“My favourite breakfast in the world is the English breakfast,” says M Shadows, midway through eating one in a swanky hotel in lower Manhattan. “Let’s do the article on English breakfasts!”
The Avenged Sevenfold vocalist’s tone is jovial and relaxed today, as if he doesn’t have a care in the world. It’s surprising, considering his band were forced to cancel last night’s appearance supporting Metallica in Philadelphia – the second stop on the North American leg of the metal legends’ WorldWired tour. Following their first show in Baltimore, lead guitarist Synyster Gates had to fly home to his wife, who had gone into early labour.
“Baltimore was such a great show,” raves Shadows. “And we thought, ‘Yeah, this is going to be great!’ And then: no. It was a real jolt to the gut, because there’s 52,000 people with tickets. And a lot of those fans bought tickets for the whole package, and then they’re upset at you and you can’t really do anything for them because it doesn’t say your name on the ticket.”
While that might sound like grounds for internal discord, there was nothing of the sort. Not only are Avenged Sevenfold – completed by guitarist and founding member Zacky Vengeance, bassist Johnny Christ and drummer Brooks Wackerman – a group of incredibly tight friends, but Shadows and Gates are also brothers-in-law.
“Thankfully, I have my best friends in the world in this band,” beams Gates the next day in the band’s dressing room, backstage at New Jersey’s 50,000-capacity MetLife Stadium. “They didn’t make me feel even an ounce of guilt for saying, ‘I have to cancel a show with Metallica, guys.’ They looked at me and said, ‘Go fucking do it! Go be a fucking dad!’ Kudos to Metallica, too. They’ve been nothing but supportive. James came back here a fucking second ago and told me congratulations – the dudes just exude class, and we learn a lot from them every moment we’re lucky enough to get a chance to spend with them.”
From some unseen corner of the room, Shadows is either doing vocal warm-ups or signalling his agreement with a series of yelps.
It’s no surprise there’s such solidarity within the Avenged Sevenfold camp. After the death of the band’s original drummer, James ‘The Rev’ Sullivan, in 2009, they’re linked by a heavy emotional bond, which has seen them stick to their own path on their own terms. A prime example of that mentality is seventh album The Stage, which pushed their ever- evolving take on metal into more orchestral and progressive territory.
“One thing I love about this band,” says Shadows, “is that we’re fearless. The last thing that ever comes to mind is to write something we know kids are going to like. We just write whatever we want. Nobody has any aspirations to rest on their laurels – everyone wants to keep pushing the envelope.”
That extends into every aspect of how they run the band. Not only have they set up an incredibly intricate network of secret merch for the real diehards (see Merch To Glory, right), but they took an extremely cavalier attitude to the release of The Stage last October. They were helped by wrestler/Fozzy frontman Chris Jericho, who ‘leaked’ a fake album title (‘Voltaic Oceans’) and a December release date, ensuring that when the band really did launch it – via a performance atop the Capitol Records building in Los Angeles – the entire metal world was caught completely off-guard. They became the first big metal band in the world to surprise-release an album, and the result, as people have been keen to point out, is that it sold 76,000 copies in the first week. That may sound like a lot, but for Avenged Sevenfold that was their lowest figure in more than a decade. Not that any of them give a fuck.
“I really don’t care,” says Shadows. “Honestly, if you start caring about that, everything falls apart. We know that if we didn’t surprise release it, we’d have different numbers. And sometimes, in the back of your brain, it’s like, ‘Fuck, man.’ We underestimated all of the drivers that push music into the masses; they were caught off-guard as much as the fans. Radio stations didn’t want to pick it up because they thought it was old news by the time we’d given them something, and we talked to a lot of magazines – not yourselves – that didn’t want to review the record because it was already out. It was all these things we never really thought about. We just thought it was going to be fun.”
“Everybody’s asking if we would change anything,” says Gates the next day, “and the answer is, ‘No, but maybe.’ To us, the reception of the record has been incredible. Is releasing a nine-minute single the smartest thing we’ve ever done? Maybe not. But we feel in our conscience that we did exactly what we set out to do. And it’s all about the end game – there are other songs to be released, and I believe, at the end, the album will ultimately garner its own success.”
There are seven more tracks to come, recorded at the same time as The Stage, which form a living, breathing conceptual expansion. They will be drip-fed to fans over time. Although Shadows doesn’t want to give away too much information about them, preferring to maintain the element of surprise, he sounds excited at the prospect of delivering more unexpected treats.
“We did six cover songs and one song that we felt didn’t fit on the record,” he explains. “By the end of next year, you’ll have 18 tracks that are considered The Stage Experience. Musically, it sounds like it all fits, but we just really did some fun stuff that you wouldn’t expect at all.”
Doing things that way means the band expect to be promoting the album, according to Shadows, “probably until 2019.”
“We played our first show in the United States three weeks ago,” he says, “and The Stage has been out for six months. This whole thing is very discombobulating, and we’re trying to make sense of it in the same way you’re probably trying to make sense of it.”
However discombobulating it may be, and whatever the numbers, Avenged Sevenfold are still supporting Metallica, so they’re doing something right. They’re unable to bring any of the elaborate stage set-up they recently used on their UK and Europe tour, but that doesn’t bother them in the slightest. They begin their set when it’s still light outside, and all they have are some pyrotechnics lining the stage behind them. They don’t even have their name or logo on a banner. It turns out they don’t need to. From the moment they appear onstage, it’s clear they’re both comfortable and confident – even if it’s a giant step up from the arenas they’re used to playing, and even if the biggest name in metal will step out after them.
“It’s a humbling thing,” says Gates, “and it’s a different style of energy to go out there and get the fan rather than play to your fans. But it’s completely inspiring – it makes you realise you should never get comfortable, that there’s a long fucking road ahead. But that you should be enjoying this process as well as putting 110% of your heart and soul into everything.
“You totally have to rely on the music,” says Shadows. “We haven’t had to go out there and earn it in the daylight in front of a potentially hostile crowd in a long time, and it’s kind of fun to do – it’s fun to go out there and do the things that got us here in the first place. Which is to work for it. We want to get in front of people and to make the non-believers believers, make them see that we can play and that we belong there. We definitely know we belong up there.”
That much is clear during their set tonight – especially at the rapturous singalong that breaks out for Nightmare – but also after it. There are large gaps in the crowd when the band began to play, but by the time they’re done, there’s little empty space and even fewer hands not throwing horns in the air. Gates isn’t able to stay and relish the success, though. He flies back home to spend the next 20 days – a period the band had initially blocked out – at home with his wife and son.
“I’m leaving right after the show to go home,” he says, “so I’m not looking to get as drunk as I would have been getting after one of our first shows on the Metallica tour. I’ll have one white wine on the plane – it’ll be two white wines, probably. Maybe three.”
He smiles a happy smile, but why shouldn’t he? His band are playing the biggest shows of their lives, he’s a new father, and Avenged Sevenfold are forging ahead with their plans for world domination, one English breakfast at a time.
The Stage is out now, via Capitol
Merch To Glory
Shadows’ guide to A7X’s secret swag
“We sell pins at the merch booth, and there are secret ones in black baggies that you have to ask for. The band made our own pins that represent us individually, too, so when we do meet and greets, kids can ask us for a pin, but they have to trade us a pin from the merch booth. An M Shadows pin is way rarer than a pin you bought. There’ll be a hidden part of our website with a rating of how rare each one is, and you can trade with people. We had six pins in the UK but one was UK-only, so if you’re in the UK and have that pin, you can trade someone in America for an American pin. There’s 13 right now and we have 18 more coming out. We stole the idea from fucking Disney!”
“We wanted to have merchandise that no one can get but everyone can get. Since Voltaic Oceans was a thing, we made Voltaic Oceans t-shirts. If you go to the merch booth and ask for the secret t-shirt, they give you a Voltaic Oceans t-shirt in a black bag. People will see these shirts at gigs and ask where that person got it, and that’s how they learn about it. And we’re going to change it up every tour.”
“We have Pogs coming out, which people are going to be able to trade through our fan club. We’re doing 35 designs, four slammers, one really rare, and you get them in packages of 10 and you don’t know what’s in them. And we’re going to make the tubes, too.”