Avenged Sevenfold just surprise-released its new album about artificial intelligence. Here’s why


Avenged Sevenfold fans thought they were in for an early Christmas present. Turns out they should’ve been thinking about Halloween.

On Thursday evening, as the clock ticked past midnight on the East Coast, this long-running Orange County metal band revealed that its new album, “The Stage,” was available to stream and download — a full six weeks before the Dec. 9 release date hinted at online this month.

The announcement came at the end of a concert Avenged Sevenfold played atop the Capitol Records building in Hollywood, an acknowledgement of its new deal with the label.


“The Stage” — which also introduces the group’s new drummer, Brooks Wackerman (formerly of Bad Religion) — was inspired by the concept of artificial intelligence; instructive song titles include “Creating God,” “Fermi Paradox” and “Exist,” the last of which features the celebrated astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson intoning darkly about “the last gasp of human enlightenment.”

Earlier this week I spoke with Avenged Sevenfold’s frontman, M. Shadows, about the album and the band’s plans for it. These are edited excerpts from our conversation.

Why a surprise drop?

A lot of different reasons, and one was our boredom with the way records have been released. You get a single three months in advance, then by the time the record comes out, the judgment’s already been made. It’s just a boring process. But when Radiohead dropped their record [with little warning], when Kanye dropped his record, when Beyoncé dropped her record, we felt this excitement. People around us who weren’t necessarily fans of those artists were checking out the records because of the excitement factor. We know the analytics don’t look good for a rock band doing this, but we don’t care.

What makes it a riskier move for a rock band than for a rapper or a pop star?

The fact that the rock audience still buys a lot of physical copies, and a lot of the rock bands get padded with big presale numbers. But the biggest difference is that when Beyoncé comes out with something, she puts one Instagram photo out and she has 85 million people looking at that — whereas Avenged Sevenfold has 1 million. So the compromise we made with Capitol, which has never been done before, is that we’ve actually snuck the record into stores. On Day One there’ll be a physical release as well as a digital — unlike Radiohead, where it took them six weeks, or Kanye, where he never released a physical.


There will be CDs in stores Friday?

The CDs are literally sitting in the back of Best Buy and other stores right now. And no one has figured it out, which is pretty awesome.

The last two Avenged Sevenfold albums debuted at No. 1. How does the surprise release of this one figure into your hopes for a third?

I feel like worrying about the third No. 1 is like the tail wagging the dog. If we wanted it so badly, we’d take plenty of pre-orders, we’d put out a bunch of singles, we’d pad our numbers — and then we’d run in there and say, “Hey, look how great we are — we got a third No. 1 record!” But the first two never got us anything. What we care about is where this record ends, not where we start.

It strikes you as an old-fashioned way to measure success.

Yeah. You had a No. 1 record. Well, OK, what did you go against that week? No one talks about that. Did you go against Adele when she sold 1.1 million? Or did you sell 60,000 records? That whole thing is dead.


Where does your interest in business come from? You pay more attention to it than many musicians do.

Man, I don’t know. For some reason I really enjoy the business side. I like talking to friends about investments and technology; I like to get up and read the paper and see what’s going on in politics. And I don’t like the idea of someone screwing us over. If someone knows more than we do — if we don’t have our eye on the prize — then somebody’s going to make money, and it’s not going to be us.

The stuff about artificial intelligence — do you see yourself as sounding an alarm?

What I really want people to do is educate themselves and maybe find a little bit of interest in there. “Oh, ‘Creating God’ — I can understand that. You’re making something that’s going to be so much more powerful than you. Maybe I’ll read an article or pick up a book.” I don’t want to tell people how to think, because I don’t think artificial intelligence is the end of the word. But I think it’s a possibility.

What about the people who just get into the album for the sick riffs? Are you OK with that?

I’m OK with that. Part of making music is just taking people away for a little bit. Sometimes dropping a bunch of problems on their plate isn’t what they want.


Why was Neil deGrasse Tyson the guy for the job in “Exist”?

He’s got the ear of pop culture. He wants to educate people in science the same way we’re doing. It’s about getting people interested — taking something like the Olympics and tweeting about it: “Here’s why the rotation of the Earth is affecting that soccer ball.” For a heavy metal band, I felt he would be a welcoming personality.

Did he have any idea who Avenged Sevenfold was before you reached out?

I doubt it.

Twitter: @mikaelwood