The 10 greatest Avenged Sevenfold riffs ever

Avenged Sevenfold
(Image credit: Travis Shinn)

When Avenged Sevenfold formed in 1999, guitar virtuosity was out of fashion, replaced by the groove-driven muscle of nu metal. However, the classical influences behind the band – not to mention their two players, Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance – is what would make them superstars during the New Wave Of American Heavy Metal revolution. Now, the Californian quintet are looking down the barrel of 25 years of existence and their eighth album, Life Is But A Dream…. To mark the occasion, here are the very best riffs that Avenged have blasted our eardrums with so far.

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Desecrate Through Reverence (Waking The Fallen, 2003)

Avenged haven’t been shy about sharing their love for Metallica, Guns N’ Roses and In Flames in their tracks. However, this Waking The Fallen deep cut opens with some pure Black Sabbath evil. Syn and Zacky crawl through some ominous, drop-D guitar chords, before the lead guitarist layers a whirring melody on top of that lead-heavy bedrock. The remainder of the song is driven by the band’s classic middle-of-the-fretboard melodies. That said, it’s wild how they both mastered and experimented with their six-string formula as early as their second album.

Unholy Confessions (Waking The Fallen 2003)

You all knew the first single and opening track from Waking The Fallen was going to be here. This riff is what springboarded the band onto a stage bigger than Huntington Beach’s heavy metal basements. It sliced through a scene then saturated with (and increasingly tired of) nu metal by flaunting a more NWOBHM source of inspiration right at the outset. The fast-fingered playing was also the first thing fans heard from Syn, who’d quickly become a key figure in Avenged’s songwriting and a cornerstone of what made them a mainstream juggernaut.

Beast And The Harlot (City Of Evil, 2005)

When you’re expecting people to lend 72 of their precious minutes to an album, you’d better seize their attention tout de suite. Fortunately, that’s exactly what City Of Evil did with Beast And The Harlot. The single instantly affirmed that Avenged had ditched the metalcore sound and moved into their “all your favourite metal bands at once” era with this riff. Squealing over fast-paced drumming but still melodic, it was like Guns N’ Roses had fucked one of the bands in the Gothenburg scene. And it was instantly badass.

Afterlife (Avenged Sevenfold, 2007)

With songs like Critical Acclaim and A Little Piece Of Heaven, Avenged’s self-titled album was a symphonically inclined experiment for the band. Fourth track Afterlife was an early sign that the detour would pay off, as swelling strings abruptly cut to an athletic guitar lead without the song losing an ounce of pomp. Syn and Zacky later indulge in some hefty, Pantera-inspired grooves to boot, sometimes separated by lightspeed hammer-ons and pull-offs. Infectious, heavy and technical in equal measure, all of these guitar parts are on the top shelf of this band’s work.

Critical Acclaim (Avenged Sevenfold, 2007)

Granted, the most striking thing about Critical Acclaim isn’t the guitar. The Avenged Sevenfold opener starts with a left-field organ piece, then M. Shadows and The Rev trade co-lead vocals for the first time. However, amongst all that, Syn and Zacky built a riff where they starkly alternate between open-string chugging and squealing harmonics. Later, the “Hey!”-ing pre-chorus becomes even catchier thanks to it getting backed by the duo’s slow and hefty chord work. Factor in the twin leads towards the end and it’s impossible to argue against this song being here.

Scream (Avenged Sevenfold, 2007)

This is one of those instances of a song’s music and lyrical themes perfectly fitting one another. Scream was written from the point of view of a serial killer, with M. Shadows howling lines like, “I’ll taste your blood tonight” and “Scream while there's life left, vanishing”. The guitars communicate the victim’s sheer terror, their squeaking notes increasing in pitch to create a rising tension. Then that tension’s punctured by some heavy-as-hell chords during the pre-chorus. We’re still not sure why Avenged think this song is “danceable”, though…

Danger Line (Nightmare, 2010)

Danger Line is another track where the guitar work builds the world that the lyrics take place in. If Scream was a horror, this Nightmare cut is a blood-and-guts war movie. “Nothing shocks you like a bullet hole!” M. Shadow cries, following a wardrum beat from The Rev and a Syn lead line that, at first, mimics the trumpets of a marching band. The song was probably too graphic and true-to-life to be released as a single, but it’s still one of the shining moments of its parent album.

God Hates Us (Nightmare, 2010)

There’s no broader thematic brilliance to this one: God Hates Us is simply heavy as fuck. Whether it’s the plummet from clean guitar arpeggios to thrash metal chugging or the chords that ring under the screamed chorus, it’s all incessantly pummelling. Then the solo is the most discordant thing the band have ever played, only adding to the hideousness of the song. Apparently this was written before The Rev’s death and is simply a pissed-off cut for pissed-off’s sake. If that is indeed the case, top job, lads.

Hail To The King (Hail To The King, 2013)

Some say Hail To The King is a refreshingly simple, heavy metal-leaning Avenged album. Others argue it’s merely a rip-off of Guns N’ Roses and Metallica. Wherever you stand, though, its title track is the band’s most-streamed song, so it did something right. If you’re new to them, it’s the perfect introduction to their guitarists’ dynamic. Syn’s callous-shredding lead line repeats at the outset, then gets gradually joined by simple, monolithic rhythm work from Zacky. The interplay quickly becomes the heart of the single. Easy as pie, but sometimes less is more.

God Damn (The Stage, 2016)

God Damn is the most to-the-point song on the otherwise prog-obsessed The Stage album. However, it still has its own room for experimentation. In fact, it’s apparent pretty instantly, as the chugging of open E strings gets routinely interrupted by flamenco-like passages of clean guitar work. Then it sounds like In Flames want to kill you, thanks to the lightspeed tremolo picking that flirts with the boundaries of melodeath and black metal. That chorus may be an earworm, but this is still one of Avenged’s nastiest tracks.

Avenged Sevenfold’s new album, Life Is But A Dream…, is out on June 2.

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.