Avenged Sevenfold’s “Hail to the King” can be perceived in two ways. If you have read MetalSucks’s Axl Rosenberg’s track by track autopsy of the new Avenged Sevenfold album, then you might find it a tad bit difficult to focus on the album without recalling which 80’s/90’s Rock/Metal anthem the riff is borrowed from. For all intents and purposes this will mar the experience. On the other hand, if you listen to “Hail to the King” without any prior references or expectations, you might find a pleasing batch of tracks churned as a throwback to the old days.
“Hail to the King” is a comeback of sorts for the erstwhile Metalcore outfit. While “Nightmare” featured drumwork by the late drummer of the band, The Rev, “Hail to the King” is the first album in the band’s discography where The Rev is not an active part of the songwriting process and is absent from the album in entirety. This also marks the induction of new drummer Arin Ilejay.
Featured as on the soundtrack for the game “Call of Duty: Black Ops II”, “Shepherd of Fire” kicks things into action with an ominous bell-toll and crackling fire to set the central premise for the track. A concoction of “Enter Sandman” era Metallica-esque thrashyriffing and typical A7X drumwork makes this track a fairly enjoyable one. Being a fan of M.Shadows’ vocal texture since the first album, I stand mighty impressed with his range and the extent of real estate his voice stretches over now. The title track features as the 2nd number on the album. By now the basic template to the songwriting approach the band has followed is somewhat obvious. Gang chants for backing vocals and Synyster Gates’ grandiose guitar chops fit like a glove with Shadows’ Power Metal inspired vocals. “Doing Time” is where the band further shines. The maturity in their songwriting becomes more apparent when the solo takes center-stage. For a band that has come all the way from playing contemporary Metalcore to recapturing the 90’s Heavy Metal without ripping off the big names, Avenged Sevenfold is just aces in my book.
For all intents and purposes, the album is easier to digest without jumping at every riff, hook, or progression that bears the faintest resemblance to a 90’s Rock/Heavy Metal anthem. It’s better to look at them as hidden cookies than rip-offs. Starting with Latin chants, “Requiem” makes quite an impression with the flurry of activity on the instrumental front, comprising of some of the most memorable guitar-work on the album and one of the most enjoyable duet between the pair of Zacky Vengeance and Synyster Gates. “Crimson Day” is a track which should be welcomed by most of Avenged Sevenfold’s fans, since it sounds like a sequel of sorts to the bands crowd favourite “Seize The Day”. Capturing the ballad-ish feel of epic tracks by the likes of Guns ‘n’ Roses and the likes, the band clearly has a well-defined formula down for what they are doing right now. What remains to be seen is how long they plan to milk it and how long it is before they realize that they have overplayed their hand. “Coming Home” is another testimony to the fireworks show that is Synyster Gates. Quite possibly the personal favourite from the album, “Coming Home” showcases how brilliantly how Ilejay gels with the rest of the band, as does “Planets”.
Not entirely a success story, second for second, “Hail to the King” has its moments where you sit and exclaim at some neat trick that the band pulls out of its sleeve, but there are enough tell signs that mar the album. For starters, the band’s desperate effort to be up their amongst the legends they have idolized for so long kind of fall’s flat on its face after the first few spins. The original tracks which have been referenced for its A7X counterpart kind of stand in mockery. The band, in its bid to move up a notch higher, have taken themselves a peg down in some aspects because the originality and freshness of their compositions is under careful scrutiny at the moment. At the end of the day, my personal opinions states that A7X have traded one nuance for another losing precious little in the trade-off. Maybe another couple of albums down the line their efforts will be further recognized and pack enough punch to deliver another #1 album. Till then let’s juice up this hamster for the treadmill!
Make no mistake, 80’s/90’s influences aside Avenged Sevenfold have retained their commercially successful tightness, which is reflected in their song-writing. I’m not sure if I can tag this effort as a no-frills approach or otherwise, but calling a spade a spade, the band has not really achieved anything ground-breaking with a new drummer in their ranks. Now I won’t go into whether this would have been a better album if The Rev or Mike Portnoy were to be a part of it. Because let’s be honest, individual skill-sets aside, none of them did anything game-changing for the outfit.
“Hail to the King” can be either perceived as a cheap shot at legends or homage to the progenitors of the genre, and for the sake of keeping the listening experience fresh and intact it’s safer to assume the latter. The album highlights the Hard Rock side of an A7X which was once a borderline Metalcore band. If you’re a fan of “Arena rock” anthems then look no further. “Hail to the King” should sit perfectly well with your needs. When I needed something to take the monotony of continuously critiquing Modern Progressive Metal bands, “Hail to the King” fit the job perfectly. And nary without a single thought of reminiscing the good old school days when “Little Pieces of Heaven” was the “coolest track ever”. Till Now. Damn, so close.
Given that their album is now #1 in the UK, at the risk of trifling my own religious beliefs I daresay the “God has saved the King”. Metalheads looking to reminisce the glory days should definitely invest their time and money into “Hail to the King”. Younger listeners, if you’re planning to develop an ear that can differentiate between class and crap, then this is the record you should practice that to.