How Avenged Sevenfold pulled off one of the biggest shocks of 2016

A photograph of Avenged Sevenfold taken in 2016 at their The Stage press event
(Image: © Getty Images)

Well, who saw that coming? After a year of hints, a splash of legal drama and no small amount of private detective-style guesswork by fans and music journalists alike, Avenged Sevenfold ambushed us all with a brand new album, fronted by an unannounced new single and video. Ahead of our special, extended feature with the band next month, we trail what led to the OC heavyweights “doing a Beyoncé”.

December, 2015

Meeting new drummer Brooks Wackerman, formerly of Bad Religion, Hammer learns that work is well underway with writing the new Avenged Sevenfold album. When asked how it’s sounding, Brooks claims to be as curious as us, saying the ideas are “at the very nascent stage”. He does reveal that, “from what we’ve worked on so far, it’ll be a completely different album to the previous one. There are going to be a lot more risks taken in this one, I can tell you that. And a few more changes here and there. But, really, it’s hard to tell at this stage. That’s all I can say about that!” And so begins the waiting game…

January

In an unexpected turn, Avenged leave the label that’s been their home for the last 10 years. “Avenged Sevenfold recently ended its recording agreement with Warner Bros Records” announced their attorney, citing a quirk of the Californian legal system known as the “seven-year rule”. Any suspicion that this might be a strange publicity stunt was extinguished by Warners, with a legal case soon mounting. Good job we aren’t holding our breath for that new album, then (ahem).

April

At the end of a video message to fans following the band’s March Mania Song Tournament, Avenged tease us with 50 seconds of new music – but not before first attempting an almighty troll. Sitting in their demo/rehearsal space, the band introduce “the first track – we’re known for our openers,” before pressing play on a cheesetastic funk jam. We know Brooks said Avenged were taking risks with this album, but this is ridiculous. Thankfully, we’re then treated to an actual demo – and it’s almost a minute of Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance’s trademark shredding, at a lightning pace which evokes their early years. Maybe it’s safe to hold our breath again.

June

In the first concrete sign of 2016 action within the Avenged camp, the band announce a US tour with Volbeat, Killswitch Engage and Avatar, starting in September 2016. Does this mean we’ll have that elusive seventh album by then? Let’s hope so…

July

The band follow up that announcement with a frankly ridiculous UK one: eight dates playing arenas with Disturbed and In Flames, in January 2017. We don’t want to speak too soon – and besides, it’s pretty difficult to speak when you’re holding your breath – but the chances of the album materialising this year are starting to look pretty good.

August

Speaking to Hammer about the upcoming tour, M Shadows remains evasive when pressed on the status of the album. “We’ve been working, and that’s all I can really say about it.” We understand the importance of omertà but surely, surely you can tell us something? That US tour is in less than a month, after all… “When there’s something to be heard, we’ll let the world know,” Shadows replies. The tease.

October 4

Deathbats! Deathbats everywhere! Avenged’s winged skull mascot appears projected onto prominent buildings all over the world, including – brilliantly – outside Embankment tube station, bemusing the capital’s less metal-inclined commuters. A picture of the logo projected onto Toronto’s Rogers Centre stadium is posted to Instagram courtesy of Chris Jericho, a close friend of the band, and accompanied by the #A7XWorldwide hashtag. Speculation starts to reach fever pitch – could Avenged be gearing up to drop the new record?

October 10

Website avengedsevenfold.com goes into blackout before reappearing as a redirect to deathbot.net. A disembodied robot skull greets visitors with a cheery “Welcome!” Deathbot also has a text input box, so naturally we ask some questions, including ‘Is there a new album?’ ( Hey, you can’t fault us for trying.) Deathbot mostly replies with cryptic statements and conflicting dates (“November 11th should be a fun day”, “November 18th should be a fun day”), and the odd pun thrown in for good measure: Wackerman is “The chef with a Bad Religion behind the kit cooking up beats”; Zacky Vengeance is “a master of puppets”; M Shadows is… uh, “horsecock”. OK, Deathbot.

October 12

More Chris Jericho! This time, the WWE star and Fozzy frontman shares – then quickly deletes – an image showing a Deathbat and, in Avenged’s distinctive font, the date “12/09/16” (that’s 09/12/16 in UK English). The picture’s caption reads “THE WAIT IS OVER… @avengedsevenfold #VoltaicOceans #Dec9” An album announcement? We ask the Deathbot about the phrase ‘Voltaic Oceans’, getting the response: “I bet you feel like the smartest ape.” Something is definitely afoot…

October 13

BOOM! NEW AVENGED MUSIC! A7X stun the internet revealing that the new album is officially ready to go, with a brand new single released right now. At eight and a half minutes long, The Stage is quite the statement of intent – both from the band and new drummer, Brooks Wackerman. Avenged have struggled to fill the void left by the tragic passing of The Rev almost seven years ago and while we’re certain they would be the first to say his unique talents could never truly be replaced, the intro to The Stage – fiery guitar-tapping interwoven with a clattering, chaotic drum pattern – shows that Avenged are ready to move on to the next stage of their career. It’s a bold choice for a lead-off single: an uncompromising, three-movement epic. The rapid pace hinted at in the demo they teased back in April is notable by its absence; instead, The Stage wields a menacing, four-on-the-floor groove, some incredible guitar fireworks and the vocal theatrics we’ve come to expect from Orange County’s finest. It’s accompanied by a suitably dramatic video, showing major conflicts from history in the form of a Punch & Judy-style puppet show, complete with tanks, helicopters and beheadings – along with copious amounts of puppet-blood. The band are back.

October 15

Avenged play The Stage live for the first time at Knotfest Mexico, demonstrating their confidence by opening with it. “Do you mind if we play the new one for you?” M Shadows asks his audience, as the band launch into the single, its headbanging stomp immediately eliciting “Hey! Hey! Hey!” chants from the crowd. They are clearly having a blast playing – Brooks in particular is on fire, effortlessly rattling round his kit while barely breaking a sweat. Clearly, Avenged have found their man. And with fans already singing back the lyrics to the two-day-old track, they’ve immediately been embraced with open arms. Welcome back, boys.

For more on the new A7x album, head here to read our first reaction.

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