"You want to touch people with eclectic taste in music." Synyster Gates talks The Beatles, Avenged Sevenfold's bold new era and the artists taking alternative music forwards

Synyster Gates on stage
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Avenged Sevenfold’s 2016’s prog-metal masterpiece The Stage might have been a left turn, but nothing could’ve prepared us for its follow-up, Life Is But A Dream... Landing in June last year, their eighth album combined hip hop, classic rock, EDM, thrash metal, classic soul and more, with some hailing it as a masterwork and others condemning it as career suicide. Like all the finest art, it was hated and adored – but never ignored. We spoke to guitarist Synyster Gates about what it was like being in the eye of the storm.

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It’s been over six months since the release of Life is But a Dream... How do you feel about it now?

“I’m beyond proud of it. I don’t listen to it as much as I did, but I still listen to it a lot. I’m excited to get into some other songs to take on the road. It’s still fresh, we haven’t toured that much, we still have a few months off before we announce something...”

Did you have any fear before releasing the album?

“I say this knowing it’s not everybody’s cup of tea: you have to write what inspires you. I’m a big Beatles fan and a big Pantera fan. You want to touch people with eclectic taste in music. I have very eclectic tastes, and so I knew that if it touched me, it would touch other people. I knew we were on to something special. You know, The White Album by The Beatles is my favourite-ever album, and we tried to take our album to the next level... for us! I’m not saying this is comparable to The Beatles! Ha ha! We just wrote our greatest collection of songs.”

With an album like this, it’s probably too early to know how it’s going to be thought of in the long run, right?

“I think with an album like this, time is on its side. I’ve been using this analogy: both of my parents’ favourite band is The Beatles. My mom hates everything post-Sgt. Pepper’s, my dad couldn’t care less about the early stuff. They both still respect the fuck out of it, but it’s not for them. So, for my mom, Sgt. Pepper’s was the death of The Beatles, and I think for a lot of people this is the death of Avenged Sevenfold. But for a lot of other people, it’s a birth. The birth of a different band.”

Have there been any comments you felt were way off the mark?

“Funnily enough, I thought it could go either way. We’ve actually had really amazing support from the press, so I don’t want to make people think that we feel like we aren’t supported by the press at all. I actually feel it’s good that it just hasn’t been ignored. Even the bad reviews, people have talked about it. People are still interested in us, so that’s all I could ask for, really. The negative comments, I feel they’re the minority. I think people have been really thoughtful in considering this album.”

Has anyone else from other bands reached out to you about the album? 

“I can’t name-drop, unfortunately, I’m not that guy to use their names, but, yes, overwhelmingly so. The amount of positive criticisms or even the ‘What the fuck?’... that’s my favourite, people calling me up and going, ‘What the fuck did you do? What were you listening to? Where did this come from?’ I love that. We’ve definitely had more of that here than from any other record.”

You’ve been touring the States. How challenging has it been to integrate the new material?

“Well, there’s a lot of programming, because the new album is essentially a hip hop album in regard to the tracks and different things. The guitars have to change on a dime. It took six months to program the show, it took six months to create the visuals. We just have to get our setlist in order and see whatever bells and whistles we can add.”

Was it hard to choose the setlist, knowing what to take out and add
in, and make it flow cohesively?

“Actually, no. We were all on the same page. We wanted to do a lot of new material, we don’t want to be a novelty, legacy act. We see the vision. If the album had flopped and fans had completely hated it then we wouldn’t have buttfucked them. But we can see the passion and I feel like we’re on the same page.”

Which young bands remind you of Avenged?

“Kim Dracula, they’re fearless. Their ability to just be themselves and their confidence, it’s mind-blowing. I’m sure you’re going to see a really unique career there. A personal favourite of mine is 100 gecs – Jesus, they’ve just turned music upside down. I was toast after this record – no more new music, maybe I could think about a new song in five years. Then their album came out just before we released our record and I was like, ‘Hey Matt, wanna go write some crazy shit?’ They completely re-energised me. We’re not planning anything new, but it gets you excited.”

Avenged Sevenfold headline Download in June. Interview originally published in Metal Hammer #382

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.