bassist Johnny Christ, and – tucked way back – drummer Brooks Wackerman. They were surrounded on three sides by huge video screens, often showing band members in murky black-and-white. There was no pyro and no props. Instead, accompanying the newest material were projections of art and text by Wes Lang, who created the album's cover imagery, including a painting of the Grim Reaper swinging his scythe amid severed skulls, under his scrawl of the record's otherwise whimsical title.

For the older songs, there was video of fire and skulls. During "Buried Alive," a seven-minute rager written mostly by their late founding drummer Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan, the singer shouted: "This is now your life!" When Shadows paused to introduce the band's next piece, ominous organ sounds filled the arena. "The last time we were supposed to play was for this tour, so we present The Stage," he said, taking a formal bow, as the band shifted into that album's title song with guitars at full boil.

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An emotional "So Far Away" — from 2010's Nightmare album — was dedicated to The Rev (his family members in attendance) and was like an epic Guns N' Roses ballad, with the big solo delivered by Gates, alone in the spotlight, guitar lines flowing skyward. The title song "Nightmare" opened like a James Bond tune, accompanied by images of clouds shaped like demonic creatures, dissolving and coming back again to anxious grinding guitars.

The 2005 breakthrough hit "Bat Country" of course got the crowd shouting along, with some Las Vegas iconography on the screens, and a mosh pit swirling in front of the stage. Gates and Vengeance stood shoulder-to-shoulder, both leaning into their overlapping riffs. Near the end, Shadows asked, "Are you ready to fuck shit up one last time here?" before the band ignited "Unholy Confessions."

For the encore, A7X delivered the new album's multi-part epic "GOD," made up of three wildly diverse songs, starting with the prog-rock storm of "G." That was followed by "(O)rdinary," with robotic dance sounds echoing Daft Punk, while purple and blue squares projected onto the stage floor, giving it the look of a futuristic discotheque. More head-spinning was the closer, "(D)eath," setting an orchestral melody behind Shadows as he slipped into crooning Sinatra mode, and amazingly he pulled it off, before his voice reverted back to its signature rasp.

Then it was over, and band members slowly stepped back into the shadows, as the album's title instrumental served as elegant exit music. Gates wrote and performed the complicated piano track, which closes the album. It's a kind of punk/jazz/Gershwin piece recorded at home on Gates' baby grand, but the man is a guitar virtuoso, not Elton John. There was little chance he'd attempt a live rendition every night on the road.

The recording unfurled in the dark for its entire 4:39 minutes. That left some of the crowd a little confused about whether the band was returning for another encore, until the word "Adieu" appeared in cursive on the big screen. A curtain call with Avenged Sevenfold taking a final bow might have made things clearer, but there was little reason for disappointment when the lights came up. Fans had just witnessed A7X back in action and inspired to push themselves forever forward.

Order Revolver's new Avenged Sevenfold cover issue, as well as an A7X-inspired art print, at our shop.

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