Getting away from bat country

BY: ADAM PRINGLE

Style: "70's look"

Despite the many genres of hard rock out there, what is conspicuously absent from the mainstream musical landscape in 2007 is straight-up metal - the kind of riff-driven aural awesomeness that makes you want to furiously bang your head and throw your devil horns in the air because you just want to rock.It's the kind of over-the-top music that demands album covers featuring skeletons, devils and all sorts of supernatural and "immoral" things perfectly designed to freak out religious fanatics and overzealous parent groups. It's the sound of glorious decadence. It's metal, baby. Fortunately, for those about to rock, Avenged Sevenfold is here to salute you.

The Huntington Beach-based band has scored massive success by sticking to the basics of the metal playbook: guitar riffs vicious enough to melt your face off "Raiders of the Lost Ark"-style, sinister lyrical imagery and album artwork straight out of Tipper Gore's nightmares (the band's "Deathbat" logo is a skull with bat wings attached) and the use of stage names such as "Synyster" and "The Reverend" that you can only get away with in the metal game. At the same time, the guys have updated the formula by adding musical touches inspired by punk and metalcore, which reflect the quintet's roots.

After toiling away for years in Orange County's metalcore scene while earning a large cult following in the process, Avenged Sevenfold broke through with its 2005 major-label debut, "City of Evil," which spawned three hit singles ("Bat Country," "Beast and the Harlot" and "Seize the Day") and went on to sell over 850,000 copies. Now, the guys are back to continue the tough-as-nails tradition established by the legendary likes of Iron Maiden with their new self-titled album, which is full of A7X trademarks such as awe-inspiring axe work by guitarists Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance while making room for some new sonic elements.

Even though Avenged Sevenfold's new single "Almost Easy" has cracked the top 20 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart, bassist Johnny Christ seemed very humble and down-to-earth when he talked to DIG about the new album.

According to Christ, even though the self-titled LP isn't a complete departure from Avenged Sevenfold's previous works, the band sought to expand its trademark sound instead of cashing in and making a sequel to "City of Evil."

"It's the same in the fact that we have guitar solos, we have wild time signatures, [Avenged Sevenfold drummer] The Rev's going nuts on drums, we have choirs, we have orchestras," Christ said. "But we definitely did something different, especially with bass playing. There's a lot of groovy songs, songs that hearken back to old-time Southern jam songs. It's the kind of music where you just nod your head. You're not going a million miles per minute."

A notable example of the band's progression is "Critical Acclaim," the album's opening track and first single. Although musically the song is vintage Avenged Sevenfold, lyrically it appears to have a political bent (it criticizes those who speak out against the troops)despite the band's assertion that it is not a political act. According to Christ, however, "Critical Acclaim" wasn't meant to be explicitly political.

"It's not about right or left. It's not about the red states or the blue states," he said. "It's about the troops, and it's about people overlooking the fact that there are 18-year-old kids out there who are dying every day, and you want to blame George Bush for that."

Still, Avenged Sevenfold is focused first and foremost on shredding without mercy, which has been the band's mission since forming as a quartet in 1999, when the guys were still teenagers.

The group's first LP, "Sounding the Seventh Trumpet," was released in 2001. After Gates joined the band as lead guitarist that same year, the band's debut was re-released on the Van Nuys-based indie label Hopeless Records. Avenged Sevenfold's current lineup was solidified in 2002 when Christ joined on bass.

During those early years, the band built a following by playing venues such as Chain Reaction in Anaheim along with fellow Orange County bands like Eighteen Visions. By the time its second album, "Waking the Fallen," was released in 2003, it had earned a spot on the Vans Warped Tour.

As Avenged Sevenfold continued to tirelessly tour in support of the successful "Waking the Fallen," which earned the band legions of new fans, offers from record labels began pouring in. Ultimately, the guys decided to sign with Warner Bros. Records in 2004.

"We already had a really strong fanbase, so we were able to negotiate a deal that was very, very awesome, where we had the creative input and we could do whatever we wanted," Christ said. "So that's why we ended up going with Warner, because they gave us the opportunity to have the money to make awesome videos and to play in Japan and Thailand, but we still had the freedom to be incredibly creative."

The band's first record for Warner, "City of Evil," hit stores in June 2005. Once the Hunter S. Thompson-inspired single "Bat Country" started getting airplay on radio and video channels, sales really began to catch fire. The group eventually earned a spot on the main stage at Ozzfest in 2006 and even won the "Best New Artist" award at that year's MTV Video Music Awards for its "Bat Country" video.

Avenged Sevenfold has been criticized for its gradual shift to a more melodic and commercial sound, with many claiming that the guys are "sell-outs" who have abandoned their roots for mainstream success. However, Christ contended that the band is always looking to change its sound and Warner has given it the freedom to do so.

"It's 2007. It's not the day and age where bands really can sell out anymore because major labels don't do well anymore," he said. "When people say that we've sold out, I just kind of want to be like, 'I want you to be more educated in what that really means,' because fans who have the 'Deathbat' tattooed on them don't say that we've sold out. They appreciate the changes that have happened because they're growing up, too."

The band also remains closely connected to its home by keeping in touch with other Orange Country bands such as Atreyu, and the guys even still live in Huntington Beach.

"Our roots are firmly entrenched in O.C., and we would never turn our backs on O.C.," Christ said. "We love the music, we love the people, we love the women from there."

Although Avenged Sevenfold plans to tour worldwide in support of its new record for the next two years or so (which is what it did for "City of Evil"), the band ultimately has one goal in mind: longevity.

"We don't necessarily want to write music that you'll only remember when you hear it on the radio in 20 years and you'll be like, 'Oh, that reminds me of high school,'" Christ said. "We want to have a new song out on the radio at that time that's going to pump you up. We don't want to sit in the box and be a time capsule. We want to be around for a long time. That's why we're always changing.