When it comes to opening tracks on an album, Avenged Sevenfold have always done quite well. Much like its predecessors, Shepherd of Fire kicks off this pivotal offering with a haunting atmosphere that is big, bold and brilliant – but not a clear enough indication of the changes that lie in ‘Hail to the King’.
Holding importance for the band, album #6 is their first without any input from Jimmy ‘The Rev’ Sullivan, instead seeing Arin Ilejay bring a new, yet suited, style of drumming to the process. It also sees the band try for a new sound and lyrical content. It’s being sold as a laid back album, but it’s far from it.
The title-track follows with a thundering introduction, and proves an immediate hat tip to their metal peers. This isn’t Beast and the Harlot mark II – there’s no instant click in catchiness – but it represents their intent to build tracks in layers to create a huge feel. And amidst all these instruments and layers, it works.
Doing Time has a down and dirty groove, bridging the gap between their heavier past and new directions. It’s flat out rock ‘n’ roll, an instant stand out. This Means War is another reminder of their stripped back approach – Syn’s solo seems sparing, proving they’re not flashy for the sake of it this time around.
Requiem is lyrically broken and simplistic, teaming with the lethargic tempo well. It’s this tempo, however, that seems to continue for the remainder. Never quite slow, but far from their previous speedster ways. Crimson Day sits snugly alongside their ballad-esque hits, here Heretic proves the strongest link to their past sound. Coming Home is Maiden-heavy, and is a stark reminder of the comparisons that rear their heads all too often.
Acid Rain is a piece of cinematic excellence. Be it a couple who can’t be together sharing a dance, or a hero who had cast off his second identity having to reclaim it, you can work this into many scenarios. The melody of the piano, the sheer presence of the track – it’s easy to fall into.
And while this seems riddled with compliments, this comes after time. On a first listen, it’s completely derivative and few songs stand out. Metallica, Maiden, Sabbath, Pantera – these are no new comparisons, but the new direction makes them clearer than ever; completely unavoidable.
Give the album some time and the clear comparisons fade slightly. Avenged Sevenfold’s new direction thrives, much like their tracks, on the gradual build up and atmosphere created. ‘Hail to the King’ is a more mature album and a definite improvement on their last, but it definitely takes some time to settle into.