Saturday, October 3, 2020
RELITIGATING HIGH SCHOOL Vol VI: Avenged Sevenfold - Waking the Fallen
Well we're nearing the end of this series. My initial plan was to do ten reviews because that seemed like a nice round number and there are more than enough albums to relisten to from this era of my life, but over time I wound up shaving it down to seven for a couple reasons. I was gonna touch on The Fall of Ideals by All That Remains because it would pull double duty and allow me to rewrite an old review, but really I'd just be repeating the Killswitch review so it wouldn't be interesting. I was gonna tackle a Chimaira album but honestly all three of the ones I listened to just bored me to tears and I only managed to get through a full listen once and that was purely because I had it on in the background while I zoned out and played Dynasty Warriors. And lastly I cut out Bullet For My Valentine because other than pointing out how much the clean vocals sounded like Green Day I just didn't have anything interesting to say about it. This isn't exactly relevant to the review, but this is gonna be a LOTB exclusive since Avenged Sevenfold isn't listed on MA so I wanted to take this opportunity to meander a bit and give a look behind the curtain in case any readers thought I left out some obvious candidates. For the curious, my opinions on the three albums I cut are "lame", "bad", and "meh", in order.
On topic, I have a bit of a confession to make, I'm not entirely unfamiliar with A7X here, because I've long been a defender of their third record, City of Evil. Even when I first heard it, back when the band was persona non grata for metal fans, I thought it was a weird flukey home run where every dumb element of their sound just worked. It was fun, it was fast, it was catchy, it was and is a brilliantly well written slice of modern hard rock/metal that stood head and shoulders above the shitty metalcore they started with and the overblown Guns n' Roses imitation they'd go on to milk to death. But the dirty little secret here is that I had never actually known any of their other albums beyond like two songs across seven albums or whatever. They just weren't worth listening to, who the fuck cares about a group of dorks who dress like Good Charlotte, give themselves dumb names like "Zacky", and rip off Overkill's mascot?
The extremely obvious revelation I'm leading to is that holy shit Avenged Sevenfold is genuinely good and I think I'm just an unironic fan now. Despite always kinda-secretly liking City of Evil this was genuinely the band I had the lowest expectations for based on my memory. But man I'd be lying if I said I hadn't gone back to listen to Waking the Fallen more than a few times since the original relisten, not because I needed to take notes or anything, but just because I wanted to hear it again.
The thing that stands out the most is something that I remember hating the most as a kid, funnily enough. M. "Night" Shyadowlan easily, and I mean fucking easily stands out as the best vocalist of all the bands I've covered in this series. Back when I was 14 I remember hearing a song or two and thinking he was super whiny and then switching the music to Angel Witch without a shred of irony. Hearing so many lame, weak, dry, or tuneless vocalists in a row really makes his skill incredibly fucking obvious and I have no idea why I hated him at the time. His cleans have a lot of grit to them and he carries a tune extremely well, even showcasing a surprising range on "I Won't See You Tonight part 1". His harsh vocals, while dropped entirely after this album, are very good as well. They're extremely venomous and sound like they're coming straight from the gut despite being on the higher end of the register. I focused on vocals so much throughout this series because it seemed like nobody could get the harsh/clean combo right and they so frequently took center stage, but Avenged Fucking Sevenfold of all god damned bands winds up being literally the only one to nail it and my jaw is still on the floor.
Even the instrumental side excels in a way that most of the other bands couldn't. They are by no means the most aggressive or heaviest band in the genre (their drift away from metalcore to a more hard rock and (apparently) progressive metal direction over the years isn't really surprising) but these guys are incredibly fucking tight songwriters. Despite the length of these songs, they have the girth to make it worthwhile. The typical metalcore breakdown of open string chugs in perfect time with a rapid fire bass drum shows up plenty of times here, with "Unholy Confessions" sporting probably the most basic one to ever exist, but they hit surprisingly hard whenever they show up and more often than not the band will just subvert them by slamming down a meaty groove that smacks more of Pantera than anybody else instead. Waking the Fallen runs through a lot of different moods, from caustic bursts like "Unholy Confessions" and "Eternal Rest" to melodic anthems like "Chapter Four" to mournful ballads like "I Won't See You Tonight". That last one actually hammers the Pantera comparison home even further, since it's technically a two-parter, with the first part being a slow ballad and the second part being a shotgun blast of aggression. There's absolutely no way that wasn't intentionally modeled off "Suicide Note", right? Am I crazy? Regardless, the album ebbs and flows between all of these different approaches and for the first time in a half dozen reviews a band actually manages to be good at all of them. I seriously can't get over how much I like "Chapter Four". Seriously, I'd be willing to consider that as my favorite song in the entire genre. There is barely a wasted second on that one and every stupid element of it hits bullseye, and I'm saying that with full acknowledgment of the completely pointless section that repeats a ten note chug pattern eight times in a row. It (and the rest of the album, frankly) is so basic that it should just be corny schlock, but there is so much sincerity here that I can't help but adore it. That chorus is just fucking sublime with that incredible vocal hook coupled with the sliding octaves on the guitar in the background. In comparison to their peers, Avenged Sevenfold doesn't have a single new or novel idea in their collective head but they played their fucking hearts out and torqued the lugnuts so damned tight that they wound up writing a dozen songs that effortlessly steamrolled everybody else trying to make metalcore accessible.
I do have one complaint though, and it should be obvious to anybody familiar with both this album and my reviews in general: it's way too fucking long. No metal album should get this close to the 70 minute mark unless every single song is a standout on its own, and Waking the Fallen is not immune to this criticism. There are a lot of different ideas here but they're all pretty well worn and the album works best as a unit despite a few standout tracks. So as a result it really does start to blur together after the first handful of tracks, which isn't the biggest problem since I think this works pretty well as a unit but it's a problem nonetheless. The good news is that none of the tracks themselves feel too long, which is shocking considering the shortest one (barring the intro) is still only a few seconds shy of five minutes, and three of them breach the seven minute mark (with the first part of "I Won't See You Tonight" stretching out to nine), so the arduous runtime isn't really the end of the world since I was entertained the whole time at the very least.
Really, I didn't see this coming, but Waking the Fallen is genuinely the best of the bunch here. My lifelong love of Pantera helps me appreciate the stomping groove metal parts, my lifelong love of Guns n' Roses helps me appreciate the overblown epic parts where Synyster "Bill" Gates goes fucking feral on his fretboard (though they wouldn't fully lean into this until later), and my lifelong... well indifference to melodeath helps me appreciate the heavy parts simply because they're so much better than the legions of mediocre trend chasers that defined this era of music. The word I keep coming back to in my head that I've been trying not to overuse is "tight". Waking the Fallen is simply a remarkably well written album in a style that was absolutely saturated with mediocre chumps pumping out first draft songs and cashing in, delivered with enough sincerity to turn the corny simplicity into something truly endearing. All this really needed was a bit of a fat trim and maybe dropping one or two songs entirely and this would genuinely be a classic, and I'm not kidding.
I wouldn't have bothered with this series if I wound up thinking everything still sucked just as much as I thought it did when I was a teenager, but really, the fact that Trivium and Avenged Sevenfold, the two bands I vocally hated the most, wound up being the ones that surprised me the most and churned out some genuinely great albums (Heafy's awful vocals are literally the only thing dragging Ascendancy's score down, remember) is seriously not at all what I expected. I figured it'd be Killswitch, honestly, since I've been a fan of As I Lay Dying ever since 2007, but the world is really fucking weird and here we are. Avenged Sevenfold is Good Actually. Feel free to hold that against me forever if you wish, I'm not backing down, I genuinely adore this album.
(Pre-Publication Edit: Since writing this I've started listening to their other albums. The self titled is actually worse than bad, it's exactly as awful as I remembered their metalcore era being when I was a kid, oddly enough. Nightmare was much better, it was super corny but very City of Evil if it had a huge shot of the Black Album in it, though there were way too many shitty ballads that dragged it down a ton. Still gotta check the rest but that's three albums I'll stand up for now so yeah I guess I'm just a fan after all, whoda thunk)