In the Pipeline: Sevenfold still pushing artistic boundaries

The line of mainly black-clad fans snaked around the complex last Thursday where Johnny's Saloon is located on Beach Boulevard near Slater Avenue.

This was after it was announced that the popular bar would be distributing free tickets to a special concert at the Hollywood Palladium this week featuring Huntington Beach's own Avenged Sevenfold.

The show was to be both a thank you to fans and a celebration of the release of the band's new album, "Hail to the King." Wandering through the mob outside Johnny's was a good opportunity for me to remember just what this band means to the faithful, and not just to those who live here.

I spoke to a lot of people who said they drove from all over Southern California to be here, and the mood was festive and celebratory — just like it is whenever these guys release a new album.

And what a new album it is.

I think "Hail to the King," the band's sixth since forming in 1999, will stand out as a bit of a game changer. The band has been on a steady growth course since early releases, including "Sounding the Seventh Trumpet" and "City of Evil." With each new record, it pushes newer limits and is careful to never appear stagnant. The writing gets stronger, the playing gets better and the sense of elevation has been clear with each title over the years.

Tragically, the drummer, Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan, died several years ago. Since then, A7X (as the band is commonly known) has had a lot more to prove than many other bands. Sullivan was a key creative force, irreplaceable, and the band knew it. So the band members never tried to replace him. Instead, they just did what they had to do to survive and thrive in the moment.

Legendary drummer Mike Portnoy filled in on the last album, the No. 1 Billboard smash "Nightmare." Now A7X has settled on a new permanent drummer, Arin Ilejay. As much as The Rev is missed by band members and fans, I'm not sure their music will ever be too defined by the drum sounds anymore. Rather, A7X shines on the strength of the writing and guitar playing, and at the center of it all, the passionately ferocious vocals of Matt "M. Shadows" Sanders.

Listening to "Hail to the King," I understand how seriously good this band is. Though the band members have played within the metal core genre for a long time, they have always had many more tricks up their sleeves than many other bands around them. They have a work ethic that helps them hone their many musical gifts in ways that clearly set them apart from other metal (or any other kinds of) bands.

After spending some time with this new album, it's clear to me that Avenged Sevenfold has created a modern metal masterpiece. In many ways, it feels as if the band has grown up, though that's not to say that the songs don't bristle and burn with intensity. It means that there is now a depth and, yes, even a maturity layered throughout.

It's what happens when a band decides to keep growing rather than mine the same territory over and over again, as many metal bands are wont to do (and I say this as a metal fan).

These are heavy metal kids who have become heavy metal adults in the past couple of years, and you can hear the influences. But "Hail to the King" is not about picking out some chords here or there that might remind one of bands like Slipknot, the Misfits, Pantera or Metallica. It's about taking a broad step back and appreciating the fact that these musicians, while clearly influenced by those bands (and other metal mavens like AC/DC), have carved out a sound of their own.

Songs like the opener, "Shepherd of Fire," and "This Means War" help set the tone. They are dark, brooding and complex.

The guitar playing as presented by Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance is as swirling and hypnotic as ever. But then it is also crunchy and claustrophobic, in the true spirit of classic metal. The fretwork on this record is flat-out brilliant, as is the steady backbone bass of Johnny Christ.

This time out there are also strings, chanting and other orchestral hallmarks of a more sophisticated kind of metal. There is a grandeur and beauty to the music, which truly shines on the melodic closer, "Acid Rain."

M. Shadows in particular soars on this record. His voice over the years is aging like a good scotch whiskey, maturing and taking on the world-weary texture of a young man who has traveled the world many times and experienced many things beyond the realm of most mere mortals. But there's also an honesty and desperation to his singing that grounds this record and makes it something truly special.

In short, the band from Huntington Beach High School has busted through yet another creative ceiling and produced a dynamically powerful work that illustrates lots of growing and stretching.

Huntington Beach is famous for its surfing. But it's worth remembering that many great bands have also come out of this town. In my view, we are as much a music city as we are a surfing city. And Avenged Sevenfold may go down as the ultimate Huntington Beach band.

But then again, ask fans from other countries and they'll claim A7X as well. Because this truly is a band of the world, and I for one am extremely proud of it.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at

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