This story was originally published in June 2010.
Long before they were one of the biggest metal bands in the world, the future members of Avenged Sevenfold were just a disparate group of misfit kids growing up in the O.C. The band's rough, shambolic debut album, Sounding the Seventh Trumpet, didn't radically change their lives once it was released in 2001, but it did set them on their path. Here, vocalist M. Shadows, guitarists Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance and bassist Johnny Christ look back on the local hardcore scene in which they grew up, writing songs in guitar class, the origins of A7X's iconic Deathbat logo, and more.
ZACKY VENGEANCE Me and Matt actually began writing Sounding the Seventh Trumpet in our guitar class. I think that was the only time we probably showed up to school, to be honest. And funnily enough, we'd go play the songs that we'd written, that are on that album now, to get our grades; we'd go up there and play our songs. And that's how we passed the class.
M. SHADOWS Guitar class is where I met, when we were freshmen, all the guys from Eighteen Visions, Bleeding Through, and Throwdown. They all went to Huntington with me and they were, you know, really into the hardcore scene, and so I got really into hardcore 'cause those were guys that I looked up to. Like [Eighteen Visions frontman] James Hart and [Throwdown vocalist] Dave Peters and all those guys, they were seniors, so whatever they were into, we were just listening to it and going, "Yeah, this is cool dropdown tuning and this is sick." So that's how we kind of decided, Well, we love punk rock; we definitely can't play what the metal bands play, but we also like hardcore. And hardcore is kind of metal, but it's just way more simple, you know [Laughs], we can do that. So that's where we came up with the idea that we want to do, like, singing and screaming — kind of half punk, half hardcore, and just make a hybrid of what we liked and get as metal as we could, as technical as we could. And so, basically, the bands that we were looking up to at the time were, like, Poison the Well and P.O.D., things like that. But also Rancid influenced us, bands like Bad Religion and all that. And then way off in the distance were Guns N' Roses, and Megadeth, Metallica, the stuff that was always a staple, but never really in our wildest dreams could we imagine playing that good. So we were just trying to do what we could, you know, as kids. We just wrote all these songs because we were sitting in guitar class and we'd have to write a song and all perform it so we'd write some bullshit, and that's where I think a lot of the metal came from, though. We couldn't play an acoustic hardcore song really in the class and make it, like, sound good. A lot of the people earlier were, like, chugging away, and I was just sitting there going, "Dude, there's gotta be some sort of musicality in this." So we just played a couple of things and, all of a sudden, we wrote all of Sounding the Seventh Trumpet in guitar class. I don't think we ever had a sit down, like, outside of guitar class. It was just me and Zack, riff after riff after riff. And that's why the songs are so incohesive; they're just, like, all over the place 'cause it's a lot different sittings there, saying, "That riff's cool," and you find 15 riffs and put them into one song and then you go back to class on Wednesday, do 15 more riffs, here's the next song. [Laughs]
VENGEANCE I don't know if the other kids looked up to what we were doing, but I think they always knew that it was something incredible. Because, first off, Matt had a reputation around the whole city of Huntington Beach for getting into trouble and, you know, he was a junior or sophomore in high school who came to school with forearm tattoos, which was unheard of. So everyone kind of always had their eye on us. The guys that started their own bands and the guys from the only bands in high school that were actually drawing kids.
SHADOWS So we recorded a demo and then we got signed to Good Life Recordings, and they basically said, "We'll give you $2,000 to do a record and we know Donnell Cameron, who's worked on all the Bad Religion records, and he said he'll do the record for $2,000." So we were just excited to be in West Beach where NOFX had recorded and Bad Religion and Pennywise and everyone that had been in there — we were just very excited about it — and Blink 182, No Doubt, and this guy had worked on the records. Now Brian was a little interested, not in the band, but he wanted to come and watch us track 'cause we were going to be in the studio and he wanted to see what it was all about.
So we went in there and we learned our songs, and Jimmy ["The Rev" Sullivan] went in there and recorded all of his drums in one take, and that was, like, his thing: He wanted to do everything in one take, so he did one take. There's no drum editing. Whatever he laid down the one time through was it, and that's what's on the record. And then Zack laid down his guitars in there, and they're obviously a little sloppy because there's no click; there was nothing to play to except whatever Jimmy was doing. We didn't have the patience or the time or the money to sit there and, like, make everything tight. We didn't know anything about it. We were just a punk band trying to play, trying to make our record sound like Poison the Well. Poison the Well and Nevermore were the two bands we were trying to copy, sound-wise. And I still think the drums sound good on that record to this day, like, the tones are good. It's just, Jimmy's all over the place.
And so we did that and then Brian came in, and he's like, "You know, you guys should play to a click." And Jimmy and me had never heard of this before and we were like, "There's no fucking way any band does that." And he's like, "No, if you think about it, bands play to a click. If you think about, the tempo of stuff, like, if you clap your hands throughout the song, it will always be the same, even if they're changing tempos." And I did it with Pantera, and it wasn't true. Pantera didn't play to a click, and I was like, "Pantera doesn't do it." And then I started, like, listening to myself, saying, You're being an idiot, like, let's see what these other bands do. And you listen to, like, Dream Theater and everything is to a click. Ninety-five percent of the bands do a click.
But then Brian was like, "You know, you guys have some really cool songs that I like the parts, and it's cool. And, "Dude it's, like, really cool shit, I love the record. It's so different than anything I've heard." And so we were like, "Cool." Take it as a compliment, it's cool. But Brian's way out of our league. We ended up having to go back in the studio to record the EP [the 2001 Warmness on the Soul CD single], and I bumped into Zack at an AFI show beforehand and I said, "Dude, we should ask Brian to join the band. Maybe he could throw a solo in do some stuff, since we're going to be in there messing with the record." So we asked Brian and he was totally stoked.
SYNYSTER GATES Jimmy and I, we hung out all the time, and we saw Matt sometimes on the weekends and stuff — so I went and hung out with them one day at the studio or whatever. I hadn't really heard much of the stuff. I just kind of knew it was a hardcore thing, or whatever. I wasn't too much into hardcore at all at the time. Jimmy and I were kind of doing our own weird, Mr. Bungle–esque sort of stuff [in our band Pinkly Smooth]. When I first heard Sounding [the Seventh Trumpet], I was like, Oh, this is awesome. This is more Pantera-ish with some sort of Scandinavian metal influences and stuff. I didn't really hear too much hardcore shit, to me. So, I was totally into it and listened to it a bunch. Then we all got together one night, and they said they would like to have a lead guitar player in the band and I said, "Of course, that would be great." You know, I grew up with the guys. So, we rehearsed and it was really, really fun.
SHADOWS Brian just didn't know how to fit in with a metal band, though. He had a Parker guitar and he had baggy pants and he's just onstage doing his thing and we're just like, God. And he came up with this thing where he's like, "I'm gonna have a gimmick, dude, kind of like Wes Borland [of Limp Bizkit]. I wanna have a purple face onstage, and, like, I'm just gonna be this crazy guy that just plays the guitar." [Laughs] And we're like, "Dude, that'll be cool.' So the first show we go play with him, he paints his face purple and it looks so stupid that he decides to take it off, but it wouldn't come off.
GATES Oh man. Horror and shock. I don't know. It was actually kind of part of my shtick at that point. I was doing that stuff with The Rev in Pinkly Smooth when we were playing. So, I mean, I [sighs] used to paint a German flag on my face and a Hitler 'stache just to fuck with people and wear clown shoes. It was pretty ridiculous. I used to dance around like a fucking goofball and just have a good time. That's where I came from. I was like, "Well, you kind of need this crazy character in this band." So, I kind of wanted to do this Darth Maul sort of thing from whenever the fuck that was — The First Episode [Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace] — but with purple. That's what I was kind of going for. Something a little more serious, not as goofy as Pinkly Smooth. I know now that it was probably twice as goofy. So, anyway, we decided somewhere, when my whole face was painted purple, that it was a bad idea. So, I tried to take it off and I just looked like a bright green fucking Oompa Loompa. It just turned into a greenish, reddish, weird sort of glowing thing. That was my first show… And the last one with the makeup.
SHADOWS So Sounding the Seventh Trumpet came out. Brian was officially part of the band, but he had only played on one song on that album. It sold 300 records the first week and, you know, it was fucking awesome that we had a CD that you could go into some stores and see it, so we were just really excited about that.
Also, you know, we realized really early that we needed a logo, so we found a font that we liked and then our idea was to have, like, a realistic looking skeleton with realistic looking bat wings that look almost skeleton-like, you know, that looks like something that we hadn't seen before with that vibe. And then we got our friend Mike to draw it and we gave him 20 bucks, and he drew the Deathbat and it's never changed since. And that was all from Sounding the Seventh Trumpet. So it's pretty cool.
JOHNNY CHRIST Jimmy and Brian knew one of my older brothers when we were all growing up. They were the same age. They had been over to the house before in high school and stuff. I kind of always knew who they were, growing up, just from living pretty close to them. It wasn't until high school that I realized Avenged Sevenfold was picking up locally. I'd go over there and watch them practice and stuff because I had gotten into music very heavily, as well, and they had the whole garage band thing going. It was right around the corner, so me and the guys would go over. At the time, I didn't really think anything of it. They'd be all serious and trying to rehearse and we'd just be a couple of dickheads.
After they were done rehearsing. I'd literally sit behind Jimmy while they were practicing at this little garage space at Matt's mom's house. I'd sit behind Jimmy and watch him play, amazed. I'd pick up the bass and when everyone else was done practicing Jimmy would just jam with me. We were both big Primus fans, so he would just jam with me, not for very long, but it was fun.
SHADOWS After we did the record, we decided we needed to get out there and tour. We became friends with From Autumn to Ashes, and we became friends with, like, Sky Came Falling and Atreyu and… I don't know if we were really friends with Atreyu at that point. It was kind of like, both bands from O.C. — who's going to be bigger. And I think that we were kind of offended when people said we sounded like Atreyu, and I think they were probably offended when people said that they sounded like us. And It was like, We were getting pigeonholed immediately right off the bat and probably rightfully so, you know, at that time. And so we were friends with all of them but then that little competition thing started happening, unspoken competition, like I can speak about it now 'cause I'm really close to Brandon [Saller, Atreyu drummer] and those guys now, but at that time, you know.
So we start playing shows. We played at this place called Krotonic Studios that held 20 people: You could barely fit the band in there with the equipment, and we'd just sit there and there'd be a couple of kids that were moshing and dancing, you know. Then we'd go to Showcase Theatre at night and watch the bigger bands that could sell it out and it was like the dream to, like, sellout Showcase or Chain Reaction. And it was just such a hardcore scene down there. It was so cool, you know, like something you definitely wanted to be a part of. But definitely, to me, we didn't want to get pigeonholed and we understood that it could be the death of us if we got pigeonholed in that. We were all about writing music we wanted, but we just felt like there were so many things that weren't hardcore about us that there's no point saying that we were hardcore 'cause those kids were going to say we weren't and it didn't really matter, you know.
CHRIST When I was a senior in high school, I ran into Valerie [Matt's then-girlfriend, now wife] at a party in Huntington. I asked how everything was going. They had been on the road a little bit, so I asked her how the road was going. She said it actually looked like they were gonna come home because they were not gonna be able to finish out the last two weeks of the tour, because the bassist had to go to a wedding or something like that. So, I offered up. I was like, "I'm sure they have a lot of other people saying the same thing, but if they need someone just to fill in for the two weeks, I could probably pick up the songs decently enough." I got a call a couple of days later at my mom's house and they were like, "Hey, do you want to come out?" and I was like, "Cool, yeah." I took a couple of weeks off from school. Probably a week and a half into it, they asked me if I wanna join the band and I said of course I did. It was something I always wanted to do and I really liked those guys. It was a very cool thing.
At that point they had been a touring band for a couple of years before, so I was a little bit behind them for quite a while there, playing live and stuff like that, but it was awesome for me. I remember, for that two-week thing, I had never really done anything like that before. I was really stoked. There was actually alcohol to be drinking, and I was this 17-year-old kid, maybe 18 — I might have just turned 18, I don't remember. So, I wasn't able to drink, but there was booze backstage. We'd go out to bars and stuff, and they'd lie for me and say, "Oh yeah, he's with us." Everyone else was 21, and I wasn't. I snuck into a few places, which was a lot of fun for me, being an 18-year-old kid and travelling across the country playing music and, you know, getting a little drunk here and there. It was quite fun.