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Emo-metal explorers

A few years ago, a band like Orange County’s Avenged Sevenfold would probably have been languishing in obscurity and pining for the opening slot on a Queensrÿche bill, but there is suddenly — and miraculously, for those of us weaned on Metallica in the age between hair metal and grunge — a resurgence of interest in thrash’s big, chunky, rhythmically complex power-metal grids. For the past couple of years, that revival has had a home here in New England, where a staunch hardcore scene has acquired a technical sophistication that has led to an affinity for metal’s slaytanic majesties. It’s easy enough for guitar players and drummers to ape thrash’s manic, rumbling tempo change-ups and rapid-fire machine-gun palsy, and that’s led over the years to an awful lot of groups who sound like Metallica without the hooks. It’s much rarer to encounter an album like Avenged Sevenfold’s Waking the Fallen (Hopeless), which twists extreme metal’s thunderous roar into calibrated anthems — it’s a disc with an expansive (some might say shameless) sense of melody that could have come only from Southern California.

Last Thursday night at Axis, a few weeks after announcing their signing to Warner Bros., Avenged Sevenfold showed up on an unlikely bill opening for Boston’s beloved streetpunks the Unseen and long-running Warped Tour faves the Suicide Machines. If there are two things diehard punks still hate, they’re emo and metal, and since it’s inevitable that Avenged’s most memorable melodic passages will get tagged as emo, this probably qualified as a hostile audience. Nevertheless, M. Shadows reached for his high notes with a grainy, muscular gusto that had at least as much in common with Dio as with emo, and guitarists Zacky Vengeance and Synyster Gates enacted ecstatic high-wire duels in homage to the classic Tipton/Downing showdowns of early Judas Priest. In the course of a brief half-hour set, the band played a mere five songs, but each was packed with allusions to metal’s various heydays, shifting from scream-along neo-metalcore to "Black Album" Metallica lurch to Pantera’s signature "Walk" stomp in the course of a single tune — with, at various points, church bells, a string section, and a rainstorm piped in on tape.

With his beefy, muscular frame and slicked-back hair, Shadows had his share of cringe-worthy over-emotive moments, but the real star was guitarist Gates, who delivered well-grounded back-up harmonies and showed off his schooling at Hollywood’s Musicians’ Institute of Technology on a trio of world-class solos in the Steve Vai shredder-from-Hell mode. Like almost every young metal band, Avenged Sevenfold are still working their way through the genre’s clichés, but I got the feeling they’re on the verge of something special.


Issue Date: November 21 - 27, 2003
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