Avenged Sevenfold has not been too shy in talk of their new album. The one thing that always popped up in interviews regarding Hail to the King is how different it’s going to be from previous releases. Talk and promises of how it’s going to be a throwback to some of their biggest influences is the hot topic. It’s definitely a familiar story where a band wants to lose all tricks and stunts and just write good music. It’s an admirable thing for a band to undertake, especially and only if it’s done right.
For Avenged Sevenfold, this would mean slower tempos, simpler song structures, and catchier choruses would be prevalent in the album. Now, I am definitely a big fan of A7X and I have been for many years, but have also been among those who think they were losing their touch a bit. Their previous albums have been pretty hit or miss, leaning more on the miss side. Avenged Sevenfold was too experimental for its own good, and Nightmare, while a fitting tribute to The Rev, just fell short as an A7X album.
Admittedly, I do have my biases; I love Waking the Fallen and City of Evil so much, it’s hard not to compare newer releases with those excellent albums. But in those albums, they have definitely proven themselves as serious musicians when it’s time to lay down an album. Despite what people might think, I’m positive they firmly know what they are doing with their careers.
Well, we certainly can’t say that they didn’t warn us. Hail to the King is definitely a bit of a departure for A7X. It’d be a pretty big stretch to call this the metalcore of City of Evil. And you know what? It’s really not all that bad. A7X has always had little taste of a little old school, and Hail to the King is basically an amplification of those influences. Flavors of bands like Pantera, Led Zeppelin and Metallica are all pretty transparent throughout the album. So again, they delivered exactly what they have been promising for months now; a slight change in their styles centered on a more bluesy, groove-based sound with no other gimmicks.
Some of the high moments are songs like “Requiem” that brings the band back to their more “evil” side. It begins with choir chant vocals, is later accompanied with orchestral strings, and just has a good dark atmosphere to go along with it. “Crimson Day” is a great slower song as well, and definitely my favorite track off the album. I really enjoyed the down-tempo, more emotional songs from Nightmare, and it’s good to hear that the band can still knock it out of the park with the more emotional numbers.
Many of the familiar aspects that make A7X so memorable are still present and accounted for as well. They have their classic dueling guitar solos as in “Coming Home”, Synester Gates gets plenty of soloing time, M. Shadows voice leads the way with his raspy charge. There’s even appearances from orchestral brass and strings. All the elements are there that have been present for other successful A7X albums.
But honestly, it does eventually get a little old. While the songs are pretty memorable with more catchy choruses and well defined melodies, it doesn’t mean I always want to listen to the song. “This Means War” has a simple and catchy chorus, but is also not exactly one of my favorite songs. It’s one of the longer songs, (clocking around 6:08), and it’s just the same thing over and over. The riff is cool, but not when I've heard the same riff for 6 minutes.
And some of the later songs in the album, like “Coming Home” and “Heretic” just blend together and can get forgotten pretty easily. The closing song, “Acid Rain” is such a throwaway, honestly it’s kind of best to skip it. And while “Requiem” did a great job of providing a dark and atmospheric texture, the opener “Shepherd of Fire” and “Planets” attempt similar methods and it ends up sounding unwarranted. Mostly, it just sounds like a brass section wandered into their studio and they didn’t want to do a retake.
The bottom line is that the band obviously worked really hard on creating an album that shifted their styles a bit from a hyper and quicker-paced metalcore-ish sound to a stripped down, groovier metal with flavors of the past. And they did just that, but forgot to account for a lack of variety. New drummer, Arin Ilejay is basically playing the same drumbeat for the duration of the album; “Crimson Day” and “Acid Rain” are really the only songs where he changes feels a bit. I might be accused of nitpicking a little too much with the aforementioned flaws of the Hail to the King, but I stand by those with the high moments of Hail to the King as well.
The thing I’ve struggled with the most is simply determining if the album is good, bad or meh. Is it good because they accomplished exactly what they said they would, or it is bad because it doesn’t quite have as much of a wow factor as some of their previous releases? Or, is it just a combination of the black and white, resulting in a meh? Well, amidst my nitpicking, I can still say that I do at least like this album. I would definitely rank Hail to the King higher than their past couple of releases, but it’s probably not up there in Avenged Sevenfold’s shining moments. But if you're already a fan, check it out and you'll probably be impressed. If you've never given them a try, then this could be the album to bring you in.
"Hail to the King" Music Video